It’s just a few minutes before the first pitch of the biggest series of the year…what better time to post 10 interesting match ups (in no particular order) that could make the difference this weekend? I’ll check back in toward the end of the series to comment on how each of these have played out.
10. Cardinals Strike Throwers vs. Dodgers Picky Hitters
Conflicting Stat: As a team the Cards rank 5th in percentage of pitches thrown in the zone and 4th in opponent swing percentage on those pitches. The Dodgers active roster, on the other hand, swings at the 4th fewest percent of pitches in the strike zone of any team in baseball.
How It Plays Out: The Dodgers don’t swing very often, but they make a ton of contact, both on pitches in the zone and out of it. Overall, the Cards staff throws strikes and pitches to contact so expect the Dodgers to be a little more aggressive than normal and expect a lot of balls in play.
X Factor: The Cards had better be ready to play some defense—looking at you Pete Kozma and Jon Jay. I would not be surprised to see a lot of Daniel Descalso at second for defensive purposes and maybe Matt Carpenter at first late in the game for Allen Craig.
9. Jaime Garcia vs. Hotels (And Poor Hitting Teams)
Conflicting Stat: Since returning from the DL Garcia has had two great starts at home and three relatively poor ones on the road. The two good starts were against poor offenses in Pittsburgh and New York, however, and the Dodgers rank right below the Pirates in wRC+ this year.
How It Plays Out: Matching up against Joe Blanton, Garcia should only have to be ok to put the Cards in line for a win. I don’t actually think there is much to his small sample of bad outings on the road, but what makes me nervous is his platoon split against righties. Mark Ellis, Shane Victorino, and Matt Kemp hit lefties significantly better than righties and Adrian Gonzalez actually hangs in pretty well against lefties.
X Factor: Garcia is 10th in swinging strike percentage, while the Dodgers have the 6th lowest swinging strike percentage. If Garcia can get them to swing and miss he will settle in nicely.
8. Clayton Kershaw vs. Allen Craig (Actually Matt Holliday)
Conflicting Stat: Kershaw has a 6.5% BB rate this year, but has walked Matt Holliday 9 times in 36 PA’s. I think this may have more to do with who hits behind Holliday than about the actual Kershaw-Holliday matchup. If Allen Craig can make Kershaw pay for pitching around Holliday it would go a long way to stealing the final game of the series.
How It Plays Out: Kershaw is really good and you can’t make anything out of a handful of PA’s. That being said, Craig is 4/12 with a HR and 0 K’s against Kershaw, so at least he has a better chance than most against the lefty.
X Factor: If Jon Jay and the guys at the top of the order get on ahead of Holliday this could be a moot point. Good luck with that against Kershaw, though.
Conflicting Stat: As mentioned above, Adrian Gonzalez actually shows little platoon split against lefties and as a whole the Dodgers lineup is very balanced against righties and lefties. The one hitter with big splits, though, is Andre Ethier, who is much better against righties. Unfortunately, the Cards bullpen is short on dominant lefty specialists this year due to Marc Rzepczynski’s struggles.
How It Plays Out: Rzepczynski had a 2.30 FIP and .222 wOBA against lefties last year, but this year has regressed to a 3.65 FIP and .294 wOBA against same side hitters. While this doesn’t bode well for longer outings against say the 4, 5, 6 hitters Gonzalez, Ramirez, and Ethier, I still think push come to shove Rzypczynski will be fine for one out appearances against Ethier, who is pretty terrible against lefties.
X Factor: I guess due in part to his cutter-splitter-slider hybrid of an off-speed pitch Jason Motte actually demonstrates a sizable reverse platoon split (.180 wOBA against lefties, .322 wOBA against righties). Most of this is due to reduced power numbers for lefties, so hopefully this bodes well for a late inning matchup with Ethier should the Cards have a lead.
6. Seeing-Eye Groundballs vs. Dodgers Starters
Conflicting Stat: The Cards offense has the 5th highest GB% in baseball and is first in BABIP. Despite featuring predominantly sinkers and changeups Chris Capuano has the 13th highest fly ball rate in baseball and Josh Beckett is similarly a fly ball pitcher. Additionally, Kershaw has the 12th lowest BABIP against and Capuano is also in the top 50 among starters for lowest BABIP against.
How It Plays Out: I don’t have any sort of feel for this one. On one hand the Cards aren’t the kind of HR hitting team that usually takes advantage of guys like Beckett and Capuano. On the other hand, Capuano relies on weak contact to get outs and the Cards are pretty good at making hard contact.
