Phillies vs Cardinals NLDS Preview and Prediction
Weren’t baseball predictions so much easier when there was one less round?
All jokes aside, this extra round of playoffs has opened the doors for some major upsets since 1995. Everything is magnified in a five-game series with little margin for error. It’s a whole new season, which means even though the Cardinals strong September still found them with 90 wins (12 less wins than the Phillies' 102), it means nothing starting Saturday. It’s a level playing field from this point on. Let’s break it down.
Why the Phillies can win:
Pitching, pitching, pitching, and did I say pitching? This staff has four experienced starters who have all had success in one form of another in post season play. You have Roy Halladay, who only threw a no-hitter in his first ever playoff start, there’s Cliff Lee, who won the only two games for the Phillies two years ago against the Yankees in the World Series, we all know what Cole Hamels did in the 2008 post season, and Roy Oswalt was the 2005 NLCS MVP for the Astros.
Why the Phillies could lose:
The starting pitching will most likely do its job, but questions remain from there. Having absolutely no person you can trust (as of right now) in the seventh and eighth inning is a concern. Vance Worley, Joe Blanton, Brad Lidge, Antonio Bastardo, and Michael Stutes are all question marks. That’s a very uneasy feeling, unless Ryan Madson can pull off his best Goose Gossage impersonation and get six-out saves every time he’s out there. The only real issue with Madson is that patient hitting teams are prone to layoff his two-pitch repertoire.
Moreover, if these guys can’t hold the lead, the Phillies’ offense is so hot and cold there’s no telling what could happen. Will Ryan Howard’s ailing foot hold up? Keep in mind he hits very well in his hometown of St. Louis, but how Jimmy Rollins will hit is anybody’s guess, Chase Utley had an awful September, and Placido Polanco’s sports hernia has drained any source of power he once had. Despite his strong finish, Hunter Pence is unproven in the playoffs. And while Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz usually have strong post seasons, but there are too many questions marks to feel confident about which Phillies team will show up offensively.
Why the Cardinals could win:
You know all about the cliche that good pitching stops good hitting. Let’s hope this is true for this series and beyond, because the Cardinals have the best offense in the National League. Although free agent-to-be Albert Pujols missed the .300 mark for the first time in his career and his lifetime numbers against the Phillies are the worst of any team he’s faced, he’s still Albert Pujols. With 31 home runs and 94 runs batted in, Lance Berkman seems to have rediscovered his batting stroke.
While Pujols and Berkman are the anchors of the Cardinals’ offense, Allen Craig is putting on his best Cody Ross impersonation over the last several weeks, and Yadier Molina is always capable of getting the big hit, hitting .305 in 2011. Some of the Cardinals’ names in their lineup might not exactly jump out at you, but they didn’t score 762 runs by accident.
Game Four starter Jamie Garcia is just brutal on the Phillies’ left-handed hitters, and Chris Carpenter (the only Cardinals starter who can even compare to any of the Phils’ starting four) will now possibly pitch in two games this series. While Kyle Loshe and Jake Westbrook pale in comparison to the likes of the Phillies’ starters, they have both beaten them this year. Late season acquisition Edwin Jackson is always a possibility coming out of the bullpen if any Cardinals starters falter.
Why the Cardinals could lose:
The Phillies' starters shut down the Cardinals’ offense, which is always a possibility. Injuries to Matt Holliday (finger) and Rafael Furcal (hamstring) make them doubtful for the NLDS. Furcal had some big hits for the team down the stretch, and losing 22 home runs and 75 RBI’s from Holliday can’t be ignored.
As for the Cardinals' starters, the last memory Phillies fans have of Lohse was the grand slam he surrendured to Kaz Matsui in the 2007 NLDS. Westbrook’s post season’s ERA is over 5. And no matter how decent they have been recently, the Cardinals' bullpen could always implode.
And finally, there is always a possibility that Cardinals' manager and baseball founder Tony LaRussa outmanages himself.
Bottom Line: Having defied the experts in just getting to the playoffs, the Cardinals’ magic could run out, or they could pick up right where they left off. Although St. Louis is one of the hottest teams in baseball, nobody should look too much into the fact that the Cardinals took three out of four from the Phillies just the other week.
One thing to take notice of is how early in the count sluggers Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman swing the bats against the Phillies’ starters. This approach seemed to work well against Halladay two weeks ago. Moreover, Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt can ill afford to surrender crucial two out hits. Halladay failed to do so in his previous start against St. Louis, and it came back to haunt him multiple times.
St. Louis is no stranger to pressure and adversity, losing 20-game winner Adam Wainwright for the season in Spring Training and coming back from a 10 1/2-game deficit in the NL Wild Card standings in September. Has their luck run out? Truthfully, I see this being a much closer series than most in the Delaware Valley do.
It will be a nail biter, but the Phillies will win in 5
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