How Cardinals can trounce Phillies in Wild Card series

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Oct 1, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol (37) looks on after the Cardinals defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol (37) looks on after the Cardinals defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /
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The St. Louis Cardinals will oppose the Philadelphia Phillies in the Wild Card series starting on Oct. 7. Here’s how St. Louis can emerge victorious.

The curtain has finally fallen on the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2022 season, and the real test is about to begin. The Cardinals will host the Philadelphia Phillies for the best-of-three Wild Card series, and while the Phillies are the favorites to advance, the Cardinals could beat the odds with some crafty decisions.

The Phillies have already announced their rotation for the series: Zack Wheeler starts Game 1, and Aaron Nola takes Game 2. If a third game is required, Ranger Suarez will get the start. The Cardinals haven’t announced their rotation yet, but it’s likely that either Jose Quintana or Miles Mikolas will start Game 1. Although the Cardinals lack a bona fide ace, they have a solid and versatile rotation, and manager Oliver Marmol could easily decide that “piggybacking” Jack Flaherty or Steven Matz behind one or both of them would be optimal.

It’s not a bad idea. Marmol could even take it a step further and use an opener. The Cardinals didn’t use the opener strategy this season, but the Phillies’ biggest threats are at the top of their lineup in the form of lefty bats Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper. If Marmol wanted to use a left-hander such as Zack Thompson, Genesis Cabrera or Packy Naughton to start the game and turn to a right-hander like Mikolas after the first inning, it would give those lefties fewer opportunities to adapt to the starter. Marmol could also use lefty-suppressing right-hander Andre Pallante in that role.

Bullpens are critical in the postseason, as analytics point to lineups becoming more in tune with opposing pitchers the second and third time through the order. The Cardinals’ versatility on the mound and Marmol’s generally quick hook is one way they can capitalize.

At the plate, the Cardinals need to put the ball in play to exploit the Phillies’ shaky defense. They tied for 25th in defensive runs saved, and while their fielders usually make the routine plays, as evidenced by the team having the fourth-fewest errors, they can be erratic on the more difficult chances. Making contact is obviously easier said than done, especially against Wheeler and Nola, but even if the hitters have to do the unthinkable and choke up with two strikes and focus on contact, it could be worthwhile.

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The Phillies are far more capable than the team across the state the Cardinals finished their season against, but they’re far from a juggernaut. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado need to up their games to the level they showed in August, and Albert Pujols will have to stave off Father Time for one more postseason, but if Marmol utilizes the pitching effectively and the Cardinals focus on putting balls in play, they have a chance to extend this magical year.

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