Breaking down the Nationals-Cardinals first-round NL series

10/06/2012 1:21 PM

05/16/2014 7:54 PM

Schedule (best of five)

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Sunday:

Washington at St. Louis, 2:07 p.m. (TBS)

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Monday:

Washington at St. Louis, 3:37 p.m. (TBS)

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Wednesday:

St. Louis at Washington, TBA (TBS or MLB)

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Thursday:

St. Louis at Washington*, TBA (TBS)

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Friday:

St. Louis at Washington*, TBA (TBS)

*if needed

Offense

These are two of the National League’s better-hitting teams. The Cardinals have a better on-base percentage (a league-leading .338 to .322) and score a few more runs (765-731), but the Nationals have more pop — their 194 homers were second to the Brewers; the Cardinals hit 159. We’ll go with the OBP.

Advantage: Cardinals Defense

Stats suggest the Cardinals are far better at making the routine play: They make fewer errors, have a better fielding percentage and (for the techno-inclined) rank higher in runs saved above average. The Nationals, interestingly, rank high in total zone ratings (better range). That suggests the Nats are more likely to make the spectacular play, but the Cards won’t beat themselves.

Advantage: Cardinals Starting pitching

The Nationals and Cardinals rank first and third among NL rotations in ERA (3.40 and 3.62), but the edge is wider in opponents’ batting average: the Nats are first at .240, while the Cardinals are 12th at .261. The Nationals won’t have Stephen Strasburg but are lined up and rested; the Cardinals used Kyle Lohse in Friday’s wild-card game at Atlanta.

Advantage: Nationals Bullpen

The numbers favor the Nationals in ERA (3.20 to 3.90) and opponents’ batting average (.231 to .242). Both teams can close out games with power arms and possess sufficient lefty-righty options to get desired matchups. It’s pretty close, but wouldn’t you opt for Jason Motte over Drew Storen or Tyler Clippard to protect a one-run lead in the ninth? (Agreed, Storen has been terrific lately.)

Advantage: Cardinals Bottom line

The Nationals, with 98 victories, had the best record in baseball. They’re no fluke and, if they win the opener, they could sprint to a three-game sweep. Still, they’re new to this, and it’s hard to forget last October when the Cardinals showed they have “it,” whatever “it” is. Until proven otherwise, go with “it.”

Prediction: Cardinals in four

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