Playoffs part II: Built for the long haul

This continues my discussion of the Cards’ playoff misery following regular season success and concerns some qualities of the Cardinals themselves that are big advantages in the regular season but not so much in the playoffs:

Second comes to the make-up of our team.  Our team is renowned for
it’s ability to rise above injuries and other bad luck factors and
still be successful, where as a team like the Cubs are not.  When
someone gets injured (e.g. Rolen in ’05, Pujols in ’06), someone else
steps up in their stead (Nunez, Rolen).  I’m not sure exactly how to
identify/quantify this quality of any given team, but it is just
something you notice.  Perhaps part of it is management/staffing, such
as minimizing the liklihood of several pivotal players being injured at
any one time.  The Cubs are especially bad at this, having 2/5 of their
starting rotation consitently missing time (Prior and Wood) year after
year after year.  These pitchers are phenomenal on the mound and can
easily win most games for you, but only when they are healthy enough to
pitch.  When your 2 star pitchers are always hurting, that’s when an
injury to another key player like D. Lee seals your fate to finish in
the gutter. 

The Cards are a different story.  They primarily have only
slightly above average players, but generally very robust players that
don’t miss much time (Eckstein, Miles/Grudz, Sanders, Suppan).  Our big
injury liabilities are Carpenter, Edmonds, and, lately, Rolen.  But
these guys all play different roles, so that even if all 3 of them go
down at the same time, you have damage control in that you use 1
reserve pitcher (Reyes), 1 utility infielder (Luna), and 1 utility
outfielder (Rodriguez), instead of 2 pitchers and/or people playing out
of position.  This has worked well for us, and our utility players are
good enough to fill in nicely when needed.  These guys are not going to
lead the leagues in any major categories (Reyes MAYBE), but
they get the job done.  This is another reason the Cards perform so
well over the season: when injuries happen, they can stop the bleeding
and stay afloat until the main guys return.  In the playoffs, however,
injuries are magnified and decimate your team.  There is no time to
recover from an injury in a 5/7 game series.  And the lucky teams will
have all of and only their best players on the field over a short
series, all but eliminating the value of one of the Cardinals’ greatest
strengths: quality backups.

Due to these factors, the Cards are rarely streaky, they just consistently win 2 out of 3
games per series.  They sweep here and there, they get swept here and
there, but in the long term, they just win more than they lose.  This is great for 162 games, but not so good for the post.

Another
element is the idea of "impact players."  Impact players come in two
types, consistent and situational (streaky).  Consistent impact players
are always on fire, like our own Mr. Pujols.  A more situational impact
player is someone like Reggie Sanders in the NLDS or the Astros’ Chris
Burke in the playoffs – very hot and very dangerous, but only for a
short time.  IMO, the Cardinals have had less of these impact players
than other playoff teams, especially when it comes to pitching.  The
only impact pitcher we had last year was Carpenter.  The Astros had at
least 2 in Oswalt and Lidge, with Clemens and Pettite being borderline
3rd and 4th.  We had a very good pitcher in Mulder, but I would not say
Mulder is nearly at the level of Carpenter or Oswalt.  He was closest
to Pettite.  Same with Izzy – good, but not lights-out Lidge.  Our
other 3 starters and our bullpen were simply average or slightly above
at best. 

On the other half of the inning, we had more impact players than
Houston – Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds, and Sanders (situational).  BUT, were
missing 2 of our impact players in the post-season (Rolen and the
"good" Edmonds – we currently have some light-hitting clone of Eds ),
and Sanders, our situational 4th, was injured in the NLDS.  Pujols did
a lot, winning game 5 for us almost single-handedly, but we really
missed Rolen, the good Eds, and pre-injury Sanders.   Any one of them
could have given us the victory over Houston and those d*mn Killer
B’s. 

Finally, some random thoughts on regular season vs. post-season:

  • In the post, 2 or 3 great pitchers and 2 bums off the street
    will beat 1 great pitcher and 4 above average pitchers.  You only need
    4 pitchers in the playoffs, and if three of them are amazing pitchers,
    you only have 1 start in 7 games with a non-great pitcher.
  • Impact pitchers get to go out there for every play over (usually)
    at least 5 innings – but only every 5th game.  Impact hitters get to go
    out there every game, but only get to bat 1/9th of the time.  Which is
    better?  After watching Oswalt humiliate our impact hitters (in both
    starts) in the NLCS last year, I’d have to go with pitching.
  • I didn’t touch on defense, but there are impact defenders also
    (Rolen, Edmonds, D. Lee).  What impact do you think they have in the
    playoffs vs. regular season?  A line drive Rolen catches on a dive is
    an out, the same line drive that eludes Nunez could be a 2-RBI double.

Well, those are my thoughts.  Please comment and tell me what you
agree with and with what you wonder if I smoked a crack-pipe before I
wrote it.  SSL!!

1 Comment

Best wishes for the second half, Marc.

Mark

http://mlblogs.mlblogs.com

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