NL Wild Card Series Preview: Cardinals vs. Phillies

Albert Pujols
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 season was once the yr to wreck long-standing playoff droughts. The Mariners finishing their two-decade stretch of futility were given the larger headlines, however the Phillies closed out their very own decade of struggling through clinching the NL’s ultimate Wild Card berth on Monday. It didn’t come simple — below the former playoff construction, they’d have neglected out at the postseason through two video games — however the expanded box provides them a chance to make some noise in October. Their opponent might be a well-known one: the Cardinals, who eradicated the Phillies in a hard-fought Division Series the final time they have been within the playoffs.

St. Louis hasn’t needed to climate a long playoff drought for the reason that Nineteen Seventies, qualifying for the postseason for the fourth consecutive yr and successful its moment department name in that span. The Cardinals additionally posted their 1/3 90-plus win season in that duration, with the shortened 2020 season as the one outlier. More remarkably, they haven’t completed underneath .500 since 2007, with 10 postseason appearances in the ones 15 years. As some distance as constant competition move, the Cardinals are necessarily an October staple.

Team Overview: Phillies vs. Cardinals

Overview Phillies Cardinals Edge
Batting (wRC+) 107 (fifth in NL) 114 (third in NL) Cardinals
Fielding (RAA) -32 (14th) 17 (third) Cardinals
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 87 (second) 102 (ninth) Phillies
Bullpen (FIP-) 91 (4th) 101 (eighth) Phillies

The Phillies’ path to their Wild Card berth wasn’t a instantly one. They wandered during the first two months of the season, posting a disappointing 21–29 document, which ended in the dismissal of supervisor Joe Girardi on June 3. But after that, they went 64–46 below intervening time supervisor Rob Thompson, the fourth-best document within the NL over the remainder of the season. All that luck right through the summer season got here regardless of dropping Bryce Harper for a vital chew of the yr. He fractured his thumb on June 25 and returned on August 26 however by no means in reality regained his MVP shape, with an 84 wRC+ over the overall month and alter of play.

With its famous person at the shelf, quite a few Philadelphia’s veteran sluggers stepped as much as lead the offense. The largest contributor was once J.T. Realmuto. As Michael Baumann coated per week in the past, the veteran catcher carried the burden with a 162 wRC+ in the second one part, gathering the 1/3 maximum WAR in that point at the back of Aaron Judge and Adley Rutschman. Despite his slow-ish get started, Realmuto wound up posting profession bests in wRC+ and WAR. Then there was once Kyle Schwarber, who led the NL in house runs with 46, a wonder given his identical gradual begin to the season; he hit simply 11 homers within the first two months of the season however exploded in June with 12 and added 23 extra over the following 3 months.

The different large free-agent deal the Phillies passed out over the offseason hasn’t labored out as smartly. After posting a 122 wRC+ during the last 5 seasons, Nick Castellanos couldn’t to find his footing in Philadelphia, slumping to a 95 wRC+, his worst yr on the plate since 2015. His largest drawback was once a nasty case of chasing breaking balls off the plate, main to special problems making authoritative touch. His barrel fee and hard-hit fee fell to profession lows, leading to a dark .392 slugging proportion.

But we will’t communicate concerning the Phillies with out speaking about their protection. Put merely, it’s dangerous. It’s now not a wonder both, taking into account that Schwarber and Castellanos occupy the nook outfield spots. The most effective certain contributor of their beginning lineup is moment baseman Jean Segura, who graded out as a +4 in Outs Above Average this yr. The Phillies’ largest factor, even though, isn’t making errors; they if truth be told dedicated the fourth-fewest mistakes within the majors this yr. Instead, they only let too many batted balls to find the grass, which considerably harm their skill to stop runs from scoring. It’s a large reason their pitching workforce posted a top-10 FIP in baseball however a workforce ERA that was once simply 18th.

Leading stated pitching workforce is Aaron Nola, a quiet contender for the NL Cy Young award this yr. One main reason is that the righty was once in a position to chop his house run fee to only 9.8% this yr, an enormous development over his profession fee of 13.2%. He additionally posted a career-low stroll fee this yr whilst nonetheless keeping up his large strikeout totals. He’ll be at the mound for Game 2 of this collection. To open, the Phillies will flip to Zack Wheeler. He adopted up a profession yr in 2021 with a season just about as excellent, even though he pitched 60 fewer innings. The well being of his forearm was once a large query mark during the finish of the summer season, however he controlled to make it again to the mound in past due September and posted 3 excellent begins to complete the steady season. If the collection is going to a Game 3, Philadelphia will most likely flip to Ranger Suárez, a high quality starter in his personal proper however less than the extent of Nola or Wheeler.

