NLDS Preview: Cardinals vs. Phillies

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You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Phillies and the Cardinals have in store for us in the National League Division Series.

The Teams

St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (102-60)

The Matchups

Game 1 Saturday in Philadelphia: Kyle Lohse vs. Roy Halladay
Game 2 Sunday in Philadelphia: Undecided vs. Cliff Lee
Game 3 Tuesday in St. Louis: Cole Hamels vs. Chris Carpenter
Game 4 (if necessary) Wednesday in St. Louis: Roy Oswalt vs. Undecided
Game 5 (if necessary) Next Friday in Philadelphia: Undecided vs. Undecided

Analysis: I think Tony La Russa is leaning way too hard on Undecided here.  His arm is really gonna be sore at this rate.  My guess: he goes with Jaime Garcia — a groundball pitcher — for Game 2 in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park, and then Edwin Jackson — a flyball pitcher — at home in Game 4 at the more pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium, but La Russa could flip-flop those guys around.  Carpenter, who threw a shutout Wednesday night, is a lock for Game 3. As for the Phillies, Oswalt in Game 4 is an assumption. If the Phillies found themselves down 2-1 going into that game, I have this feeling we’d see Doc Halladay again.

The Storylines

  • It might be tempting to say the Phillies will simply steamroll the Cardinals, but the Cardinals took six of nine from the Phillies head-to-head this season;
  • One of the reasons: Jaime Garcia. He has been brilliant against Philadelphia for the past two years, allowing one run against them in 15 innings in 2011;
  • Another reason to give the Cardinals a puncher’s chance: the best offense in the National League. If anyone can touch the Phillies’ dominant starting rotation, it’s these guys;
  • That said, Matt Holliday and Rafael Furcal are both banged up.  Allen Craig has been hot lately and will take over for Holliday, but if Furcal can’t go, it’s a big falloff to Nick Punto;
  • Both of these teams have seen high drama — not the good kind — from their bullpens in late innings. The Phillies crew is the more talented bunch, but they’ve had their bad moments. The Cardinals blew 26 saves this year. It’s safe to say that a lot of these games will be decided late.
  • Quite a study in contrasts with these two managers too. Charlie Manuel is the epitome of no-nonsense. Tony La Russa is nonsense personified. Expect a lot of tight closeups of these guys blowing bubbles and looking concerned during playoff broadcasts.

Prediction

Despite the in-season advantage the Cardinals had and despite their potent offense, it’s pretty hard to say that they can beat Halladay, Lee and Hamels. Heck, hard to say they could beat two of those guys.  Remember: the 2010 Reds had the best offense in the NL and they just got steamrolled by Philly in the first round themselves. Tony La Russa always has a trick or two up his sleeve, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to overcome the Phillies.

PHILLIES WIN THE SERIES 3-1.

Video: Jake Arrieta hits a 465-foot home run off of Zack Greinke

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Jake Arrieta‘s bat is in midseason form already. The Cubs’ ace swatted a solo home run to center field off of Zack Greinke in Thursday afternoon’s Grapefruit League exhibition game, his first homer of the spring.

The blast went 465 feet, according to MLB.com’s Daren Willman.

Arrieta has hit two home runs in each of the past two seasons. Madison Bumgarner (eight) and Noah Syndergaard (four) are the only other pitchers to match or exceed his output in that department.

Greinke, meanwhile, is hoping to bounce back after a miserable 2016 season. He finished with an uncharacteristic 4.37 ERA in 26 starts in his first year with the Diamondbacks.

Luis Valbuena to miss four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring

Kent Horner/Getty Images
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Angels first baseman Luis Valbuena will miss the next four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring, Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times reports.

Valbuena, 31, signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Angels in January and was on track to get the lion’s share of the playing time at first base. While he’s out, however, C.J. Cron will handle first base on a regular basis. When Valbeuna returns, the two will likely form a platoon.

Last year with the Astros, Valbuena hit a solid .260/.357/.459 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI in 342 plate appearances.