Friday, September 30, 2011

NL Playoff Preview: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Phillies

Phillies: Pitching and Power

The Philadelphia Phillies won 102 games, capturing the NL East by 13 games over the Braves, assisting in Atlanta's late-season collapse by sweeping them in the final three-game series of the season, allowing the Cardinals to clinch the wild card spot on the last day of the season.

Cliff Lee
Philly's pitching staff is the stuff of dreams, with multiple Cy Young award winners, starting with Roy Halladay, who went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA and 220 strikeouts. Halladay will start game one, followed by Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40, 238Ks, 6 complete game shutouts), Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79, 194 Ks) and Roy Oswalt, should game four be necessary.

Ryan Howard
With a staff like that, the Phillies hardly need any hitting, though they have plenty, starting with first baseman Ryan Howard, who stuck 33 homers and drove in 116 runs, among the league leaders in both categories. At the top of the order is veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who hit .268. scored 86 runs and stole 30 bases in 142 games. Center field is patrolled by Shane Victorino, the spunky Hawaiian who led the team in runs, with 95, triples (16) and socked 17 home runs along the way. Right field belongs to Hunter Pence, acquired from the Astros mid-season, and left fielder Raul Ibanez resurrected his career with 20 home runs and 84 RBI.

The third spot in the order usually is assigned to second baseman Chase Utley, who had an off year due to injury, but is still a dangerous hitter every time he enters the batter's box.

Middle and late relief is not strong for the Phillies, though it's not a concern as their starters are usually good for at least seven innings. The closing role will likely be the province of Ryan Madsen, who held down 32 of 34 leads.

The Phillies allowed the Cardinals into the playoffs and now must eliminate them.

Cardinals: Hitters and Youth

Albert Pujols
Chris Carpenter
St. Louis is the National League's wild card entrant, finally getting past Atlanta on the final day of the season on the strength of Chris Carpenter's 2-hit shutout in Houston. Because Carpenter pitched on Wednesday, he will not be available until game two on Sunday. Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.39) will start game one aftr a solid year.

Game three starter will be Jaime Garcia (13-7, 3.56). Edwin Jackson will start game four, if necessary. The Cardinal pitching staff was hampered by the season-long loss of Adam Wainwright, but persevered to finish six games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central.

The middle of the Cardinal lineup is packed with power, beginning with perennial all star Albert Pujols, who had an average season - for him - socking 37 home runs and driving in 99 runs while batting .299. Surrounding Pujols are a couple of veteran sluggers, right fielder Matt Holliday(.296, 22, 75) and Lance Berkman (.301, 31, 94).

The Cards also have a number of young hitters with power, including outfielder Allen Craig, who hit .315 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI in 75 games, and third baseman David Freese (.297, 10, 55). Yadier Molina is probably the best defensive catcher in the game and he had an excellent season at the plate, batting .305 with 14 HR and 65 RBI. John Jay hit .295 and is the regular center fielder.

The Cardinals generally hit for a high average and have plenty of power to challenge the Phillies' pitching. If Pujols, Berkman and Holliday hold their own against the Philly starters, the Cardinals stand a fighting chance, though late relief has been an issue all season. Fernando Salas led the team with 24 saves and Jason Motte is the regular middle-to-late reliever, though both have had their share of rough outings. Salas blew six saves, Motte, four, with nine saves.

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