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Why the Cardinals should keep winning

Some fans think the St. Louis Cardinals should rest up for the playoffs once the National League Central Division is clinched. The logic goes that by aligning the rotation and resting some of the stars, the club will have a better chance in the Division Series and beyond.

Some are worried about the possibility that the Cardinals will have to face their NL Central combatants, the Pirates or Reds, in the Division Series.

My focus is elsewhere – on the two other division winners. I admit that instead of the wild cards, I am interested in the benefits of home field advantage and ultimately, a preference to play the Braves rather than the Dodgers.

Ending the regular season with a better record than Atlanta would mean the Cardinals could enjoy field advantage through the Championship Series. Yes, the Cards would play the wild card winner in the DS, but I am ok with that. By the time the post-season begins, the Reds and Bucs will have been beating up on each other for the better part of two weeks.

On the other hand, if the Braves finish with the best record, they would draw the wild card instead and the Cards would face the Dodgers in the DS. I’d rather the Cards avoid that match-up initially and hope St. Louis gets Atlanta in the CS – after they would knock off LA in a hard-fought series including several coast-to-coast flights and time changes.

Here’s my thinking as to why.

The Cardinals got off to their quick start this season because of strong pitching. It is not a coincidence that their recent surge coincided with the rotation improving from their August doldrums.

For example, in the series sweep over the Nationals, the Cards allowed just four runs, including a lone home run.  They did not beat themselves, issuing just five free passes in the three games.

Here is why I think the Cardinals would be better off to avoid LA and would fare better against Atlanta, despite identical 3-4 head-to-head records against each this season. The Braves lead the league in home runs with 177. That compares to just 121 for the Cardinals and 140 for the league on average.

Further, the Braves are second to only Joey Votto and the Reds in drawing walks with 522. The Cards at 467 are just above the NL average of 460.

So what we see is that the Cards pitchers are currently doing well at preventing what the Braves do well. In their seven games, despite the losing record, Cardinals pitching logged a 2.70 ERA against the Atlanta hitters.

Speaking of the Braves hitters, they are slumping. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes they have batted just .204 in their current 9-12 stretch, scoring two runs or fewer 10 times.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cardinals offense was ineffective against both Atlanta and LA. They scored 27 runs in the seven games against the Dodgers and 20 versus the Braves. Their team slash lines were .237/.301/.347/.648 vs. LA and .223/.271/350/.621 against Atlanta pitching.

While the Cards have an identical losing record of 3-4 versus Los Angeles as versus the Braves, their ERA against the Dodgers was considerably higher at 4.21.

To me, the key will continue to be St. Louis’ pitching.

Eventually, the Cards might have to face the Dodgers, anyway, but they would seem better positioned if they can finish with the best record in the league and avoid playing the Dodgers in the DS.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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16 Responses to “Why the Cardinals should keep winning”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    We saw in 2006 and again in 2011 that the playoffs are a second season, potentially independent of the 162 games that came before. We were surpassed by the Brewers during reg season 2011, we steamrolled them during the playoffs, good fun.
    The Cards have a strong rotation for the playoffs and can potentially have an effective pen.
    We have sidelined Westbrook to help the rotation, while Mujica was over-used and it remains to be seen if he can recover and contribute in the playoffs. It also remains to be seen if Craig can recover enough to be a useful contributor. Since Adams is also a dangerous hitter, the loss of Craig is lessened. Holliday has had the back muscle problem and we hope it will not return, because we need his bat.
    Without Craig and even with him, we are generally not good against good southpaw starting pitchers. Beltran hits weaker against lefties, Holliday does not kill them, nor does Freese, nor Kozma. Shane Robinson should start over Jay against lefties. Despite happy talk of trying Jackson against lefties, this has not come to pass, so we will rely on Pete.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Our pitching is better right now than in 2012, 2011, 2006, and 2004, even with questions about Mujica.
      Going into the 2011 playoffs, we had two underrated hitters in Freese and Craig. Craig gave us a terrific hitter off the bench. This year, we will have a weaker bench (partly because Matheny has not cultivated role players. This can be seen with Chambers. TLR gave Chambers some at bats in 2011 and he was able to help. Two years later, Mike rides his regulars and does not get Chambers involved.) Adams could have been the stud off the bench like Craig in 2011, but has been plugged into the lineup. The bench will be Cruz, Kozma, Robinson, and someone else (Wong or Chambers). It would be Craig if he were to come back this year, but I have growing doubts.

  2. kray66 says:

    Agree completely. I think they have to keep their foot on the gas and keep the momentum up, and get home field advantage. I think one of the biggest reasons we won in 2011 was the roll we were on since the team had to keep pushing until the last out of the last game.

  3. blingboy says:

    I think that in any post-season series, having home field advantage will be a bigger factor than who we face or which of our starters start which games.

  4. crdswmn says:

    I am all for going for HFA if we can get it.

    I must be the only one who isn’t terrified of the Dodgers. At the time we played the Braves in Atlanta and the Dodgers at home, we were mired in a terrible slump and both the Braves and the Dodgers were hot as a firecracker. Since then the opposite has occurred; the Dodgers have cooled off quite a bit too in addition to the Braves and we are hot. In the postseason it is more about who is hot and who is not.

    But I get what you are saying. I just don’t see either team as that much more of a threat than the other. The Braves pitching in September has been better than the Dodgers, a team ERA of 3.45 to the Dodgers 3.98.

    Either way, we will play who we will play and hopefully it will all come out good in the end.

  5. blingboy says:

    Selig says he’ll retire after next season.

  6. Bw52 says:

    Any new info \on Allen Craig and his X-rays yesterday? It seems pretty quiet on the Craig situation.I suspect AC is done for the year.

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