As all baseball fans know, this year’s playoff race is shaping up to be the greatest in recent memory. With just 5 games to go in the regular season, the Cardinals, Mets, and Giants are separated by just 1.5 games. But only 2 of these teams will make the playoffs via a wildcard spot. So which 2 teams are most fit to excel over their last 5 games, and which team will narrowly miss the playoffs?
Recently on Cardsblog, our writers have spent much time analyzing the pitching aspect of making the playoffs, so in this article I’ll be focusing on the projected starting lineups of each team, making a breakdown by position of the strengths and weaknesses of the Cardinals, Mets, and Giants:
Catcher: Molina vs. d’Arnaud/Rivera vs. Posey
The Mets’ catching woes have been a concerning part of their lineup all season, and the combination of Travis d’Arnaud and Rene Rivera are no match for what the Cardinals and the Giants have to offer. Yadier Molina and Buster Posey have been two of the top catchers this past decade and both have a very real chance to join the Hall of Fame after retirement. This year was Yadier’s first year missing the All Star Game since 2008, while Buster started for the NL squad. Although Posey’s batting average is 13 points lower than Molina’s, the Giants catcher leads in Home runs, RBI’s, OBP, and SLG.
On the defensive side, Molina has received the NL Gold Glove award in 8 consecutive years, but this year Posey has outperformed his St. Louis counterpart. According to Statcorner.com, Posey has been better at framing pitches this season than Molina, compiling both a higher percentage of pitches outside the strike-zone that were called strikes, as well as a lower percentage of pitches in the strike-zone that were called balls. Posey also has a much higher caught-stealing percentage of 36.5% to 20.8%. Although Molina is still everything that any team would want in a catcher, Posey has been better this year in both offensive and defensive production.
Advantage: Giants— Buster Posey
Corner Infielders: Adams & Peralta vs. Loney & Reyes vs. Belt & Nunez
For the Cardinals Matt Adams and Jhonny Peralta have an average slash line .252/.301/.432 for average/OBP/SLG. For the Mets, James Loney and Jose Reyes have hit .264/.317/.416 on the year. And for the Giants, Brandon Belt and Eduardo Nunez (combining his stats from his stints on the Twins and Giants this year) have hit .279/.357/.447. Both of the Giants’ corner infielders were All Stars in 2016 as well. Defensively, Belt & Nunez have also contributed the most with a combined dWar (defensive wins above replacement), of .2, while the Mets’ and the Cardinals’ pair of corner infielders have had a negative impact to their teams.
Advantage: Giants— Brandon Belt & Eduardo Nune
Middle Infielders: Carpenter & Diaz vs. Johnson/Rivera & Cabrera vs. Panik & Crawford
Both of the Cardinals’ All Stars this year come from their middle infield. Although Carpenter is traditionally a third baseman, Matt has spent much of this season at second, especially recently. Aledmys Diaz in his rookie season has been stellar, and him and Carpenter have combined for an average slash line of .286/.373/.503. Meanwhile, the Mets’ suffered a major injury at second base losing Neil Walker, their starting second baseman for the year. In replacement, the Mets have relied on a combination of Kelly Johnson and T.J. Rivera. The Mets’ pickup of Asdrubal Cabrera this past offseason has proven to be very successful. Averaging together Johnson and Rivera’s statistics into one, and then averaging that with Cabrera, the Mets’ current middle infield has a slash line of .296/.341/.481.
And for the Giants, Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford, the starters for this entire year for San Fran, have posted an average slash line of .254/.326/.401. Although both Panik and Crawford were All Stars in 2015, their 2016 seasons have not been quite as successful. Overall, if the Mets didn’t lose Neil Walker for the remainder of the season I believe they would have a small advantage, but journeyman Kelly Johnson and rookie T.J. Rivera don’t bring the same offensive threat. Panik and Crawford could very well return to their All Star form from 2015, but right now the Cardinals middle infield has been the most proven and consistent in 2016.
Advantage: Cardinals— Matt Carpenter & Aledmys Diaz
Outfielders: Moss, Grichuk, & Piscotty vs. Cespedes, Granderson, & Bruce vs. Pagan, Span, & Pence
The Cardinals’ outfield has been missing Matt Holliday greatly, and it is questionable on whether he will return this season, but Brandon Moss, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty have done a fine job picking up the difference. Those 3 have an average slash line on the year of .247/.311/.479 while hitting a combined 72 homers. Meanwhile the Mets have the biggest names in their outfield out of the three teams in contention in Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, and Jay Bruce (who was traded from the Reds at the trade deadline). With 8 combined All Star appearances between the 3 during their careers, the Mets starting outfielders have slugged their way to 90 home runs on the year. They’ve posted an average slash line of .251/.326/.496, and no base runner wants to mess with Yo’s arm.
VIDEO: Yoenis Cespedes made a case for throw of the year with this cannon to gun out the runner at home http://t.co/MDc8iUrtHa
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 11, 2014
Although the Giants’ Angel Pagan, Denard Span, and Hunter Pence don’t hit as many homeruns as the Cardinals’ or Mets’ outfields, they do get on base the most. They’ve hit .274/.337/.411. But they’ve only driven in 156 runs combined while hitting 34 home runs, while the Mets outfield has driven in 231 runs on the year. For their ability to bring in runs and hit the long-ball often, I believe the Mets have the advantage in the outfield.
Advantage: Mets— Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, & Jay Bruce
Overall Advantage: Of course each team has their respective strengths and weaknesses, but these three teams feature equally dangerous lineups. The Cardinals have a Hall of Fame catcher and two All Star middle infielders, but their corner infielders and outfielders have a tough time getting on base. Although the Mets have major holes at catcher and second base, their outfield and other infielders have done more than enough, helping the Mets score the most runs in September out of the 3 teams in wild card contention. And finally the Giants don’t have any glaring holes in their lineup, but they have scored the 2nd fewest runs in the NL during September, and the least in all of baseball since the All Star break. For this reason, I think the Giants will continue their struggles, especially during the final 3 games of the season when they face the 4th best pitching staff in baseball (3.62 ERA on the year) and their division rival— the L.A. Dodgers. Overall, solely based on each teams respective lineups, I believe the Cardinals and Mets will secure the wild card spots and have the opportunity to face each other in the 1 game wildcard. But one thing is certain, this last week of baseball will be exciting for all fans.
Photo Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports