Series Preview – Colorado

In what could be a playoff preview, St Louis travels to the Continental Divide to play the Rockies. No, not the mountain range. St Louis has not beaten Colorado this season in 4 tries (all on the banks of the Mississippi).

I had hoped to not need a preview this weekend, that the Cardinals would have clinched by now. It looked like the Cardinals would clinch last night, But thanks to Jeff Baker’s ninth inning stomach punch (heroics?), the magic number remains at one.

Current snapshot

St Louis: 89-64, 1st NL Central, magic number – 1. The Cardinals clubbed a moribund Houston franchise to start this road trip, winning 2 of 3. However, Bud Norris still proved nettlesome, and they were unable to clinch in Houston.

Colorado: 86-67, 2nd NL West, 6 games behind Los Angeles. Lead in the NL Wild Card, 3.5 games in front of Atlanta. Magic number – 7. Colorado has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2009 season. After a historic finish to the 2007 season and a NL pennant, they regressed back to the team they had been from 2001-2006, finishing 14 games under .500. A managerial change early this season led to clearly defined roles for the starting 8, and the team responded by jumping into the pennant race. In their most recent series, they lost 2 of 3 at home to San Diego. They swept 4 from St Louis earlier this season, Of course, the Cardinal team that got swept is not the Cardinal taking the field now.

Colorado isn’t a very good defensive team (based on team UZR – they rank 17th, 3 places behind St Louis), but they are pitching well (based on team FIP – they rank 5th, Cardinals rank 2nd), and they can hit (based on team wOBA – they rank 6th, Cardinals rank 19th).

Friday and Saturday’s games could well be the matchups for Games 1 and 2 of a playoff series.

Pitching match-ups

26 September: Carpenter vs Aaron Cook (10-6, 4.47). Cook is a home-grown Colorado guy (drafted by the club in 1997) and a steadying influence on the rotation. Sentiment in the clubhouse and by Rockie management could well lead to his selection as a Game 1 starter for the playoffs, assuming his shoulder is fine. And his shoulder may not be fine. This will be his first start in over a month (since August 21, to be exact). He is a pitch-to-contact guy (3.7 K/9), so although he’s returning from an injury, he could get deep into the game if the Cardinals are impatient. I would expect he’ll be on a pitch count and probably won’t go more than 6 innings anyway. How will he pitch? That is a large unknown.

He went 8 innings against the Cardinals on June 6 (a 10-1 Colorado win). That is his only win against St Louis in 7 career starts. Of the Cardinals who will play tonight that have had more than 10 PA against him, AP has had the most success (3-9, 2 BB). Glaus has 2 HR in 11 AB off Cook, but I doubt we’ll see him given his own shoulder injury.

Carpenter will make his third attempt to win his 17th game. After getting lit up by Atlanta he threw 8 shutout innings at Chicago last Saturday. He currently leads the NL in ERA. Carpenter has never lost to the Rockies, but he hasn’t faced them since 7/25/06, which is also his only career start in Colorado. No current Rockie is slugging over .600 against him (the closest is Jason Giambi at .579).

27 September: Wainwright vs Ubaldo Jimenez (14-11, 3.47). Thanks to the Yankees/Red Sox ‘Love In’ sure to be televised by Fox Saturday, most of the country will miss this match-up, which is too bad, because it’s a doozy. Some prognosticators think Jimenez has the best stuff of any NL starter that may pitch in the 2009 playoffs, and given the other guys on playoff teams (our 2, Hamels/Lee/Pedro in Philly, Lincecum/Cain in SF, etc), that’s high praise. Larry Borowsky also recently called Jimenez the Rockies’ best pure pitcher. He averages 8K’s per game, has cut his walks by one per game this season from his career average, might allow a HR every 2 games, and has been downright nasty since 1 August (2.73 ERA, 61 K in 69.1 innings, OPS against of .599). He throws his fastball 2/3 of the time and it averages 96 MPH. He also employs a plus slider and change-up, and occasionally flips a curveball up there.

The Cardinals do not enjoy hitting against this guy (83 team PA: .236/.317/.292). No current Cardinal has homered off him. You’d think with that kind of dominance he’d have never lost to St Louis. However, in this series’ Statistical Oddity, Jimenez is only 1-1 career against them (and the Rockies are 1-2 against St Louis when he starts). His lone win came on June 7 this year.

Wainwright may well be the best pitcher in the NL right now (Lincecum is battling a nagging back injury). He currently leads the majors in wins, and the NL in innings and batters faced (although those facts don’t support my ‘best pitcher’ claim, they’re true nonetheless). He faced Colorado on 5 June, losing to De La Rosa 11-4. He actually trailed 2-1 after 6, but the Rockies exploded for 9 runs in the seventh in an ugly inning for the Cardinal bullpen (both Reyes and Motte gave up 3 ER without retiring a hitter).

The Cardinals have lost Wainwright’s last 2 starts after winning the previous 7. Adam has started 3 games against the Rockies (1-1 overall), one in Coors. Only Garrett Atkins has more than 10 PA against him (3-11, no XBH), although in 69 total PA by the roster they’ve put up a .219/.275/.634 line against him.

28 September: Lohse vs Jorge De La Rosa (15-9, 4.42). After starting the season 0-6, De La Rosa has turned into the most reliable Rockie starter, winning 15 of his last 18 decisions. That said, his particulars aren’t exactly awe inspiring. 4 walks per 9 innings, 16 HR in 122 1/3 innings, OPS against of .771. His FIP isn’t bad (3.99), but he’s definitely beatable. A big part of his success is the Rockies averaging over 7 runs per game in the ones he starts.

De La Rosa is 2-1 in 5 career starts against St Louis. He has not lost to the Cardinals at Coors; granted, it’s only one start, but he did beat Lohse that day. Only AP has more than 10 PA against De La Rosa, and he’s put up a .273/.400/.636 line against him. As a team, in 70 PA they’re hitting .350/.429/.700. Pujols, Molina, Ludwick, Glaus, and DeRosa have all homered off Jorge.

Lohse was tough against the Astros this week. Various press organizations reported he started favoring his forearm and had changed his delivery slightly, but that he had fixed it between his Astro start and his previous one. The results certainly spoke to a better Lohse than we’d seen in other recent outings. Lohse hasn’t faced the Rockies since May of 08, and hasn’t had much success against them in his career (his teams are 2-3 overall against Colorado when he starts). Todd Helton has hit him hard – 15 PA, .417/.533/.833. Giambi also has more than 10 PA, but a lot less success (.182/.250/.455). As a team, in 98 career PA, the Rockies have put up .277/.361/.506.

Prognosis/prediction. The Cardinals will clinch this weekend, either by a win or the Giants beating Chicago. Knowing the competitor LaRussa is, they won’t take any of these games off, because of Colorado’s status as a potential first round opponent, the impact these games will have on the wild card chase, and because the Cardinals still could end up with home field throughout the NL playoffs. Expect the Cardinals to win tonight. Expect tomorrow’s game to come down to who has the better bullpen (Morales for Colorado is reeeeally shaky right now, BTW.). Sunday? I’ll pick the Rockies to win just because I have a hunch. Cards can take 2 of 3.

Go Cards!

Programming note: Once the Cardinals clinch, there will be no series previews posted until the playoffs start.

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