Where the Phillies will lead off with their two aces, the Cardinals input this collection with much less established choices up peak.

Cardinals Starting Rotation

Ordinarily, it could be demanding to consider a Cardinals playoff collection with out Wainwright, however given how the overall month of the season went, supervisor Oli Marmol might go for hiding his veteran righty.

Cardinals Starters in September

Player IP Okay% BB% ERA FIP
Adam Wainwright 28.2 9.4% 8.0% 7.22 4.37
Miles Mikolas 34 22.0% 6.8% 2.38 3.73
José Quintana 33.1 23.1% 3.3% 0.81 1.88
Jack Flaherty 28 21.6% 10.4% 3.86 4.40
Jordan Montgomery 33 23.4% 6.4% 4.36 3.90

Wainwright allowed a whopping 23 runs in his six September begins, and his strikeout and stroll charges each took a flip for the more severe. That efficiency has most likely driven him out of the image for a Wild Card get started; at ultimate, the Cardinals may hand him the ball on an especially quick leash and feature Montgomery or Flaherty in a position on standby if issues move south temporarily.

Luckily, Mikolas and Quintana completed the steady season on robust notes; the latter, according to Marmol on Thursday, will take the ball for Game 1, and the previous will get started Game 2, with Game 3’s starter TBD. Quintana hasn’t pitched this smartly since he was once a member of the White Sox again in 2017 and has been even higher since coming over from the Pirates on the industry closing date. Chris Gilligan checked out Quintana’s rejuvenation previous this week and famous his transition from a glass who trusted strikeouts to at least one who induces lots of vulnerable touch:

He has deployed his arsenal through throwing most commonly out of doors the strike zone, raising his fastball extra and making hitters succeed in for curveballs and changeups. His 35.4% zone fee is the bottom in a complete season of his profession, round 10 proportion issues less than his conventional early-career season, and the second-lowest amongst qualifying pitchers this yr. And it’s operating – he’s engaging swings on a career-high 36.2% of his pitches out of doors of the zone, the Tenth-highest fee amongst qualifiers. … By drawing hitters out of doors the strike zone, he has considerably reduced the standard in their touch with out conceding bases on balls with any kind of harmful frequency.

That leaves Montgomery, Flaherty, and Wainwright to begin in a possible Game 3. Like Quintana, Montgomery holds the platoon merit over a few of Philadelphia’s stronger bats, and Flaherty’s stuff may play up in shorter outings if he have been driven to the bullpen. So the verdict comes again round to what to do with Wainwright, and that’s now not a very simple one given how a lot historical past he has with the franchise, in particular within the playoffs.

Offensively, St. Louis has some distance much less to fret about. Led through superstars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, the Cardinals had the third-best offense within the NL, scoring 4.77 runs according to recreation. After having a look like an MVP candidate for many of the season, Goldschmidt slumped a little in September, posting a 108 wRC+ during the last month of the season, which value him a shot on the Triple Crown after he made a run at it during the summer season. Arenado, in the meantime, bounced again from a disappointing first yr in St. Louis to put up the most productive season of his profession. Those two supply an unbelievable one-two punch within the middle of the lineup.

The largest tale in St. Louis, even though, needs to be the rejuvenation of Albert Pujols. He returned to the Cardinals for one final reunion excursion after a gradual and painful decline in Los Angeles however has defied time and age through turning into a key contributor because the workforce’s semi-regular designated hitter. He hit simply six dingers right through the primary part of the season, however chasing his milestone 700th house run sparked a miraculous moment part. He blasted 18 bombs after the All-Star smash — most effective Judge hit extra right through that span — with all of his energy peripherals taking a unexpected flip for the easier. I’m positive the Cardinals couldn’t have imagined their franchise icon main them to the postseason once more after they signed him again within the iciness, however right here we’re.

As some distance as roster building is going, those two groups discovered their luck via very other approach. St. Louis’s place team put in combination a cumulative 33.1 WAR, moment within the NL and a testomony to their high quality manufacturing on the plate and extra special protection within the box. Philadelphia’s lineup can rating runs in bunches, however the protection is atrocious. The workforce’s energy lies as an alternative in a top-heavy rotation led through two of the most productive pitchers within the league. Also value noting is that the Cardinals went 53–28 at house right through the steady season, giving them the merit on the outset. But those groups are extra flippantly matched than they seem on paper, which must make for some superb baseball this weekend.

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