2020 MLB Postseason Preview: Padres vs. Cardinals

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The San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals will face each other on Wednesday in their first game of a potential three-game series. Here is a look at each team, position by position, and who has the advantage. 

The Padres and Cardinals come into this postseason series with some history built into it. The Cardinals are the only NL team to defeat the Padres in postseason play. In fact, the Cardinals are 3-0 all-time against the Padres in the playoffs.

The Padres are coming off a 14-year playoff drought, but this year looks to be different for San Diego. This team finished the season with the highest win percentage in franchise history at .617. On the other hand, the Cardinals have reached the playoffs seven times since they faced the Padres in 2006. Last year they made it NLCS, where the World Series-winning Washington Nationals swept them.

To best compare these teams its time to breakdown the position by position matchups:

CATCHER:

Austin Nola has been the primary signal-caller since being traded from Seattle at the trade deadline. He is a bat-first catcher that just broke into the MLB last year. Between the two teams, he has acquired 1.6 fWAR and hit for a 126 wRC+. He did take a step back once joining the Padres, slashing .222/.324/.381 since the deadline. In the last in the last week, however, his numbers have been on an upward trend.

The Cardinals have Hall of Famer Yadier Molina behind the dish. The veteran has always been a gold glove catcher, while his bat has always been a secondary weapon. This year he has posted a 0.5 fWAR year with an 82 wRC+ season. His experience cannot be underestimated and should help the Cardinals pitching staff.

Slight Advantage: Austin Nola

His bat should make a more significant impact than Molina’s elite defensive skills. Nola also can play other positions due in part to decent speed.

FIRST BASE:

Eric Hosmer is in the midst of his best season as a Padre, and the only thing holding him back has been his two visits to the injured list. He has posted a career-high .231 ISO and a 127 wRC+. His strikeout rate has dropped down to 17.9%, and he has increased his average launch angle to 8.7 degrees.

The Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt is also in the midst of a great year. He has a 2.1 fWAR and is posting a 146 wRC+, which is tied for his third-highest mark. His significant change has been getting a 16.0% walk rate and an 18.6% strikeout rate.  He is in control at the plate and will easily be the biggest offensive threat the Padres have to deal with.

Advantage: Paul Goldschmidt

Goldschmidt has a .883 OPS, which is higher than Hosmer’s .850. He also has a higher wRC+ and a history of raking against the Padres. At Petco, he has posted a .269 AVG, .457 SLG, and .364 wOBA.

SECOND BASE:

Jake Cronenworth has been one of the biggest surprises for the Padres this year. When Hosmer went down with an injury, Cronenworth took that opportunity to be an everyday starter. He has impressed with a very flashy glove and a great bat. This year he has posted a 1.4 fWAR and 125 wRC+. This year’s performance has put him as one of the frontrunners for NL Rookie of the Year.

Kolten Wong profiles to be very similar to Cronenworth. He earned a gold glove last year and has a contact first bat. This year he has slashed .265/.350/.326 with a 1.3 fWAR and a 92 wRC+.  He has posted the third-highest wRC+ for the Cardinals and will be a prominent bat that leads off for St. Louis.

Advantage: Jake Cronenworth

He provides more defensive versatility and a better bat than Wong. On top of that, his .356 wOBA is quite a bit higher than Wong’s .305 wOBA.

THIRD BASE:

Manny Machado is proving that he has earned the $300 million contract that the Padres awarded him last year. His great defense has been apparent since he got into the league. This year his bat has reached a new level. His .304/.370/.580 slash line are all career highs. On top of that, he has a wRC+ of 149 and a 2.6 fWAR.

For the Cardinals, I am going to consider Matt Carpenter and Tommy Edman at third base because they have split a lot of their time there. Carpenter posted a .2 fWAR this year with an 84 wRC+ this season. His defense has always lagged behind and has a -0.9 UZR, a metric that evaluates a player’s throwing arm, range, and other defensive aspects. Edman has overall had a better year. He has put up a .8 fWAR and 90 wRC+. At third, he has a -0.4 UZR, but defensively he is very versatile. He has logged a total of 128.1 innings in the outfield.

Advantage: Manny Machado

Machado should be in the top five for MVP voting this season with ease. Across the board, he is elite and a large reason for the Padres’ success this season.  A pitcher should take a long look at how they want to attack him.

