You can make your arguments for either team winning this Division Series between the Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies and I will plead the case for both sides and let you decide who will win this best of five matchup.
The Phillies. They have three pitchers who could be the ace of just about every team in the majors. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. They went a combined 50-23, winning 68% of their decisions and all had ERA’s under 2.80. We’ve seen in the past how two strong starting pitchers can carry a team to a World Series, but three? Hard to argue against those stats.
Offensively, they are still a dangerous team, but have question marks with Chase Utley who may not be 100% healthy, but the acquisition of outfielder Hunter Pence was a huge pick up. In 54 games, Pence hit .324 with 11 homers and is a solid defensive player.
The Phillies also have depth. They’ve had 15 players spend time on the DL, but still managed 102 wins.
The Cardinals. When it comes to depth, they’re not too shabby either when you consider they had their share of injuries including playing with Matt Holliday down the stretch due to a hand injury. Young guys like Allen Craig and Jon Jay have made significant contributions down the stretch. So has shortstop Ryan Theriot. The Cardinals brought in Rafael Furcal for the struggling Theriot, but when Furcal hurt his hamstring, Theriot has made the most of his time back in the lineup.
Remember the Cardinals got here without the services of Adam Wainwright. While Chris Carpenter struggled to get wins early, he has been in the zone of late. He’s pitched two complete game shutouts in September and has allowed just five earned runs over his last five starts. Kyle Lohse who will start the series, is 3-1 with a 1.37 ERA in September. The Cardinals also have Edwin Jackson who came over in the Colby Rasmus trade and has turned in quality start after quality start. The Cardinal starters may not be as feared as Philly’s, but they are still effective.
Offensively, the Cardinals click when everyone is hitting around Lance Berkman and Albert Pujols. Yadier Molina has come up clutch this year and one thing about the Cardinals is there is no easy out. They don’t strike out much. While Ryan Howard has 172 and Raul Ibanez 107, the highest strikeout total for the Cards is Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman , both with 93.
Position by position break down:
Starting pitching—Advantage Phillies. They have three aces and their rotation is lined up after clinching their division early. Lohse and Carpenter are pitching as well as anyone in baseball. They don’t have to outpitch the Philly starters, just keep it close
Relief pitching—Advantage Phillies. Twice this season, the Cardinals bullpen has imploded in the eighth inning in close games against Philadelphia giving up nine in a game back on June 21st and six runs in the eighth on the 17th in a 9-2 loss. If the Cardinals are able to get a lead to Jason Motte, he’s close nine games and it looks like Fernando Salas who saved 24 games, could be a good option for set-up.
Catcher—Advantage Cardinals. Carlos Ruiz knows his pitching staff and rarely does he get shaken off with his calls, but Molina’s arm negates Jimmy Rollins 30 stolen bases and makes this series a station to station series, which helps the Cardinals.
First base—Advantage Cardinals. Ryan Howard, the St. Louis native and Missouri State alum is no slouch with 33 homers and 116 RBIs, but Pujols still finished with 37 homers and 99 RBIs while hitting .299, but his on-base percentage is 20 points higher than Howard. In 50 Division series at-bats, Howard has 21 strikeouts.
Second base—Advantage Phillies. Chase Utley has been injured and has been off this season, but a veteran left handed bat in the order can still create chaos for Cardinal pitchers. Skip Schumaker is too much of a question mark. He tends to play at the level of the team. If the team plays well, Skip tags along. When the team struggles, he tanks…can’t depend on him at this point.
Third base—Advantage Cardinals. When David Freese is healthy, he’s good and right now, Freese appears to be healthy. His bat could help Cardinal fans forget all about Matt Holliday if he is unable to play or not at a full 100%. Placido Polanco, the former Cardinal, is a good contact hitter, but he still struck out more than he walked.
Shortstop—Advantage Phillies. The Cardinals got a good pick up in Rafael Furcal, but his injured hamstring could cost him some speed and his reliable defense has come into question a few times down the stretch. While Jimmy Rollins only hit .268, he has a nice mix of speed and power with 16 homers. Base stealing may not be an issue with Molina, but the ability to take an extra base could come into play.
Outfield—Advantage, even. As I mentioned Jay and Craig have come up big, but how they play on the big stage is still a question mark. Lance Berkman’s ability to play through the whole season and put up the numbers he has worked out to be a brilliant pick up. However, Holliday’s health is a question. Shane Victorino is one of those players that can be annoying, getting a key hit here and there, taking an extra base, making a solid play in the field. Ibanez has some pop in his bat, but can strike out. Pence will be a key for Philly’s success. If you can shut him down, you have a good chance of holding the Phillies down on the scoreboard.
Bill’s prediction…Phillies in five games.