NL Wild Card Preview 2020: Cardinals vs Padres

The Cardinals got the short end of the playoff seeding; while it’s a miracle they got a 5 seed (Covid-19 outbreak, roster shuffling, etc), they face the #4 Padres, who had the second best record in the NL. The teams never faced each other this year, but had a history of playoff matchups: the Padres have made the playoffs 5 times and 3 of them have seen the Cardinals knock them out.

In this new format, all the Wild Card Series will be best of 3 played in the higher seed’s park (so San Diego).

Regular Season By the Numbers:
St. Louis Cardinals: 30-28, 2nd NL Central
Pythagorean Record: 30-28
Last 10: 6-4
On The Road: 16-5

San Diego Padres: 37-23, 2nd NL West
Pythagorean Record: 38-22
Last 10: 5-5
At Home: 21-11

Probable Pitchers:
Game 1, Sept 30 @ 4PM CST: LHP Kwang Hyun Kim (3-0, 1.62 ERA) vs RHP Chris Paddack (4-4, 4.73 ERA)
Game 2, Oct 1 @ TBD: RHP Adam Wainwright (5-3, 3.15 ERA) vs TBD
Game 3, Oct 2 @ TBD*: RHP Jack Flaherty (4-3, 4.91 ERA) vs TBD
*If necessary.

Under normal circumstances, the Padres would have the pitching advantage; luckily for the Cardinals, Dinelson Lamet (3-1, 2.09 ERA) and Mike Clevinger (3-2, 3.02 ERA) both left their last starts with with injuries. Both threw “extended catch sessions” on Monday, so they each could be ready for a game in the series. The Padres will have Zach Davies (7-4, 2.73 ERA) as their third starter. Lamet and Clevinger are better than anyone on the Cardinals staff, while Davies could be considered an “ace” on a lesser staff.

KK and Wainwright had great seasons, but really don’t match up with the top of the Padres rotation. Last season’s Flaherty could, but he’s struggled this season and hasn’t looked as sharp; expect a quick hook with him and Daniel Poncedeleon or Austin Gomber ready to jump in.

As a whole, the Padres are better; if they have to slip in Chris Paddack (4-5, 4.73 ERA) or Garrett Richards (2-2, 4.03), the Cardinals end up with the advantage.

Update: Paddack will start game 1, so we might not be seeing Lamet and/or Clevinger in the series. This definitely works in the Cardinals favor.

Update 2: Lamet and Clevinger are both out for the series. Starting pitching is definitely in the Cardinals favor.

The Cardinals bullpen has been a strong point for most of the season. Giovanny Gallegos, Alex Reyes, and Ryan Helsley make an impressive back of the rotation. If Andrew Miller and John Gant are on, they almost at the same level. That gives the Cardinals solid options for the final 3 innings of the game (if the starters can make it that long). They have some other serviceable arms available, but these 5 will be key.

The Padres are also owning a stellar bullpen. Mid-season acquisition Trevor Rosenthal is familiar to Cardinals fans, and he’s looking like the pre-Tommy John pitcher the team had. Rosenthal allowed the Padres to use Drew Pomeranz as their main setup guy, along with Pierce Johnson, Emilio Pagan, and Craig Stammen.

If there is an edge, it goes to the Cardinals.

Starting Lineups:
The Cardinals offense was pretty much hit or miss; they owned a .234/.323/.371 slash line with 51 homers and 477 strikeouts. They actually had 67 more strikeouts than hits for the season. Amazingly, the team struck out in 24% of their at bats. Another way to look at it was their sOPS+; an average team would have an sOPS+ of 100 and the Cardinals sat at 89 (under 100 is a below average team).

The team also struggled on the road; the slash line dropped to .228/.305/.356 when away from Busch. Their sOPS+ was a meager 85, which is 15% below average.

If the Cardinals have an advantage, it’s at first base and possibly designated hitter. Paul Goldschmidt let the team in the slash lines, runs, hits, doubles, walks, and OPS+. The down side was he didn’t hit for power. Brad Miller was the next best hitter in limited playing time; he tied for the team lead in homers and RBIs and had a solid 120 OPS+.

The Padres were the opposite. They slashed .257/.333/.466 for the season, with 95 homers and 479 strikeouts (in 2 more games than the Cardinals). Their sOPS+ was 115; that’s nearly 30% better than the Cardinals.

They are also pretty good at home; they slash .257/.339/.477 at home. It’s interesting that their average is actually lower at home than the road, but they get on base and slug better at home. Their sOPS+ is sitting at 113 in Petco Park.

Position-wise, the team has the advantage over the Cardinals everywhere not mentioned above. They have one of the best lineups in the National League, with Fernando Tatis Jr.and Manny Machado leading the way (beware of Social Media right now, and the Tatis should have been a Cardinal myth). Wil Myers has also bounced back to be a productive player.

The Bench:
The Cardinal bench is Matt Carpenter and whichever outfielder isn’t hitting; we’ll probably see more Tyler O’Neill and Austin Dean on the bench then Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader. Carp is a shell of his former self, so I don’t expect much.

The Padres have a weak bench as well. If Tommy Pham is healthy enough for left field, you will get a boost with Jurickson Profar as a bench pieces; he’s more inspiring than Greg Garcia or Jorge Mateo.

Truthfully, the benches probably won’t have much of an impact on this series, but I’d say they are a push here.

It’s really the Padres’ series to lose. They are by far the better team. If the rotation can keep the game close though, it’ll be tougher than many are expecting. It’s also a short series, so anything could happen. I’m willing to guess Padres 2-1.

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