SHORTSTOP:

Fernando Tatis Jr. didn’t have a sophomore slump. He found his most significant weaknesses and turned them into assets. His 2.9 fWAR is ranking as the fourth highest in the NL. This year he has lowered his K% by 5.9% and raised his BB% by 2.4%. Last year his UZR was -5.8. He upped that 1.4 this season. If it weren’t for his struggles later in the season, he would have run away with the NL MVP — now it’s up for grabs.

Paul DeJong had a breakout season last year but failed to repeat it this year. His slugging % dropped from .444 last year to .349 this year. He earned a 0.5 fWAR and a 96 wRC+. While that is solid, it isn’t very pleasant to many Cardinal fans who hoped he would build on from last year. On the defensive side, he slightly dropped off but owns a 0.2 UZR.

Advantage: Fernando Tatis Jr.

Just like with third base, the Padres’ MVP candidates have a clear advantage. Tatis just broke out of the slump at the right time. His bat and defensive abilities will be vital to the Padres’ success.

LEFT FIELD:

Jurickson Profar will likely be the left fielder for the Padres in the postseason. When Cronenworth took over at second, and Tommy Pham went to the IL, Profar started manning left field. This season he has slashed .278/.343/.428 with a 111 wRC+ and 1.3 fWAR. The batting average, on-base percentage, and wRC+ are all career highs for Profar. His defense has even taken a step up at left field. His UZR in left field is 2.3, which would rank sixth of all left fielders.

Tyler O’Neill pairs up with Profar at left. His bat dipped this year, posting a slash of .173/.261/.360 and a 70 wRC+. All of those are lower than his 2019 numbers. His strikeout rate of 27.4% is a crucial indicator of why he is struggling at the plate. His primary value comes in the outfield. In left, he posted 5.8 UZR this season to be the top-ranking left fielder in UZR thanks to his elite 29.6 ft/s sprint speed he has averaged this season. That defensive boost helped him earn a .5 fWAR this season.

Advantage: Jurickson Profar

The bat is significantly better, especially if you look at the last two weeks. Profar has never been on a hotter streak in his career with an OPS of .926, while O’Neill has a .534 OPS in the same time.

CENTER FIELD:

Trent Grisham has been one of the many surprises for the Padres this season. His plate approach has been one of his main calling cards. He boasts a 12.3 BB% and has seen the 11th most pitches of any batter this year. This is so valuable for the Padres considering Grisham typically bats in front of Tatis when he is either the first or ninth batter in the lineup. On top of that, he has a 2.3 war and 121 wRC+. He also covers a lot of ground in center and is an all-around valuable player.

Harrison Bader, like O’Neill, is an absolute speedster. He ranks ninth among qualified players with a 29.4 ft/s sprint speed. A problem for him is that he tends not to hit the ball on the ground too much. He averages a 15.7 launch angle, which is ideal for hitting barrels but not for utilizing his elite speed. He slashed .226/.336/.443 with a 113 wRC+. This, plus some good defense, gives him a total fWAR of 0.9.

Advantage: Trent Grisham

Simply put, he is a better bat. His discipline at the plate not only helps him but likely Tatis and Machado see more of what the pitcher has before stepping up to the plate. Be on the lookout for great defensive plays by both players in this series.

RIGHT FIELD:

Wil Myers should be winning the Comeback Player of the Year award this year and maybe even getting some down-the-ballot MVP votes. This season he hit 15 home runs, which nearly beats his 2019 total of 18, and he played 155 games in 2019. His .606 slugging is .128 higher than his next highest season. He has a 45.8% hard-hit rate, which helps him crush the ball this year. While his defense isn’t anything special in right, he did manage to post a 1.9 fWAR.

Dexter Fowler comes in as a league-average player this season. He posted a 0.0 fWAR. An injury did keep him out for a little over two weeks, contributing to the low WAR. He did slash .223/.317/.389 and a 96 wRC+. One point of concern is that since he came back from injury, he has a .322 OPS in 26 at-bats.

Advantage: Wil Myers

Myers is having a fantastic season and has been a cornerstone of the Padres offense. His approach and stance at the plate are noticeably different than last year. He is chasing fewer balls out of the strike zone and making more contact when he swings at balls in the strike zone.

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Evan Anderson
Evan is a student finishing up a degree in Finance from Northern Arizona University. The ability to break down numbers and find the story behind them has lead to his first of writing for East Village times. He covers baseball which is the sport he grew up playing and has followed even after his playing years.

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Evan Anderson on Twitter
Evan Anderson
Evan is a student finishing up a degree in Finance from Northern Arizona University. The ability to break down numbers and find the story behind them has lead to his first of writing for East Village times. He covers baseball which is the sport he grew up playing and has followed even after his playing years.