NLCS Preview: Starting Pitching
Here we are, back in the NLCS against the Astros. I certainly would have liked to have seen the Houston/Atlanta series go 5 games, but I guess an 18 inning Game 4 is the next best thing. Today I'm going to look at the starting pitchers for both teams and how they have fared against each other this year. Tomorrow, time willing, I'll do the same for the starting lineups.
First, the Cardinal starters.
vs. Houston (2005)
Carpenter - 4-0, 1.85 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 39 innings
Mulder - 1-1, 2.48 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 29 innings
Marquis - 4-0, 3.22 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 36.1 innings
Morris - 1-1, 3.27 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 11 innings.
Note that Jeff Suppan didn't face the Astros this season, making his last start agianst them back in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS. In my mind, that actually may make him the ideal man to start Game 2 or 3 of this series.
OK, more numbers.
vs. Houston (2005)
Mulder - .215/.254/.299, 553 OPS, 107 at-bats
Carpenter - .229/.259/.336, 594 OPS, 140 at-bats
Morris - .238/.289/.357, 646 OPS, 42 at-bats
Marquis - .277/.310/.409, 719 OPS, 137 at-bats
The starters that actually faced the Astros this year did very, very well. Obviously, Carpenter should be the #1 starter for the Cardinals during this series even if you ignore his numbers vs. the Astros. Seeing them spelled out above, of course, only strengthens the argument.
Mark Mulder was also solid against the Astros this season, holding their batters to lower numbers than even Carpenter managed. Unfortunately, his health is a bit of a concern after getting hit in his pitching arm in Game 2 of the NLDS. It sounds as if Mulder should be ready to go in either Game 3 or Game 4. Hopefully it's Game 3, setting him up for Game 7 if needed.
Who should start Game 2? As I mentioned above, Jeff Suppan may be a prime candidate. Not only was he solid down the stretch for the Cardinals, but the Astros haven't seen him this year. That may make him a little harder to solve, as opposed to someone like Marquis, who has had 137 at-bats against the Astros this year.
If the team has to pick between Marquis and Morris for the Game 2 start, I think the slight nod has to go to Morris. Matt allowed fewer base runners against the Astros this year - although, he did not pitch in Minute Made Park all season. And we know if Morris has a problem, it's the long ball. Game 2 might work nicely for Morris, allowing him to pitch Game 6 in his 2nd start, avoiding the small park all together.
Which, of course, brings us back to Game 4 being potentially between Marquis and Suppan. One has been successful against the Astros, one hasn't faced them. Which is more important?
One final thing. I thought I'd list the number of starts each pitcher has had in each park. I know that in an earlier post I mentioned that Houston has a strange park factor this year, but common sense dictates that it's still a home run hitter's park.
Carpenter, 5 starts, 2 in St. Louis
Marquis, 5 starts, 2 in St. Louis
Mulder, 4 starts, 2 in St. Louis
Morris, 2 starts, 2 in St. Louis
So, as you can see, the numbers that the first 3 listed have posted have come in both parks, with Morris being the only unknown in Houston.
vs. St. Louis (2005)
Pettitte - 0-1, 1.35 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 20 innings
Clemens - 1-1, 2.63 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 24 innings
Oswalt - 1-2, 5.21 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 19 innings
Backe - 0-1, 10.32 ERA, 2.47 WHIP, 11.1 innings
For those of you wondering, Wandy Rodriguez got 2 starts against the Cardinals, with Ezequiel Astacio and Brandon Duckworth getting 1 each, thus helping to make the Cardinals head to head record look a little better than the match-up's we'll see this week.
vs. St. Louis (2005)
Pettitte - .188/.222/.319, 541 OPS, 69 at-bats
Clemens - .239/.304/.293, 597 OPS, 92 at-bats
Oswalt - .299/.313/.481, 793 OPS, 77 at-bats
Backe - .420/.483/.740, 1223 OPS, 50 at-bats
Pettitte really killed the Cardinals this year. Having him going in Game 1 is ideal for Houston, even though his dominance will be offset by Chris Carpenter. Clemens actually pitched rather well against the Cardinals, he just had more of his 2005 bad luck (Mark Mulder's 10 inning shutout as exhibit A.) An interesting note about Clemens - in 24 innings against the Cardinals, the power pitcher only struck out 13 batters, while walking 9. I think that's a great sign.
Oswalt was really hit hard by the Cardinals this year. Was it a fluke? To an extent, I'll say yes. In 2002 through 2004, Oswalt went 5-3 against the Cardinals with a 3.32 ERA. While that ERA is slightly higher than his overall numbers over that span (3.16), it's not exactly getting shelled. I'm going to hope that the Cardinals can continue to dominate Oswalt in the NLCS, but not expect it.
And the Cardinals absolutely owned Backe this year, which isn't a shock for a guy that had a 4.76 ERA, 1.46 WHIP on the entire year. Will he actually start in Game 4 of this series, or will Garner try to get Pettitte, Clemens, and Oswalt to start every game? With Garner, you never know.
Finally, the breakdown of starts.
Clemens, 4 starts, 2 in St. Louis
Pettitte, 3 starts, 1 in St. Louis
Oswalt, 3 starts, 2 in St. Louis
Backe, 2 starts, 2 in St. Louis
This chart seems to indicate that the Cardinals man-handling of Oswalt and Backe wasn't even aided by Minute Made Park. That can only be a good thing.
Basically, all of the Cardinal starters were very solid against the Astros this year. On the other side of the coin, Pettitte and Clemens were tough, although Clemens' ERA was almost an entire run higher vs. the Cardinals as opposed to the rest of the league. Meanwhile, the Cardinals had their way with Oswalt and Backe. If you take some semi-educated guesses as to who the Cardinals and Astros will start in this series, it may look something like this:
Game 1 - Pettitte vs. Carpenter
Edge - Cardinals due to home field advantage, but the edge is slight.
Game 2 - Oswalt vs. Morris
Edge - Cardinals due to the Cardinals dominance of Oswalt this year.
Game 3 - Mulder vs. Clemens
Edge - Toss-up due to Mulder's health uncertainty and the Houston home crowd.
Game 4 - Marquis/Suppan vs. Backe
Edge - St. Louis due to Backe.
Game 5 - Pettite vs. Carpenter
Edge - Astros due to home field advantage.
Game 6 - Oswalt vs. Morris
Edge - See Game 2
Game 7 - Clemens vs. Mulder
Edge - Home field advantage is huge in Game 7.
My guess is that the Cardinals should split the first 2 games, and should be able to beat Backe in Houston. Game 3 could end up being the pivotal game of the entire series. If Mulder can pitch effectively and even get the win over Houston - putting the series at either 2-1 or 3-0 St. Louis - then the Cardinals are likely to win this thing in 5 or 6 games.
Of course, the bullpen has to pitch too...