Phillies Pound Cardinals, Win NLDS Opener

Four batters into Game One of the NLDS, it just wasn’t looking like the Phillies’ game. Lead-off hitter Rafael Furcal singled to open the frame, then stole second base in a flash. After Roy Halladay struck out Allen Craig, he tip-toed around Albert Pujols with a walk to bring up Lance Berkman with runners on first and second with one out.

Halladay has been notoriously ineffective early in games this year. He held hitters to a sub-.700 OPS in all innings between two and eight with a combined seven home runs. In the first inning, however, hitters compiled a .717 OPS with four home runs during the regular season. The trend continued as Berkman smoked a first pitch fastball that just missed going into the second deck in right field, putting the Cardinals up 3-0 early.

Against Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse, the Phillies displayed uncharacteristic impatience at the plate. The Phillies went down in order in the first two innings, seeing just six pitches apiece. If the first two innings were to be taken at face value, it was going to be a long night for Phillies fans.

Fortunately, Halladay settled down quickly. Skip Schumaker singled to lead off the second, but that would be the last base runner the Cardinals would have against the defending NL Cy Young winner all night. Halladay had pinpoint precision, using his vast array of pitches to generate weak ground outs when he wasn’t missing bats entirely.

The Phillies scratched across a run in the fourth on an opposite-field RBI single to left by Shane Victorino. At the time, it was a vital hit as Lohse appeared to be on cruise control. It was in the sixth inning, though, that the floodgates opened.

Jimmy Rollins singled to lead off the inning. After Chase Utley struck out, Hunter Pence singled up the middle to put runners on first and second with one out for Ryan Howard. Howard was looking to redeem himself after last year’s finish to the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants, when Howard struck out looking against closer Brian Wilson.

Howard worked Lohse as well as anybody had to that point. Lohse worked out of the strike zone, trying to get Howard to offer at a bad pitch, but Howard laid off the bait. With the count 3-2 and nowhere to put Howard, Lohse had to come near the strike zone. He threw two change-ups which were fouled off with a last-ditch effort. Lohse came back with a third change-up, but Howard was on the mark this time, sending the pitch deep into the stands in right field for the three-run home run, putting the Phillies up 4-3. Per FanGraphs, the home run increased the Phillies probability of winning by a whopping 45 percent.

Shane Victorino kept the inning going with a single to center. Lohse was visibly rattled at this point. He fell behind 2-0 to Raul Ibanez, then tried to come back with another change-up. Ibanez, who has been remarkably inconsistent this season, put good wood on the ball, sending Lohse’s offering over the fence in right field for two insurance runs. The Phillies took a 6-3 lead with a five-run sixth inning, chasing Lohse with just one out in the inning.

Octavio Dotel came in and put out the fire, retiring both hitters he faced, but the Phillies were only getting started. While Halladay continued to mow down Cardinal after Cardinal, the Phillies’ offense continued to thrive against the Cardinals’ bullpen. In the bottom of the seventh, the Phillies strung together five singles, pushing across three more runs against relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies continued to tack on runs. With two outs, Rollins walked and Utley doubled, putting runners on second and third for Hunter Pence. Pence promptly hit a screaming line drive up the middle, scoring both runners for an 11-3 lead.

Halladay, having thrown 105 pitches, left after eight innings. He was replaced by Michael Stutes, getting his first taste of the post-season with an eight-run cushion. Likely dealing with butterflies in his stomach, Stutes walked Allen Craig to lead off the inning. Pujols followed with a single to left-center. After getting Berkman to ground into a fielder’s choice, Stutes allowed an RBI single to Adron Chambers and another single to Yadier Molina to load the bases, forcing Charlie Manuel to call upon closer Ryan Madson.

Madson didn’t stop the bleeding. Skip Schumaker swung at Madson’s first offering, a belt-high change-up on the outside corner, lining the pitch with noticeable slice to John Mayberry, Jr. in left field. Mayberry dove for it, but it was just out of his reach. Two runs scored and the Cardinals had runners on second and third with one out, giving them a glimmer of hope for a comeback. Madson rebounded, though, striking out John Jay with a 93 MPH fastball at the letters. Madson closed the door against pinch-hitter (and Game One scratch) Matt Holliday, striking him out on three pitches.

