St. Louis Cardinals: Speculating the 2017 Cardinals’ playoff performance

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ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 1: Randal Grichuk
ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 1: Randal Grichuk /
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With all the excitement surrounding October baseball, St. Louis Cardinals fans everywhere subconsciously start thoughts with “Man, if the Cardinals were there…”

It is difficult to make any direct claims about who would beat who in a baseball series. Momentum and rhythm are such a fragile and important part of the game. However, there are other generalizations you can make based on team’s performances. While we can’t predict a Dodgers-like explosion, we can try to see whether or not a momentum-less St. Louis Cardinals team would be able to make the World Series.

While rhythm is important, we can still make a guess based on the team’s performance in the regular season. Since the sample size in the regular season is much larger, it accounts for shifts in momentum, and is thus a good baseline to start when making comparisons. Here is a table of every playoff team’s regular season stats, with one’s most similar to St. Louis underlined.

Regular SeasonR/GH/G2B/G3B/GHR/GSO/GBB/GTB/GAVGOBPSLG
Arizona5.0108.6701.9400.2401.3608.9903.57015.1700.2540.3290.445
Boston4.8509.0201.8600.1171.0407.5503.50014.2300.2580.3290.407
Chicago5.0708.6501.6900.1801.3808.6403.84014.8300.2550.3380.437
Cleveland5.0508.9402.0600.1801.3107.1203.73015.2800.2630.3390.449
Colorado5.0909.3201.8100.2301.1908.6903.20015.1500.2730.3380.444
Houston5.5309.7602.1400.1201.4706.7103.14016.5500.2820.3460.478
L.A.4.7508.3101.9300.1201.3608.5204.01014.5800.2470.3340.437
Minnesota5.0308.9101.7700.1901.2708.2803.66014.8700.2600.3340.434
New York5.3009.0301.6400.1401.4908.5603.80015.4200.2620.3390.447
Washington5.0609.1201.9200.1901.3208.1903.35015.4000.2660.3320.449
ST. LOUIS4.7008.6501.7500.1731.2108.3203.66014.3800.2560.3340.426
REG AVG5.0748.9701.8700.1721.3208.1253.58215.1480.2620.3360.443

These are a lot of numbers to process (they sure took a while took calculate), so here are a couple of things to note about them:

  • St. Louis’ power is bad, if you couldn’t already tell from the grueling regular season. They are behind every playoff team in runs scored and second to last in bases per game and slugging percentage. The only team behind them was Boston, who had an elite starter in Chris Sale and an elite closer in Craig Kimbrel.
  • Runs and hits are both down significantly from the regular season, but home run rates are higher. Pitchers are making fewer mistakes, but they pay for the one’s they make much more often.
  • The two current World Series teams have great discipline. The Dodgers were among the best in the league at drawing walks, while the Astros struck out much less than the other teams in the league. The St. Louis Cardinals would be among the best of the postseason teams in walk drawing and in the top half in limiting strikeouts.
  • The Dodgers and Astros have the highest possible batting average range of a World Series match up. The Dodgers have the worst average of all the postseason teams, and the only one worse than St. Louis at .247, while the Astros had the best average in the majors at .282

But this isn’t just a piece on the playoffs, this is a piece on the Cardinals. As I mentioned above, there are teams with similar numbers to the Cardinals that you can examine in order to determine how the Cardinals themselves may have preformed. Let’s take a look at a couple of those teams and extrapolate a prediction on the Cardinals’ postseason success from their performances in October.

Boston

Similar Categories: Runs, Total Bases, Average, Slugging

2017 Postseason Record: 1-3 (L in ALDS to Houston)

Postseason Stats:

R/GH/G2B/G3B/GHR/GSO/GBB/GTB/GAVGOBPSLG
Boston  POST4.5009.7501.7500.0001.2508.2503.00015.2500.2850.3400.445
% from Reg.Season-7.22%8.09%-5.91%NA20.19%9.27%-14.28%7.17%10.47%3.34%9.34%

The first team on the list, Boston’s performance in the postseason was disappointing for its fans to say the least. While the concern for the Red Sox centered around its offense, players were able to hit for the team, increasing all three of the slash stats. However, these were not turned into runs as much as the regular season, as Boston squandered opportunity after opportunity.

