By Ryan Witt
Today the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals break the series 1-1 tie in their five-game National League Division Series. The Cardinals are coming off a big 12-4 win against the Nationals last Tuesday, while the Nationals are anxious play the franchise’s first playoff game at home since 1981. Below is a preview of game 3.
Regular Season Records
- Washington Nationals (98-64), (50-31) at home
- St. Louis Cardinals (88-74), (38-43) on the road
The Starting Pitchers
Chris Carpenter: 0-2, 17.0 IP, 11 K, 3 BB, 3.71 ERA
Analysis: Carpenter is the true wildcard in the game after coming back from a surgery that removed one of his ribs earlier this year to resolve a nerve issue. Carpenter was not expected back until next year, but worked his rehab extremely hard to be able to return for this kind of scenario. A matchup of the Chris Carpenter of last year versus Edwin Jackson would certainly favor the Cardinals. However, this year, Carpenter only has three starts and his xFIP (4.47) and K/9 rate (6.35) suggests that he is still finding his command. The Nationals can only hope he does not find it today, because as was seen in game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Phillies last year, Carpenter can be dominant when he is on. Carpenter features a low 90’s fastball with a movement, a potentially dominant curveball, slider, and changeup.
Edwin Jackson: 10-11, 189.2 IP, 168 K, 58 BB, 4.03 ERA
Analysis: After helping the Cardinals win a World Series last year, Jackson now tries to defeat his old record this year. Over the last four years, Jackson has consistently near 4.00 and a K/9 rate of 7.50. Jackson’s best weapons are a fastball that he throws from 92-96 MPH, a slider that has great late movement, and a changeup. As the Cardinals know from last year, Jackson has great potential and can be un-hittable when he is on, but also can be knocked around a lot when he is off. The Cardinals torched Jackson for 8 ER in a regular season start in September, but that start was at Busch Stadium and Jackson does tend to pitch better at home (3.35 vs. 4.78 ERA split).
Matchup Advantage: A slight edge goes to Carpenter based simply on Carpenter’s postseason history and his potential. The question is whether 2011 Chris Carpenter is able to resurrect himself in this year’s playoffs.
- Cardinals Typical Starters
- Jon Jay – CF
- Carlos Beltran – RF
- Matt Holliday – LF
- Allen Craig – 1B
- Yadier Molina – C
- David Freese – 3B
- Daniel Descalso – 2B
- Pete Kozma – SS
Analysis: The Cardinals’ really outhit the Nationals in the first two games of the series, but the Nationals came up with one more clutch hit in game one. Following the Jekyl and Hyde pattern they have had all year, the Cardinals only managed two runs in game one while leaving 10 men on base. In game two, the offense exploded for 12 runs.
In the regular season, the Cardinals’ offense has been second to only the Brewers this year, scoring a total of 765 runs. The Cardinals’ on-base-percentage (.338) ranks first in Major League Baseball. Their slugging-percentage (.413) ranks fourth in the National League behind the Nationals, Rockies, and Brewers. The Cardinals’ offense struggled through much of the second half of the season, but has found a bit of resurgence recently, as the Nationals personally witnessed when the Cardinals scored 26 runs in a three-game series against them in late August.
Nationals Typical Starters
- Jayson Werth – RF
- Bryce Harper – CF
- Ryan Zimmerman – 3B
- Adam LaRoche – 1B
- Michael Morse – LF
- Ian Desmond – SS
- Danny Espinosa – 2B
- Kurt Suzuki – C
Analysis: Nationals’ hitters have struggled thus far against Cardinals’ pitching, managing three runs in game one and four runs in a blowout game two. Some have argued that the Nationals’ postseason inexperience is showing up in the series, as many Nationals’ batters appear overanxious.
The Nationals scored slightly less runs (731) than the Cardinals, but their OBP (.322) ranks twelfth in the Majors. The strength of the offense comes in the form of power, with a team SLUG (.428) that ranks sixth in the Majors. The National offense was dominant against the Cardinals pitchers in a late-August/early-September matchup, scoring 31 runs in four games. In the most recent late-September matchup the offense fared worse, scoring 12 runs in three games.
Matchup Advantage: The Cardinals have a slight offensive advantage given their higher runs scored and OBP. However, like the pitching matchup, the Cardinals’ advantage on offense is not a large one.
Cardinals’ Analysis: The Cardinals bullpen played a crucial role in the first two games of the NLDS. In game one, the bullpen, with the help of an error by Pete Kozma, surrendered two runs in the eighth inning to give the Nationals a 3-2 lead. In game two, the Cardinals bullpen surrendered only two runs over seven innings in relief of a struggling Jaime Garcia.
The Cardinals’ bullpen struggled in the first half of the season, and that is reflected in their bullpen ERA (3.90) that ranks 20th in Major League Baseball. Still, the bullpen improved greatly toward the end of the season with additions of Edward Mujica (3.03 ERA) and Trevor Rosenthal (2.78 ERA). Over the last 30 days of the season, the Cardinals bullpen had a 3.26 ERA. In the eighth and ninth innings the Cardinals typically rely upon Mitchell Boggs (2.21) and Jason Motte (2.75 ERA, 42 Saves) who have both had outstanding seasons.
Nationals’ Analysis: The bullpen is a real strength of the National with a 3.23 ERA that ranks seventh in Major League Baseball. The Nationals bullpen was even better over the last 30 days with a 2.85 ERA. In the eighth and ninth innings the Nationals typically rely upon Tyler Clippard (3.72 ERA, 32 Saves) and Drew Storen (2.37 ERA, 4 Saves). Both are very capable closers, but Storen was used as the closer towards the end of the season.
Matchup Advantage: The Nationals have the better bullpen, but as mentioned above the Cardinals’ bullpen has improved over the season.
Both teams are sub-par defensively. The Cardinals’ had an ultimate-zone-rating (UZR) of -29.8 throughout the season, which ranks 29th in Major League Baseball. The Nationals are slightly better with UZR of -14.3, which ranks 24th in the Majors.
Matchup Advantage: The defense can best be described as a tie. Ryan Zimmerman would normally put the Nationals on top defensively but he has struggled with his throws recently due to a shoulder issue. The Nationals are better at a number of other positions, but the Cardinals have the best defensively player on both teams in Yadier Molina.
Overall Matchup Advantage: These two teams are very evenly matched, and the game could best be described as a pick-em. The Nationals were the better team in the regular season, and win the most matchups listed above. However, the Cardinals are playing at home and are coming into the series pitching and hitting well.
Prediction: Cardinals win 6-4
Ryan Witt is a freelance writer covering all things St. Louis Cardinals. His work can be found on Examiner.com.