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Padres Postseason Prep: Know Thy Enemy

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Let’s get to know our first victim opponent.

Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals
Keep one eye open, Birds...
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Tomorrow, the Padres will play their first playoff game in 14 years. And somehow, we managed to meet up against the team we played against last time: the St. Louis Cardinals.

Destiny, thy name is St. Louis.

So, with that, let’s get into our Wild Card round foe, and see just what kind of team we face.

The Basics (all ranks in parenthesis are MLB-overall).

Record: 30-28, 2nd in NL Central

Manager: Mike Shildt (162-127 overall)

Run differential: +11 (11th in MLB)

Team Batting: .234 (11th)/.323 (8th)/.371 (14th), 51 home runs (15th), 18 steals (13th), 240 runs (14th)

Team Pitching: 3.86 Rotation ERA (5th); 4.06 Bullpen ERA (3rd) , 8.83 K/9 (10th), 1.23 WHIP (5th), .216 Opponent Batting Average Against (3rd), 229 runs allowed (2nd)

The St. Louis Cardinals just managed to scrape by and into the Playoffs. Their season halted for 17 days thanks to a team COVID outbreak, the Birds then blitzed through 53 games in 44 days to clinch their spot on the very last day of the season, playing in 11 doubleheaders in that span. They’ve also suffered numerous injuries, notably losing one of their best starters in RHP Dakota Hudson to Tommy John surgery in September, and RHP Carlos Martinez just not being the same since his battle with COVID (9.00 ERA in 20 IP this year), and that was before he had his season likely end with an oblique strain. RHP Jack Flaherty (4.91 ERA) has looked nothing like he did last year, and somehow, 39-year old Adam Wainwright is still providing meaningful innings through some combination of smoke/mirrors/devil magic.

And yet, here they are, where all that means nothing.

So what can we expect from St. Louis? Let’s break them down.

At the Plate.

Simply put, the Cardinals are not a good hitting team. Their offensive stats are among the worst of the 16 playoff teams. None of their hitters had more than 7 home runs on the year (compare that to the Padres, who had 4 players with at least 10 homers on the year). part of that is due to their lineup. Manager Mike Shildt never really set a lineup the entire season, as he moved players around to either get them a day off, or to see if a certain order got hot and stuck. There were some constants: Kolten Wong as the leadoff man, Paul Goldschmidt hitting 3rd, and a speedy outfielder at the bottom of the order. The rest has been all about who’s hot and what the matchups look like that day.

With that said, here’s how their lineup could look:

1. Kolten Wong, 2B

2. Tommy Edman, 3B

3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B

4. Dylan Carlson, LF

5. Yadier Molina, C

6. Paul DeJong, SS

8. Dexter Fowler, RF

9. Harrison Bader, CF

Having Matt Carpenter as the designated hitter allows Brad Miller to be a lefty off the bench, or vice versa if Shildt decides to start Miller. But really, there are 4-5 hitters the Padres need to concern themselves with: Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman, Kolten Wong, Brad Miller, and MAYBE Yadier Molina. They were the only ones with above league average barrel rates at the plate, and displayed low whiff percentages, two stats that directly tie into a batter’s overall skill at the plate. They also display a tendency to swing at the first pitch often, with every batter in their lineup swinging more than 55% of the time at the first pitch.

Like I said, not a good hitting team.

On the Mound.

I was inclined to do something on this, but our own johnjprecoda already broke this down, so go read his fanpost on it, because it’s on point and I agree with analysis. Simply, the Cardinals pitchers aren’t that good, and their stats are more a product of facing off against their subpar-hitting Central Division foes, and having so few innings compared to other teams (again, they played 11 DOUBLEHEADERS at 7 INNINGS A POP this year). While I’d normally be concerned facing off against a bullpen headlined by Giovanny Gallegos and Andrew Miller based on their stats, again, their stats are somewhat inflated by the fact that they played much fewer opportunities. Going deeper, when those two have thrown, they’ve been league average or worse, based on Statcast data.

Safe to say, the Cardinals have largely benefitted from playing against a lot of subpar offenses this year. That ends Wednesday.

In the Field.

Per Statcast, the Cardinals have played pretty well in the field; they currently rank 6th overall in terms of Team OAA. They’ve been weak on the left side of their infield, with both their Shortstop and Third Basemen have posted negative Outs Above Average ratings this year. But something interesting happens when you account for only their projected starters, and then plot for where their fielders end up. Take a look:

Simply, the Cardinals starters don’t make many plays away from their starting positions, which means limited range. Further, the Cardinals actually play a below average infield defense; they’re 19th in MLB based on Team Infield OAA. What this tells me is that there are a lot of holes in the St. Louis defense, particularly on the left side, even if Tommy Edman replaces the Corpse formerly known as Matt Carpenter at 3B.

This plays right into the Padres’ hands (or bats, if you will). Don’t be fooled by the fact that the Padres hit the 4th most home runs in MLB this year. That was actually a product of being a great hitting team most of the year; the Padres actually were a below-average launch angle team while posting fantastic exit velocity along with great hard hit rates and barrel rates. Add that into the Padres’ tendency to hit ground balls 44% of the time, and this means that the Padres will test this Cardinals defense often, a strategy that will likely produce some fine results.

Prediction.

The Cardinals weathered a significant storm to get to the playoffs, so dismissing them out of hand is the last thing I’ll do.

But simply, from top to bottom, the Padres are the more complete team, and have posted better stats against better teams this year. I can see the Cardinals winning 1 of the 3 games, possibly even Game 1 with LHP Kwang Hyun Kim on the mound, as the Padres have hit slightly worse against LHP this year.

But this is not 1996, 2005, or even 2006. Hell, just last year, the Padres went 4-2 against largely these same Cardinals when they were a better overall team. I see that trend continuing now.

Padres win the Wild Card round, 2 games to 1 (gotta be different, since john already called the sweep).

GO PADRES!!! RESPECT SAN DIEGO!!!