- 1: Innings that Hyun-jin Ryu has pitched in the last month
- 1: Number of switch hitters on the Cardinals’ roster (pitcher Pat Neshek).
- .74: Difference between John Lackey’s regular-season FIP (3.89) and postseason FIP (3.15). He has indeed been better in the postseason than the regular season, but not by as much as his ERA would indicate. His FIP numbers are much more similar.
- .101: Difference between the career batting average and career on-base percentage of Dodgers’ catcher A.J. Ellis ( .242 BA/.343 OBP). The 100-point difference is something that he has in common with 1982 Cardinals’ World Championship team catchers Darrell Porter (.247/.354) and Gene Tenace (.241/.388).
- .867: Matt Carpenter’s win-probability added through the first two games of the series.
- -0.056: Yasiel Puig’s WPA in the series.
- .319: Cardinals wOBA vs. lefthanders in 2014. Last year, they hit .295.
- 3.64: The Dodger bullpen’s FIP in 2014, 20th in MLB.
- 3.61: The Cardinal bullpen’s FIP in 2014, 19th in MLB.
- .361, .455: Current Cardinals’ on-base percentage and slugging, respectively, against Dan Haren, who would likely relieve Ryu, if the Korean southpaw doesn’t make it very deep in the game.
As the Cardinals reprise their 2013 playoff matchup with the Dodgers in the NLDS, here are a few keys to the rest of the series:
- Short series: As with any short series, it benefits the lesser team (if we’re honest, we’ll admit that the Cardinals weren’t quite the team the Dodgers were in the regular season). Or, more accurately, the flukiness that it introduces (as opposed to, say, a seven-game series) levels the playing field and reduces the superior team’s advantage.
- Matheny’s use of Rosenthal: Mike Matheny needs to be willing to use Rosenthal optimally: The teams have split their past 20 meetings, and 12 of the games have been decided by one or two runs. After Game 1, make that 13 of their last 21. Though the Cardinal closer has been anything but absolute in his duties, he’s still the most reliable reliever available; Matheny needs to be comfortable using him in tie games, and possibly even down a run, when he provides true value.
- Dodgers’ speed kills: Unlike the Royals, who wisely steal bases, the Dodgers like to run but aren’t very adept at it. They were second in MLB behind the Royals with 138 stolen bases. But they were third in caught stealing, making 50 outs trying, for a 73.4.
- Platoon differential: As Bill James wrote, “The platoon differential is real and virtually universal.” See Randal Grichuk’s home run off Clayton Kershaw in Game 1. And Oscar Taveras’s ugly plate appearance against the same. But as James notes, the advantage is virtually universal. Presumably, right-hander Pete Kozma made the NLDS roster because of lefties Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu starting. But despite a strong record against the Dodgers’ ace, Kozma will likely regress to his mean — indeed, after going 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Matheny needs to be careful to not miss the forest for the trees — Kozma is still a career .264 wOBA hitter against southpaws.
The biggest pre-postseason news for Cardinal fans was that their team earned the ignominious distinction of being the Wall Street Journal’s most hated team in the playoffs. The Cardinals are indeed dislikable, but not in some of the ways that the WSJ judges.
For example, we found it ironic that a journalistic bastion of free trade would lament the Cardinals’ honestly gotten and hard earned successes over the years, which to us seems the perfect reason to love and appreciate them. Also, that Cardinal fans travel well is another feather in their cap, not a reason for disdain. After all, without all of those red-clad guests filling seats in other stadiums, teams wouldn’t fare nearly so well at the gate.
The Journal is right to include in its criteria the number of players suspended for PEDs (the Cardinals have one, Jhonny Peralta). However, honest observers will admit that, despite some big-name suspensions, MLB’s cheater dragnet has enough holes to make it impossible to claim that all or even most have been caught. (To be sure, for all we know, Peralta may not be the only Cardinal.)
The Cardinals do give fans (including their own) reason to dislike them — they’re just not all listed by the WSJ. Allow us to provide a few:
- Boring manager: Mike Matheny surely has his respectable qualities. Creative style and entertaining insights aren’t two of them, though. Matheny is as much “by the book” as you can find these days. For example, he sac bunted 41 times with non-pitchers, including six with his top on-base man, Matt Carpenter. He used closer Trevor Rosenthal 22 times in games with below-average leverage index. And his postgame pressers are now a doctor-ordered antidote to insomnia. In short, Matheny makes Tony La Russa seem like Casey Stengel.
- Loathsome players: The Cardinals score a double play here with AJ Pierzynski, one of the game’s longtime most-hated players, and Carlos Martinez, who specializes in alienating his home fans, not an easy task. Though he’s not on the NLDS roster, Pierzynski is still technically on the team and is going to be seen on the bench. Sorry, everyone.
- Bad baserunning: The Cardinals ranked last in baseball in Fangraphs Baserunning score. They had the lowest bases gained to outs on bases ratio, taking fewer that two to every one they lost. Not pretty to watch. It took its toll in scoring, too: Despite finishing in the middle of MLB in wOBA (.308, tied for 14th), they were in the bottom in runs per game (3.82, 23rd). Their monstrous baserunning is an affront to any fan who knows the basics of the game and the preciousness of outs.
Even with those reasons to hate the Cardinals, we’re not tempted in the slightest to drop them for the Dodgers. That’s because, whatever the Cardinals’ peccadilloes, the Dodgers have as many or more. You want loathsome players? Yasiel Puig somewhat redeemed himself with his kindness toward Jimmy Erskine, but he’s a legitimate menace to society, with two incidents of reckless driving in an eight-month span earlier this year, not to mention the fact that he’s annoying as heck to watch play. Ditto, Brian Wilson. And don’t forget Hanley Ramirez. The Cardinals may be the worst baserunning team in MLB, but the Dodgers aren’t far behind. And as boring and conventional as Matheny is, Don Mattingly gives him a run for his money. Mattingly sac bunted with Puig (career OBP: .386) three times in the first inning this season. And Mattingly’s suboptimal use of his close Kenley Jason (24 outings in below-average leverage index) makes Matheny’s deployment of Rosenthal look like Whitey Herzog’s strategic use of Bruce Sutter.
And although the WSJ believes that a team whose fans comprise a “nation” is hatable, we take a different view: It’s not how many fans a team has, but what percentage of them are legit. It seems to us that the Cardinals have a relatively high percentage of people who wear their colors and caps and can at least name the regular lineup. Dodgers’ fans, on the other hand, strike us as having a higher percentage of poseurs — those who rock the Dodger-blue lid, but haven’t a clue who Mattingly has on his lineup card, beyond Yasiel Puig, of course. And that’s only because he’s the one who returns their beach ball when it accidentally bounces onto the field.