St. Louis Cardinals NLDS Preview: Who’s better in the infield?

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 23: Paul DeJong #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals turns a double play on a ground ball hit by Abraham Almonte #48 of the Arizona Diamondbacks as Nick Ahmed #13 slides into second base during the sixth inning at Chase Field on September 23, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 23: Paul DeJong #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals turns a double play on a ground ball hit by Abraham Almonte #48 of the Arizona Diamondbacks as Nick Ahmed #13 slides into second base during the sixth inning at Chase Field on September 23, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /
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In our last player comparison, we take a look at how the infield of the St. Louis Cardinals stacks up against the Braves as the NLDS is about to begin.

The infield of the St. Louis Cardinals has been much more of a strength than it has been in a while in 2019. With a blossoming Kolten Wong, the newly acquired Paul Goldschmidt, and the breakout of Tommy Edman, it can be a scary group to face.

The infield of the Braves has also been greatly improved in 2019. Bringing in Josh Donaldson and with Ozzie Albies continuing to grow, their group is also not a fun group to pitch to.

Before the NLDS starts today, let’s give it one last look. Who has the advantage in the infield?

Third Base

The Cardinals are benefiting from the breakout of yet another later round rookie this year. While Tommy Edman may not be able to repeat this 2019 performance, the Cardinals can ride the Edman wave through the playoffs.

The 24-year-old rookie is the only regular position player with a batting average above .300 and his 11 homers this year are way more than what he’s hit in any minor league season. The biggest thing for Edman is the clutch factor as he has come through huge in a few different spots to give the Cardinals the lead.

While Edman can play almost anywhere on the diamond, he forced his way past Matt Carpenter at third base and is starting there for Game 1. Edman’s defense at third has also been great with a +4 DRS.

For the Braves, Josh Donaldson has found the fountain of youth. With a .900 OPS, 37 homers, and a 6.1 bWAR, Donaldson may go down as the best free-agent signing from last winter. He’s 33 but healthy after dealing with calf issues last year and is proving he’s still got it.

Defensively, Donaldson is an amazing third baseman with 15 DRS at the position. He is the cleanup hitter for the dangerous Braves lineup and he is a huge threat. Donaldson is dealing with some injury issues as he has been bothered by a hip contusion but he’s in the lineup for game 1 regardless.

Advantage: Braves

Shortstop

Paul DeJong had a strong start to 2019 and it was another solid year for the young shortstop. Although he hit 30 homers, he certainly has things to work on offensively. He had just a .238 average and .318 OBP and was actually 2% below average by OPS+. That being said, it was a better year power-wise than last year and at 25 he still has plenty of time to mature offensively.

Defensively is where DeJong is deserving of a ton of credit. After being just average at shortstop in 2017, 2019 was DeJong’s second straight year of 14 DRS. He’s under-the-radar, but DeJong is a huge asset with a 4.1 bWAR.

For the Braves, they got more production from Dansby Swanson than they have in the past, but still not what they hoped for. With just an 89 OPS+, Swanson is still trying to recapture the offensive talent he showed his rookie year.

Now 25 years old, Swanson dropped down to -4 DRS at shortstop this year and he won’t be on the Braves much longer if he can’t turn himself around. He is batting 8th for the Braves and while he runs into a homer every once in a while (17 in 2019), he’s not much of an offensive threat.

Advantage: Cardinals

Second Base

It will be a big question whether Kolten Wong is “back” or if he’s actually back after a grade 2 hamstring strain kept him out the last couple weeks of the regular season. Before the strain, he was having his best year as a pro with a .285/.361/.423 slash line batting from the second spot of the order.

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Wong also turned it up this year on the basepaths with 24 stolen bases. His confidence at the plate has been great to see and he’s been the team’s offensive MVP this year for sure with a 4.7 bWAR. He is still a defensive star too as he also put up 14 DRS at second base this year and will probably win the gold glove.

For the Braves, their young Ozzie Albies also had an amazing year. With a .295/.352/.500 slash line, Albies is basically Kolten Wong with more homers and fewer steals and worse defense. He only has 7 DRS but he balances that with a little more offense. He also bats second and is a switch hitter and just 22 years old, but for now, Albies’ 4.8 WAR is just barely above Wong.

This is too close to call. Both have their strengths but they are mostly the same

Advantage: Even

First Base

Paul Goldschmidt’s first season with the Cardinals was definitely a disappointment as his OPS was 90 points below his career average. It was still a great year for the first baseman though as his 34 homers and 97 RBI’s definitely anchored the offense, but his batting average and on-base skills weren’t there like they used to be.

Goldy was a back to career norms in the second half though and the slump could’ve been due to a new contract and home team for the first time in his career.

He kept his good defense at first base though with a +4 DRS and as it goes in the postseason, it’s all about what you’ve done for me lately. Goldy will be huge in this series.

On the other side, the Braves have one of the best first basemen in the league as well in Freddie Freeman. On the year, Freeman had a .938 OPS with 38 homers and 121 RBI’s out of the third spot in the dangerous Atlanta lineup. It helps to have guys like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Albies batting in front of you and Josh Donaldson behind, but Freeman is perhaps the most dangerous bat of any of them.

Freeman has 5 DRS of his own at first base and the All-Star is still just 29 years old. He is going to be a big bat to watch out for.

Advantage: Braves

Catcher

Yadier Molina is back in the postseason for the 10th time and is still kicking at the plate. While his OPS fell down to .711, Molina proved in the last two months that he still has it. Since finally getting his hand healthy, Molina had a .800+ OPS and six homers over the final two months.

Defensively, Yadi was a +2 DRS catcher which was a bump back up from what he was in 2018.

He is the undisputed leader of this team behind the plate and is still clutch when you need him. For all the pitchers the Cardinals have this year that don’t have any experience in the postseason, Molina’s leadership is going to be huge.

For the Braves, they have their own grizzled vet behind the plate in Brian McCann. When compared to Yadi, the young buck (35 years old compared to 37 for Yadi) had a little bit of a better offensive year with a .734 OPS but he’s got the same leadership role Yadi does.

McCann left Atlanta for five years before returning this year and while he has just a 0.3 bWAR compared to Yadi’s 1.3, his value to the team can’t be fully calculated. The Braves also have Tyler Flowers who splits the duty with McCann.

Advantage: Cardinals

Much like the outfield, the Braves have a better offense in the infield. Defensively, the Cardinals have the edge but both teams are strong defensively. In total bWAR, the Braves edge out the Cardinals 16.5 to 15.7 but that’s close enough where it is going to be a great matchup.

This ends our series preview now with about an hour until game time as of writing. Woo!

dark. Next. How the Cardinals rotation stacks up against Atlanta’s

There’s not really anything more that can be previewed. At this point, all there is left to do is for the first pitch to be thrown. Go Cardinals.

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