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.
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.