Cardinals vs. Phillies. I’m looking forward to this. Who will prevail? I’ll try to go with a simple-is-better approach here. It’s a best-of-three series, and each team’s identity is pretty firm, so there’s no need to venture deep into the forest in the eternal search for analytical enlightenment.

The way I see it, here are a few things that should go a long way in determining the Cardinals’ fate:

Which St. Louis Offense Will Show Up? Over a 46-game stretch that began July 10, the Cardinals erupted for a devastating blitz of offense. While rolling to a 33-13 record on the way to first place, the Cardinals averaged 5.9 runs and led the majors in home runs, batting average, slugging, OPS, Isolated Power, wRC+.

But in their final 29 games, the Cardinals mustered only 3.9 runs per game (23rd), and ranked 26th in the majors in batting average, 22nd in homers, 21st in onbase percentage, 23rd in slugging, 23rd in OPS, 16th in Isolated Power and 18th in wRC+.

The tedium on offense was the primary failure in a dull runup to the postseason, with STL going 15-14 over the final month. If that flat offense wanders into this series against Philadelphia, the Cardinals will go bye-bye in a hurry. If the Cardinals are still slumbering in a lullabye state, Philly starting pitchers Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola can cruise to easy wins in the first two games.

If the intimidating Cardinal lineup reappears, their hitters can flatten every type of pitcher. Hit and reload the confidence and advance to the next round. Fail to hit and stay immersed in a funk, then get out of here and we’ll see you down in Jupiter in a few months. Yes, it’s that simple.

All Eyes On Paul Goldschmidt & Nolan Arenado: Yes, I know this is another section on the offense, but it’s important to underline the point here. Goldy and Arenado are absolutely vital to their team’s lineup’s power and production and have to come through. Can you envision a realistic formula for STL success in this series if Goldschmidt and Arenado remain dormant?

During the team’s offensive downturn in the last 29 games, Goldschmidt-Arenado have a combined three homers and 22 RBI in 197 plate appearances. Heck, Andrew Knizner and Alec Burleson have hit as many homers (3) as Goldschmidt and Arenado over the last 29 contests. Goldy is slugging .383 over that time, and Arenado is slugging .347. It’s go time. Or go-home time.

Will The Phillies Pitch Around Albert Pujols? That’s another reason why Goldschmidt and Arenado are so prominent in this matchup. If they aren’t hitting, and the Phillies to get to work on Pujols with the bases empty or in another favorable situation, there’s no reason to give him anything good to swing at. Since the All-Star break Pujols has 18 homers, 48 RBIs, a .323 average, and leads the NL in slugging percentage (.715) and OPS (1.103). So we know what the key is here: other Cardinals must improve and increase their production to make it more difficult for the Phils to avoid challenging Pujols.

Take Advantage Of The Home-Park Advantage: It’s obvious, I know. But the Cardinals really do have a homefield advantage, and that’s why I bring this up. Because if the Cardinals can hold form at Busch Stadium, you have to like their chances of taking the series. The Phillies had a losing road record this season (40-41) and performed at an average level offensively when away from their home base in South Philadelphia.

The Cardinals went 53-28 at home this season (.654), and their pitching is much tougher at Busch Stadium, which isn’t the easiest yard for visiting hitters to navigate. This season the Cardinals allowed only 0.8 home runs per 9 innings at Busch for the second-best HR prevention at home in the majors. And since reordering their starting pitching in early August, the Cards rotation has yielded only 0.5 home runs per 9 innings – the lowest rate in MLB over that time.

Since the trade deadline the Cardinals have an overall home ERA of 3.12, and a home rotation ERA of 2.99. The Phillies have plenty of power in their lineup and are capable of doing considerable harm in any ballpark. But it figures to be more of a challenge for the Phillies to win this game in the air against the STL pitcher’s heavy ground-ball goodness and tight restrictions on giving up homers. Game 1 starter Jose Quintana has a GB rate of 48% at home as a Cardinal. Game 2 starter Miles Mikolas has a 47.5% GB rate at Busch this season. Several STL relievers have a good ground game as well.

On the flip side, the Cardinals hitters had a surprisingly good showing at home this season. They averaged 4.83 runs in home games (7th in MLB), slugged .422 (9th), dialed up a .750 OPS (8th), socked 98 homers (t-10th.) Based on park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) at home, the Cardinals ranked third in the majors with their rate of 16 percent above league average offensively.

If Defense Matters In This Series, The Cardinals Should Benefit. The Cardinals rank fourth in the majors in Outs Above Average at +25. The Phillies rank next to last, 29th, at minus 37 OAA. That’s a huge difference between the teams. But as I mentioned in Wednesday’s column in this space, defense is more random in a best-of-three series and may not be much of a factor. The strength or weakness of a defense is best measured over six months rather than three days. But if you’re a Cardinals fan, you’d rather go into this competition with an excellent defense instead of the team with a messy defense.

Win The Power Ball Contest: Pardon my redundancy, but one of my favorite stats of the season looms as an influential factor in this brief skirmish. When the Cardinals hit at least two homers in a game during the regular season the team had a record of 49-9. If we agree that home runs are a substantial factor in postseason ball … and if we are inclined to believe that regular-season stats can be replicated or at least follow the same trend in the postseason, then here’s the bottom line:

Since the All-Star break, the Cardinals lead the majors in hitting homers (98) and also lead the majors in fewest home runs allowed (53.) During the second half the Cardinals had a HR differential of plus 45. The Phillies were plus 19. (That’s the number of home runs that your team slammed, and subtracting the number of home runs that your team gave up.)

Don’t Let Bryce Harper Or Kyle Schwarber Beat You: The Phillies have other dangerous hitters. And they can wreck opponents through the prowess of their left-handed hitters. But the Cardinals have to make sure to limit Harper and Schwarber.

Let’s start with Harper. Since returning from a two-month stay on the IL (fractured finger) on Aug. 26, Harper has a .227 average, .352 slug and only three home runs in 128 at-bats. As for Schwarber, he led the NL with 46 homers and slugged .504 during the regular season. But Schwarber has a quiet history at Busch Stadium, and the Cardinals have to keep it that way. In 35 career regular-season games at Busch Stadium, Schwarber has a .165 batting average, a .291 slugging percentage, and a .565 OPS. And he’s hit four home runs in 127 at-bats with a 26 percent strikeout rate.

Own The Middle Innings: I don’t want to bomb you with more stats … so after doing a little research, I’ll just offer an assessment in general terms. The Phillies are strong at the back end of their bullpen with right-hander Zach Eflin and left-hander Jose Alvarado. But set-up relievers Seranthony Dominguez and David Robertson appear to be vulnerable. Robertson has been walking too many hitters, and Dominguez has a 11.57 ERA since Sept 1. The Cardinals appear to be in pretty good shape with their middle-innings relief. If manager Oli Marmol wants to be aggressive and have a faster hook on his starting pitchers, he can turn to some effective options. Rookie right-hander Andre Pallante could be an important figure in this series because (A) he induces a lot of ground balls, and (B) he’s effective against LH batters. As for closer Ryan Helsley, I hope his sore right middle finger is at 100 percent after he accidentally jammed it on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. Should they get leads, the Cardinals can’t be shaky in save situations.

I’ll be back Friday morning with more … including a prediction on the series.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.