By Tyler Brandt, from Cardsblog.com
The Cardinals may not be in the playoffs yet, but that shouldn't stop us from looking ahead to see what happens if they do make it. If the Cardinals play in October, they will have to win the one game Wild Card playoff. The Cardinals have been notably bad at home this year. Their 30-37 record in such games has caused many to wonder if the team would have a better chance of winning a do-or-die matchup outside of St. Louis. Here, we'll look at what the optimal Wild Card situation is for the Cardinals, taking into account both opponent and ballpark.
1. At Citi Field against the Mets
All the way back in June, fellow Cardsblog writer Matt Heiken analyzed the Cardinals' problems at Busch Stadium. His argument was that Busch Stadium does not allow for the home runs that the Cardinals' offense thrives on. Well, here we are shortly after a long record-setting home run barrage ended, and the long ball is still the team's biggest source of run production.
Matt's dead on about Busch, too. Baseball Info Solutions' park indices show that from 2013 to 2015, Busch Stadium allowed ten percent fewer home runs compared to the league average park. But haven't there been home run problems at Citi Field, too? Those problems existed before the Mets moved the fences in after the 2015 season. Since then, Citi Field has played like an average power park. Right-handed batters never really had problems hitting them out of Citi, and lefties are doing fine now. In other words, the Cardinals will love it there.
For the above reason, it goes largely unnoticed that the Minor League regular season just concluded. Amidst the chaos that is September baseball, is there even a reason to care? Put simply, the answer is a resounding yes. The Cardinals have built their franchise on a certain culture, a culture that extends from Rookie Ball all the way to Busch Stadium.
Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures total offensive output and adjusts for park factors as well as other things. According to wRC+, the Mets have been just about average offensively while playing at home. The Cardinals, on the other hand, lead the league with a 109 wRC+ on the road. That means they are nine percent above league average in games they play on the road. That nine percent number is not compared to what an average team does on the road, it is compared to what an average team does everywhere.
If we go strictly by wRC+ numbers, the Cardinals would have a ten percent offensive advantage in a Wild Card game at Citi Field. However, pitching matters, too. The Cardinals will likely either face Madison Bumgarner or Noah Syndergaard in the Wild Card game. The only way that doesn't happen is if they must pitch before the Wild Card game in order to secure a playoff spot. Nevertheless, the likely scenario is that the Cardinals will have to face one of them. I looked at the stats for these two for a couple of hours, searched every angle, and came to no conclusions. They are both awesome pitchers. Because one is not definitively better than the other, we're free to look at offense.
The Cardinals have the best chance of advancing if they play in the Big Apple in the Wild Card game.
2. Home at Busch Stadium against the Mets
This one has much more to do with a team analysis. AT&T Park gives up fewer home runs than Busch does, so now we're looking at who the Cardinals would rather play. The Mets were a preseason darling of many, coming off of a World Series loss. However, their team still has many holes. Based on run differential, the Mets should probably be three or four games back of the second Wild Card spot. They play in perhaps the easiest division in all of baseball, but they're only 30-27 in it. A playoff team should be doing better there.
When John Mozeliak dealt Jon Jay to the Padres in exchange for Jedd Gyorko, the original intent was simply to use him in a "super utility" role. The Cardinals' second baseman of the present and future was supposedly already on the roster in the form of Kolten Wong.
Jeurys Familia has 46 saves because of an unsustainable home run per fly ball ratio, and the Cardinals will fix that. Outside of Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker, the Mets' lineup consists of a lot of bottom-third-of-the-order hitters, and Busch Stadium won't help that. Put it all together, and it sure seems like the Mets are the weaker team compared to ...
3. Home at Busch Stadium against the Giants
Cardinals fans should be worried about a matchup with the Giants. The Giants are not far behind in run differential and they finally have DL-mainstay Hunter Pence back. Sure, they have suffered from a long ball drought the past month, but look at that team. With the exception of a healthy Pence, nobody is supposed to hit 20 home runs for them. And that brings us to the problem facing the Cardinals.
The Giants don't hit home runs but they don't depend on the long ball. They get on base, they take pitches, and they form a lineup of consistently tough outs. Again, Busch Stadium's home run numbers are ten percent below league average. The Cardinals' own ballpark mitigates the one significant advantage they have over the Giants.
Of course, there will be other factors that won't help. Bumgarner will likely be on the mound. The Cardinals struggle against lefties. Buster Posey is an incredible catcher. However, the factor with the largest impact in a Cardinals-Giants matchup will be the ballpark. Oh, and if you think Busch Stadium is a bad place to play the Giants, let's check out the Bay Area.
4. At AT&T Park against the Giants
From 2013 to 2015, left-handed batters hit home runs 41 percent less often at AT&T Park relative to the average ballpark. If you're thinking about stacking the lineup with righties, it won't help much. Righties hit homers 24 percent less often in San Francisco relative to the average ballpark.
Well, so much for the previously mentioned home run barrage. To make matters worse, the Cardinals main right-handed power source, Jedd Gyorko, hits more homers against righties than lefties. Anything can happen in baseball, so I wouldn't rule out the Cardinals hitting six homers in San Francisco. However, it isn't likely to happen. Not at AT&T Park or Busch Stadium. If you want the optimal Wild Card game for the Cardinals, look no further than the home ballpark of the team that made it to the 2015 World Series.
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