The Phillies are in the playoffs! For the first time since 2011, the Fightins will take the field in the postseason, and as fate would have it, they’ll be matched up against the same team that defeated them the last time they were here.
Most pundits as well as Las Vegas oddsmakers expect the Cardinals to similarly win this time around. But it seems that those people are paying a little too much attention to the names on the front of the uniforms, and not enough attention to the names on the back. Who cares that the Cardinals have had more success both historically and in recent seasons? When you compare the rosters, it becomes clear that the Phillies will be the team to advance to the next round.
St. Louis Cardinals
Record: 93-69 (First place in National League Central)
Season series in review
The teams first faced off in Philadelphia in early July. The Phillies established superiority by winning two out of the three games, and the Cardinals were only able to salvage a win by roughing up Kyle Gibson in the middle game. Bad news, Cards: Gibson is not expected to take the mound in this series, so you’ll have one less opportunity to pick up a win.
The teams had a rematch in St. Louis the following week. The Phillies made quick work of the Cardinals in the first two games, but in the third, the Phillies were forced to employ a bullpen game and lost. That victory was powered by a big inning against Cristopher Sanchez, another player who likely won’t factor into this series considering he isn’t on the postseason roster.
In the finale, the Cardinals took advantage of one of those “Aaron Nola is cruising and then suddenly gives up a series of hits in a middle inning” innings. Now that he’s pitched a gem in the most important start of his career, it seems very unlikely that we’ll get a repeat of that performance when he faces them in this series.
Aaron Nola retired his first 20 batters to power the @Phillies to a Postseason-clinching win #RingTheBell pic.twitter.com/n9vM53kHLO— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) October 4, 2022
To sum, the Phillies won four of the seven games, and the three wins the Cardinals did get came due to circumstances that are extremely unlikely to repeat.
What’s the deal with the Cardinals?
The Cardinals scored the third most runs in the National League, and their lineup has stars like Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and the resurgent Albert Pujols (Don’t worry, I’ll be talking more about him later). Sounds impressive, right?
That rank drops down to just ninth over the past month, mostly because both Arenado and Goldschmidt have fallen apart. Since the start of September, Arenado’s OPS is a measly .649 while Goldschmidt isn’t much better at .716.
Bless ‘em both, but it’s safe to say neither Goldschmidt nor Arenado will be NL Player of the Month for September. Get the slumps out of your systems, boys. Playing to level of opponents. Bad look.— Frank Murtaugh (@FrankMurtaugh) September 10, 2022
Instead, the Cardinals’ lineup has been carried by Pujols. Maybe I’m biased, but it seems like a flawed strategy to depend on a forty-something one step away from retirement to carry your lineup in a playoff series.
As for their pitching staff, it’s just kind of there. The Cardinals will start Jose Quintana and Miles Mikolas in the first two games. They’re both cromulent starters, but I wouldn’t count on either delivering a Cris Carpenter-level performance.
Why we should hate the Cardinals
As hard it is to believe, Cardinals fans might be even more self-important than Yankees fans. These people really believe that “Best fans in baseball” garbage that has been repeatedly proven to be a load of crap.
Wild... pic.twitter.com/xyT7LxnYOF— Baseball's Best Fans (@BestFansStLouis) September 8, 2022
That account is doing a great job of pointing out that many of the Cardinals fans currently professing their love for Pujols weren’t quite as complimentary towards him when he signed with another team.
Catching up with @Jonahpaarmann pic.twitter.com/k6U580IgnX— Baseball's Best Fans (@BestFansStLouis) October 1, 2022
In terms of “Very good player who had an undeserved reputation as an all-time great” athletes, I don’t know if anyone will ever top Derek Jeter. But Yadier Molina has given him some decent competition. He’s been a good player for a long time, but St. Louis fans act like the man re-invented the catcher’s position or something.