X Factor: Just like defense matters for the Cards, defense matters for the Dodgers. The trades have upgraded the outfield and defense as a whole, but Matt Kemp’s health could be an important factor. Luis Cruz is probably an upgrade over Jerry Hairston at third, but Hanley Ramirez is pretty terrible at shortstop—let’s hope he gets a chance to show that.
5. Dodgers Pen vs. Cardinals Contact Hitters
Conflicting Stat: The Dodgers bullpen has the 6th lowest contact rate against and 10th highest K rate in baseball. The Cardinals offense has the 9th highest contact rate in baseball and 8th lowest K rate.
How It Plays Out: I’m relatively confident in the Cards hitters’ ability to get the ball in play when necessary. The question is whether they can capitalize on the Dodger bullpen’s propensity to walk people to get rallies started.
X Factor: The Dodgers bullpen is pretty pedestrian against lefties, but has the second lowest wOBA against righties. Late in one of these games would be a great time for Carlos Beltran (or Lance Berkman off the bench) to break out from the left side, but while we are waiting for that to happen look for the little guys—Jay, Carpenter, Schumaker, even Descalso—to start the rallies late in games.
4. Cardinals Starters vs. BABIP
Conflicting Stat: Lynn, Kelly, Garcia and Wainwright have the 1st, 14th, 17th, and 31st highest BABIP’s against, respectively, of major league starters with 80 IP. Luckily the Dodgers active roster ranks just 17th in BABIP this year (and 20th over the last 30 days).
How It Plays Out: Both Garcia and Wainwright’s BABIPs are well above their career marks, so I wouldn’t read too much into that. Kelly is a GB heavy guy so he will give up his share of hits. As long as these guys keep the ball in the yard and the Cards catch it this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.
X Factor: The Dodgers don’t run too much, but Shane VIctorino is 9-11 in steals since the trade. If he can turn singles into doubles, especially against Kelly for whom seeing eye groundballs are always a serious threat, it makes this stat much more important.
Conflicting Stat: A.J. Ellis has the second lowest swing rate and 7th highest BB rate in baseball. The Cardinals throw a lot of strikes. He has to swing sometime. Actually, what this tells us, in part, is that Ellis hits in front of the pitcher and combines a good eye with the realization that in a lot of situations he will get pitched around in favor of facing the pitcher.
How It Plays Out: Ellis has been down with the bat as of late so he shouldn’t scare Cards pitchers too much. The situation will dictate a lot of what happens in these matchups—if the Cards can keep the 6 and 7 hitters off base then they can go right at Ellis. If he comes up with a base open early in the game look for his walking ways to continue.
X Factor: Josh Beckett hasn’t been in the national league in a long time. If Ellis does walk ahead of him with less than two outs then whether or not Beckett can get the bunt down will quickly become a significant factor.
2. Adam Wainwright’s Off-Speed vs. The Dodgers Lineup
Conflicting Stat: Wainwright ranks 10th in curveball value and 16th in cutter value among starting pitchers. The Dodgers lineup has ranked 4th in production the last 30 days against both pitch types.
How It Plays Out: Pitch Type Linear Weights have almost no predictive power (especially over a sample of only 30 days) so this is more of a fun matchup to look at than something of real significance. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, though, Wainwright seems to be only as effective as his cutter. What really matters is whether or not he returns to the sharp Adam Wainwright we saw a few weeks ago. If so it doesn’t really matter who he faces.
X Factor: Fatigue. Coming off of surgery it took a while for Wainwright to get going. Now he’s at the end of a grueling season and could be wearing down. Facing Kershaw he has to pitch like he’s 100%, whether he feels that way or not.
1. Bullpen Gas vs. Cards Hitters
Conflicting Stat: The Cards have the 4th most production against fastballs of any offense this year. Kenley Jansen (who likely still won’t pitch) and Ronald Belisario rank 1st and 2nd among relievers in percentage of fastballs thrown and overall the Dodgers bullpen is 3rd in baseball in fastball frequency.
How It Plays Out: I think the combination of the Dodgers lack of control, the Cardinals showing few platoon splits, and the Cards ability to put balls in play bodes well for the Cards late in games.
X Factor: It may not seem this way given the struggles lately, but the Cards have the 6th highest wRC+ with men in scoring position and 9th highest wRC+ in high leverage situations, so they hit with guys on base and in big spots. Whether they can make that happen in this series and turn that production into runs and wins is another matter.