As with most teams in the postseason, the Red Sox struck out more and walked less, becoming very much an all or nothing team in the postseason. While they were able to hit more, they either converted big or missed game-changing opportunities.

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This makes them a bit different from the Cardinals.

The Cardinals were not a big strikeout team and were able to draw walks at a good rate. However,ut the question lies in the Cardinals ability to bump up their power, as the Red Sox did with increase slugging and home run rates while maintaining similar double rates.

The Red Sox were also much better at staving off strikeouts than the Cardinals in the regular season; their reduced postseason numbers are still more that St. Louis’.

This is one of the more likely outlooks for a possible St. Louis playoff run, despite being in the American League. While it wouldn’t be nearly as disappointing to a sub-90 win St. Louis Cardinal team to put up the kind of numbers and performance than the 93-win Sox, it wouldn’t be anything to get too excited about.

Likelihood: 40%

Los Angeles

Similar Categories: Runs, Strikeouts, Total Bases, On Base Percentage

2017 Postseason Record (As of 10/23): 7-1 (In World Series)

Postseason Stats:

R/GH/G2B/G3B/GHR/GSO/GBB/GTB/GAVGOBPSLG
L.A. POST6.0009.1301.5000.5001.6308.5005.50016.5000.2730.3780.494
% from Reg.Season26.31%9.87%6.04%316.67%19.85%-0.24%37.16%13.17%10.53%13.17%13.04%

Obviously, this would be a best case scenario, and one that is somewhat plausible. It’s not like the Dodgers have a slew of legendary names on their roster; they are doing this with guys like Chris Taylor and Kike Hernandez. The Dodgers were also the best team in the National League for a variety of other reasons, including a stellar bullpen that the Cardinals lack.

Offensively speaking though, they ended up with similar overall production in the regular season, despite getting there in somewhat different ways. One of the most significant similarities is the plate discipline of the two teams, as the Dodgers and Cardinals struck out nearly the same amount while having good walk rates. The Dodgers were first in the majors, while St. Louis tied for fifth with a team later in this list.

The Dodgers were able to up that walk rate to the same amount, which is an underrated catalyst of their offense this postseason. While the home runs have been huge, it is the people on base for those home runs that really make them hurt, and walking at the ridiculous rate the Dodgers have this postseason certainly helps.

If the Cardinals were able to face a young wild pitcher here or there, they may have been able to capture momentum for a huge run. However, having a bullpen that you know can secure you lead is a huge psychological relief in pushing forward as an offense, and that would make a significant difference in trying to put together the kind of run the Dodgers have.

Likelihood: 5%

Chicago

Similar Categories: Hits, Doubles, Triples, Strikeouts, Batting Average

2017 Postseason Record: 4-6 (L in NLCS to Los Angeles)

Postseason Stats:

R/GH/G2B/G3B/GHR/GSO/GBB/GTB/GAVGOBPSLG
Chicago POST2.5005.1001.00000.90010.5002.3008.8000.1680.2400.289
% from Reg.Season-50.69%-41.04%-40.83%NA-34.78%21.53%-40.10%-40.66%-34.12%-28.99%-33.87%

Just as the Dodgers were the best case scenario, here is the other side of the spectrum. The Cubs completely floundered. Even though they somehow won a playoff series, there’s an argument for the Cubs being the worst team in the playoffs this year, which many say exposed a weak NL Central.

I would have to disagree; this just seems like a typical case of slumping at the wrong time. The Nationals came in to the postseason with a lot of talent and firepower, and the Cubs were able to get past that somehow. They were able to manage, despite essentially forgetting how to hit, something that can’t be done without significant talent.

The Cubs spiraled in the wrong direction in every stat that they shared similarities with the Cardinals in the regular season, and in every other offensive category for that matter. It’s really hard to say much about this than you hope that it doesn’t happen. While the Cardinals do have some players prone to slumps, its unlikely that the Cardinals reach this end of the spectrum either.