"Yadi is, to me and to our generation ... putting himself in the conversation of one of the greatest catchers who ever lived."— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) April 15, 2018
Yadier Molina wasn't aware until after, but he passed a big name on a very cool list today. #STLCards https://t.co/6ZD8h7wX8X
The 42-year-old elephant in the room
Some members of the media climbed aboard their soapboxes this week regarding about Aaron Judge’s home run milestone, and whether or not he should be considered the “real” single season record holder. They’ve retroactively decided that the 1998 season was not actually fun to watch, and instead, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa ruined baseball.
Also, can we stop with the saved baseball bullshit? These guys ruined Baseball for years and years and years. The record book literally has no meaning anymore, and that was the game’s biggest calling card. The history. https://t.co/3l6MG3lVHQ— Jeff Pearlman (@jeffpearlman) October 1, 2022
Since so many people believe that it was probably wrong to not speak up about what should have been obvious PED use back in the day, it’s strange that Albert Pujols is getting so much praised heaped upon him this season.
When the season started, it seemed unlikely Albert Pujols would reach 700. But the rejuvenated 42-year-old slugger saved his greatest surprise for his swan song.@BenLindbergh: https://t.co/NpKGBUQ0RZ— The Ringer (@ringer) September 26, 2022
It is not at all suspicious that a 42-year-old has spontaneously re-established himself as one of baseball’s best hitters. Remember when Ken Griffey, Jr. took a nap in the clubhouse at the end of his career? THAT is what we expect from old players, not hitting 17 home runs over the final two months of the season.
Why the Phillies will win
Despite what Cardinals fans might think, the Phillies have the best player in this series. Even with their poor play of late, both Arenado and Goldschmidt will be in the NL MVP discussion. But if there was an award for just the second half of the season, the winner would likely be J.T. Realmuto.
Rob Thomson on J.T. Realmuto becoming the second catcher to steal 20 bases and hit 20 home runs in a single season: “Pretty neat. He’s been everything for us. [He’s had] big hits [and has controlled] the running game… He should be in the MVP conversation.”— Colin Daly (@colin_daly21) September 30, 2022
Speaking of MVPs, the Phillies happen to have the reigning one on their roster. That roster also includes the NL’s home run leader, and the two best starting pitchers in the series, which seems like a big deal in a best-of-three series. The Cardinals definitely have the better defense, but that’s the type of thing that tends to matter more over a 162-game regular season rather than a three-game playoff series.
The Cardinals had more wins than the Phillies, but I think that is more due to the competition in their respective divisions. The Phillies had to play countless games against two 100-game winners in the East while the Cardinals got to play a combined 38 games against the Reds and Pirates, both of whom hit the century mark in losses. The only other winning team in the Central is the Brewers, and this past week showed just how intimidating they are.
Pirates are awful, but Reds be like ... pic.twitter.com/4svLVaMVZE— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) May 15, 2022
I’m also not too worried about the Cardinals’ home field advantage. It doesn’t seem too daunting of a task to win two consecutive games at Busch Stadium when they’ve already done that this season. And here are some fun numbers for you: Bryce Harper’s career OPS at Busch is .968, while Rhys Hoskins put up an .875 mark with one home run there this year.
Why the Phillies could lose
The Cardinals franchise does seem to have a perpetual horseshoe shoved up its butt, so something fluky might happen, allowing them to squeak out a couple of wins.
When the Phillies win the opening game of a series, they tend to win the series. And when they lose the first game, the rest of the series doesn’t often go much better. The Phillies haven’t fared nearly as well as they should have in Zack Wheeler’s starts, but he’s looked excellent since his return from injury, and I think he’s going to set the tone for the series.
Despite the Phillies’ advantages, I don’t think this will be an easy series, but the playoffs aren’t supposed to be easy. They’ll need their stars like Wheeler, Nola, Harper, Realmuto, Schwarber and Hoskins to step up and get the job done. We’ve waited eleven years for this, guys. Don’t let us down!