Give the Cardinals credit. They know what to do with opportunity. They see it, they pounce. They don’t screw around like some teams I know.
Those of us who have followed the Padres all season know that what we’ve seen in the first two games of the NLDS is pretty representative. They hit, but not when it counts. And they cannot play defense.
The Padres have hung tough, but they have not been able to do what the Cardinals have — execute when it matters. And right now, that is the difference in the series.
Good Hitting vs Efficient Hitting
The point of the game, of course, is to win. To do that, you need to score more runs than your opponent. To do that, in turn, you generally need to hit better than your opponent.
At the risk of veering off onto some weird philosophical tangent, how do we define good hitting? In the abstract, we often use metrics such as on-base percentage and slugging percentage to demonstrate how well an individual player or an entire team hits. We may say of a player or team that he is a “good” hitter if he meets or exceeds some predetermined measurable level.
But a game isn’t an abstraction. It is a contest between two teams, a battle for supremacy as measured by who scores more runs in the allotted time.
We can talk about correlations and such, but in the end, it comes down to who got the job done. This is especially true in a short series, where nobody has the luxury of letting things “even out” over the course of a much larger sample.
Which One Is Cardinal Fang?
Readers Didi and Jay threw out some revealing numbers during yesterday’s In-Game Discussion. I’ve consolidated what they found and tweaked the presentation:
I don’t know about you, but if somebody had told me the Pads would have a significantly higher average, OBP, and SLG than their opponent through the first two games, I’d have been pretty happy.
Now look at the Cardinals offense. They’ve basically hit like Gregg Zaun and parlayed it into 14 runs over two games. That’s hard to do. Some might attribute their production thus far to a ruthless efficiency. (Or, because they are Cardinals, perhaps an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope. But I digress.)
Stay Classy, San Diego — Except on Defense
In addition to the Pads’ inability to capitalize on opportunities, there is another point worth noting: The Padres appear to be completely outclassed on defense in this series.
I could give a lot of anecdotal evidence about positioning, jumps, throws, and such, but I’d like to concentrate on double plays. The Cards have turned seven of ‘em in this series, and as our esteemed guest CalvinPitt noted yesterday, they induced more double plays than any other team in the big leagues this year.
So I did a little research. During the regular season, the Cardinals averaged 1.221 twin killings per nine innings. As noted, that was the best mark in baseball (just ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates).
The Padres? They checked in at — brace yourself — .841 per nine. Only the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies were worse.
The Cardinals turned .380 more double plays per nine innings than did the Padres. If my math is correct, that means the Pads had to face an extra batter roughly every three games to get the same number of outs. (Tip o’ the cap to MLB.com for stats.)
How relevant is this to the current situation? Good question. Seven double plays in two games is pretty well off the charts. But as we are fond of saying, anything can happen in a short series.
Better Execution, Better Results
The larger point is that the Cardinals’ fielders shorten games for their pitchers and pick them up when they get into trouble. The Padres don’t. It’s that simple.
Look, we all knew going into this that the Cardinals were the better team. You don’t win 18 more games during the regular season by accident.
But I think some of us who have followed the Padres all season long are surprised that the final outcomes of the first two games haven’t been closer because we see the hitting numbers and have an idea in our head of what those should equate to in terms of runs and, by extension, victories. And when there’s a disconnect between expectation and reality, it’s frustrating.
Bottom line is that even though the Padres hitters are putting up solid numbers and the pitchers by and large have handled a very potent offense, this team simply cannot execute the way the Cardinals can. And when you think about it, there isn’t any shame in that. After all, the Cardinals did win more games than any other team in MLB this year.
And, of course, they have nice red uniforms.