With an 11-6 victory, the Phillies took the opening game of a post-season series for the seventh time in their last eight post-season series dating back to 2008. With many questioning the potential of the Phillies’ offense entering the post-season, their performance in Game One ought to settle a lot of stomachs, even if it was against Lohse and an unimpressive bullpen. Cliff Lee will oppose Chris Carpenter, pitching on short rest, in Game Two.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

Cardinals NLDS Series Preview with Matthew Philip

After two weeks of meaningless baseball, the Phillies will get back on the horse as they open the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Roy Halladay will oppose former Phillie Kyle Lohse in a battle of right-handed pitchers in Game One. Yesterday, you got a graphical preview of the series; today, I call upon ESPN Sweet Spot’s resident Cardinals expert Matthew Philip of the Fungoes blog to give us some perspective on the other team in red.

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1. Matt Holliday is unavailable for at least Game One of the NLDS. How big a deal is his injury?

It’s certainly huge if he can’t play, inasmuch as he is one of the offense’s “MV3,” along with Berkman and Pujols. GM John Mozeliak has said that Holliday’s injury might be DL-worthy had it occurred earlier in the year, so it’s definitely serious. The good news for the Cardinals is that Allen Craig is a potentially potent fill-in.

2. Do you agree with Tony La Russa’s choices in using Kyle Lohse to open the series, and Chris Carpenter for Game Two on three days of rest?

La Russa’s penchant for overmanaging is infamous enough to have been the subject of a Mustrash episode, and this is an example of TLR seemingly needing to put his stamp on the series. He does have some method to his madness, though: Using Carpenter early would allow him to return for a possible Game 5, which makes sense. The stranger call is delaying Jaime Garcia, who would’ve pitched on normal rest in Game 1, till Tuesday’s Game 3. I don’t like it because pitching Garcia in Game 1 would’ve given the team the option to start him on one-day short rest in a possible Game 4. And if not Garcia in Game 1, I still consider Jackson to be better than Lohse, despite the latter’s career year.

3. The Cardinals are not a very mobile team, having finished last in the NL in stolen bases with 57. Do you worry about their ability to manufacture runs against the Phillies’ pitching staff?

The Cardinals scored the most runs in the league because they manufacture runs simply by getting on base and not via “small ball.” The key, since they are so poor at stealing (not to mention the league’s slowest team) and, in addition, executing will be not running into outs on the bases, which they have done with occasional impunity. TLR will have to resist the urge to put runners in motion in order to avoid double plays, to which he may be particularly sensitive given the misguided criticism of the team hitting into so many (which is mostly a function of OBP, of course). The Phillies’ staff will make them pay or underappreciating their limited outs.

4. Do you feel confident that the Cardinals’ lefty relievers can neutralize Ryan Howard?

Howard has a .100 OBP/.100 SLG in 10 plate appearances against Brian Tallet. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they overhauled their LOOGys late in the season and shipped Tallet to Toronto. They now have the majors’ fourth-oldest player in Arthur Rhodes, against whose platoon advantage Howard is impervious, with .400 OBP and .750 SLG in 10 PAs. Expect Marc Rzepczynski to be the designated LOOGy, against whom Howard is 0-for-2. If for some reason La Russa gets into a pinch or wants to get creative, he could use starting pitcher Jaime Garcia in relief against Howard, who is only 2-for-12 with six Ks against him.

5. The Cardinals are a team heavy on right-handed hitters. Do you think they match up better against Cliff Lee than Roy Halladay?

They haven’t hit either one this year, so I think this is a case of sheer talent trumping any platoon advantage. Lee held the Cardinals to a .322 OBP/.269 SLG in two starts in 2011, while Halladay was no more generous at .286 OBP/.340 SLG.

BONUS: Who do you see winning the series, and in how many games?

If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the Phillies — but not much. As superlative as the Phillies are, the Selig-format playoffs are notoriously a crapshoot, and this would be the series for the Cardinals to knock them off. The deep Philly rotation also loses some of its advantage, since the Cardinals can end it in three or, at the least, have to use their fourth man only once.

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Thanks to Matthew for taking some time out of his schedule to talk with us on the other side. You can follow him on Twitter (@Fungoes) and keep tabs on his blog Fungoes for a numbers-heavy take on the series as it progresses.