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St Louis VS San Diego Preview

NATIONAL LEAGUE PLAYOFFS—ROUND 1

St. Louis

The Cardinals went into a late season swoon that perplexed everyone. They managed to stave off the Reds in August but then came the Houston Astros. What looked like a cakewalk in mid-August turned into a close call in late-September with the Cards losing seven of their last 10 and taking the NL Central by a mere 1.5 games over Houston. St. Louis’ record of 83- 78 is the worst among all playoff teams and worse than four clubs in the American League that didn’t make the post season!

The 4.54 team ERA is the highest in the NL playoffs and Jason Isringhausen’s (33 SV, 43 SVO, 4-8, 3.59 ERA) stats are the worst of any closer in the playoffs. The best statistic the pitching staff can point to is opposing teams’ batting average of .268. It isn’t extraordinary, but it’s illustrative of this staff’s potential.

Overall, this is usually a quality group of pitchers, led by starters Chris Carpenter (15-8, 3.09 ERA) and Jeff Suppan (12-7, 4.12 ERA). However, both Jason Marquis (14-16, 6.02 ERA) and Jeff Weaver (8-14, 5.76 ERA) have been inconsistent. Marquis, Carpenter and Suppan have all been hammered recently. Of the four, Weaver had the best finish.

The best hitter on the team, and perhaps in all of baseball, is first baseman Albert Pujols (.331 AV, 49 HR, 137 RBI). He’s got great power, can hit for average and is clutch. Pujols, the number three batter, knocked out more than one-quarter of the club’s 181 dingers. Shortstop David Eckstein (.292 AV, 2 HR, 23 RBI) is an adequate leadoff hitter but doesn’t offer much speed. Outfielder Chris Duncan (.292 AV, 22 HR, 43 RBI) is reliable and third baseman Scott Rolen (.296 AV, 22 HR, 95 RBI) offers some more clout. After that, there’s a steady drop off in production, with right fielder Juan Encarnacion (.278 AV, 19 HR, 79 RBI) offering the most offense of all hitters from five through nine.

Catcher Yadier Molina (.216 AV, 6 HR, 49 RBI) won’t be winning any batting crowns, but he’s got a great arm. The catching corps has only allowed a total of 63 steals! With only 98 errors and whopping 170 double plays, this is a fine fielding team.

Manager Tony Larussa certainly has a good team, but their September performance should have him concerned. Not only are they in a funk, but also there’s precious little room for error when it comes to the Cards. There’s not a lot of depth in the offense and the pitching has become suspect.

San Diego

Bruce Bochy, who has been with the San Diego organization for almost a quarter century, has been managing this team since 1994. Bochy is one of those guys who can make the most out of that with which he has to work.

The Padres’ pitching staff sports the best ERA in the National League playoffs—3.85. Teams are only hitting .249 against them. Closer Trevor Hoffman (46 SV, 51 SVO, 0-2, 2.14 ERA) has been reliable all season. He led the majors in saves and is 18-2 in his last 20 save opportunities.

The team’s top starters include Jake Peavy (11-14, 4.09 ERA), Chris R. Young (11-5, 3.46 ERA), Woody Williams (12-5, 3.65 ERA) and Clay Hensley (11-12, 3.71 ERA). It’s an exceptionally well-rounded group, but Peavy’s high ERA and 14 loses, both the highest numbers of his career, are alarming. Peavy did come in second in the league in strikeouts, recording 215. If this rotation can get quality starts, opposing teams will have little chance in the late innings against their bullpen.

Of all NL playoff teams this season, the Padres have scored the fewest number of runs (724), hit the least homeruns (161), and notched the lowest batting average (.264- tied with the Mets) and slugging percentage (.416). This is certainly not Murderer’s Row; this isn’t even Man Slaughterer’s Row.

The best hitters on this team are first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (.304 AV, 24 HR, 82 RBI) and center fielder Dave Roberts (.293 AV, 2 HR, 44 RBI). Roberts leads off and has shown good speed on the bases (49 SB). Gonzalez is the only daily player to break .300 on this team, which hasn’t one 100-plus RBI man. Catcher Mike Piazza (.283 AV, 22 HR, 68 RBI), outfielder Brian Giles (.263 AV, 14 HR, 83 RBI) and shortstop Khalil Greene (.245 AV, 15 HR, 55 RBI) all bring some clout to the plate. Still, the three and four combination of Giles and Piazza are far from frightening.

There’s more speed to be garnered from outfielder Mike Cameron (.268 AV, 22 HR, 83 RBI) and second baseman Josh Barfield (.280 AV, 13 HR, 58 RBI) with 25 and 21 stolen bases, respectively.

Teams can run on the Padres—the club has given up 150 stolen bases. They have made only 93 errors but have turned just 138 double plays.

If it’s pitching you want, it’s pitching you’ve got. It’s one of the better rotations going into the playoffs. Timely hitting and using every opportunity to manufacture runs will be important for Bruce Bochy and company.

Summary

Late in the season, the Cards went into a tailspin and then backed into the playoffs. The Padres battled to the bitter end and won the NL West. The pitching staff for St. Louis looks beat and has been unreliable recently. San Diego pitching appears to be primed. There’s no one on the Padres who can match Pujols’ output, but there are enough good hitters for San Diego to put runs on the board. But the San Diego offense has a tendency to go south. If that happens, the Padres are dead. Larussa is the manager who issaid to have the brains but Bochy is a very smart and resourceful baseball guy. In two previous first round playoff series against the Cardinals, including last year, Bochy is 0-6. This may be the postseason that he turns the tables on St. Louis. He has the arms to do it.

Maddux Sports Series Prediction.

St. Louis squeaked into the post season and are not playing their best baseball right now. Padres in 5.

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