Likelihood: 5%

Minnesota

Similar Categories: Doubles, Home Runs, Strikeouts, Walks, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage

2017 Postseason Record: 0-1 (L to New York in AL Wild Card)

Postseason Stats:

R/GH/G2B/G3B/GHR/GSO/GBB/GTB/GAVGOBPSLG
Minnesota POST4.0009.0001.0000.0002.00013.0004.00016.0000.2570.3330.457
% from Reg.Season-20.48%1.01%-43.50%NA57.48%57%9.29%7.60%-1.15%-0.30%5.30%

Interestingly enough, the team most similar to the Cardinals comes from the American League and the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Twins were a bit more top-heavy in terms of power this season, with Brian Dozier leading the Twins with 34 home runs, compared to the Cardinals peak of 25 from Paul DeJong.  However, they are relatively similar in their overall power production, with the Twins only having 10 more home runs than the Cardinals overall.

They also showed similarities in discipline, as the Cardinals finished with the same number of walks as Minnesota on the season along with just six more strikeouts than the Twins. Both teams have a similar construction offensively, with a majority of the players being young and powerful hitters coming into their own along with a few veterans, and one player that has been with the team all of his long career.

Though they didn’t get the victory, the Twins didn’t play all that poorly offensively. However, they struck out far too often, and were unable to contain the Yankees offense, thanks to shaky pitching and unexpected home runs from Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner. While their offense was passable enough, the Twins pitching could not maintain the lead or stop the Yankees once they got the lead.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

With a number one starter as inconsistent as Carlos Martinez, it isn’t so much a surprise as it is getting the wrong side of a coin flip if he implodes early. A guy that is capable of walking 5 guys in 5 innings multiple times in a season is tough to trust in the playoffs, no matter how much talent he may have on a good day. Ervin Santana, the Twins starter for the Wild Card game, was certainly more trustworthy this season that Martinez.

The similarities between Cardinals and the Twins were uncanny this season, and the Cardinals have the kind of team that will start to fish in a desperate situation. While the strikeout numbers and home run are exceptionally high due to a small sample size, this overall performance is most similar to what the Cardinals would be able to do in the postseason.

Likelihood: 50%

Verdict

The Cardinals would have faced a team with similar power potential to the Yankees in Arizona. Paul Goldschmidt is always a hitter to be feared, and Jake Lamb came into his own as a run driver after a solid 2016 campaign. They are in the top half of playoff teams in doubles, home runs, total bases, and slugging, but they are the most strikeout prone playoff team and in the lower half of walks drawn.

They were not quite as dangerous as the Yankees, but containing them is tough. It’s safe to say based on the makeup of the team and the comparisons to others, the Cardinals would be able to make slightly better contact off a wilder than usual Zach Greinke. The key would be the Cardinals ability to work the count and draw walks, as that has tended to help teams this postseason, as seen by the Dodgers above.

Assuming they make it past Arizona, the  St. Louis Cardinals would meet the Dodgers, who absolutely decimated the Diamondbacks pitching in the series. While it may not end up being the kind of shootout that we saw over the first two games of the Dodgers-D’Backs series, it’s hard to see the Cardinals beat the Dodgers this season with all the questions surrounding the bullpen.

With the way the Dodgers caught fire, I would be hard pressed to believe that St. Louis could match that this season. Even if they did, the deficiency of the Cardinal bullpen combined with the tougher environment to create runs both physically in Dodger Stadium and psychologically speaking with the postseason pressure.

Game 1 would be the pivotal moment for the St. Louis Cardinals, as it would be the only time that the Cardinals could halt the Dodgers offensive momentum, they would cut the fuse before it was lit, and put pressure on the Dodgers to create that same magic with more pressure on them.

However, the pressure on the bullpen to hold games would be too much, and the Dodgers would capitalize on those mistakes with bat flips that would make smoke come out of your ears. As much as I hate to say it, the St. Louis Cardinals would have been outmatched by the Dodgers, and would take a stroke of luck to take them down. In October, relying on luck only gets you so far.

Final Prediction: L in NLDS to Los Angeles in 5 games

Next: Thome, Pujols, and Junior: The Cleanest Hitters

What are your thoughts on the Cardinals’ chances should they have made the playoffs? If you think they could have made it all the way, feel free to comment below with your reasons.

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