Nationals Baseball: So Braves or Cardinals?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

So Braves or Cardinals?

The best way to answer this question is with an "don't care".  At this point every team you face is going to be good and it's just up to you to beat those good teams in front of you. For all the pieces of information we parse figuring if the Nats match up better with Team A or Team B, it can all go out the window with one bad start or one hot batter, especially in a series where it only takes 3 games to win it.

That being said - we have to spend our time between now and then doing something, don't we? So without going overly into stats here's what I feel.


The Cardinals are good.  The Braves are better.

The problems with the Braves rotation are a bit overstated. Yes, Medlen has been great and they've won all his games, but they scored more runs for him than any other pitcher. Maholm had a bump in the road in early September, but has had a decent last 3 games. Minor has actually been really good the past month. Hudson is Hudson, old reliable, likely to have that one bad inning so he gives up 4 runs in 6. On the Cards side Wainwright, Lynn, Garcia are just as good, but they are likely to use Carpenter who is a complete wild card, since he's only started 3 games this season. Is he really fine?

At the same time the Braves bullpen edge is too highly thought of. In the second half the difference between the Cards and Braves comes down a great deal to a lack of home runs given up.  The Braves gave up a silly few - like 9. So while I do think the Braves have a great pen the Cardinals isn't that far behind


The Braves are ok.  The Cardinals are good.

The Braves line-up was flying high but in the 2nd half it really was exposed as a have and have not situation. If you could get through the Prado-Heyward-Jones-Freeman part of the lineup, which was good but not great, the rest could be a cakewalk.  McCann, who will start most games, is a shell of himself due to injury. Bourn is MIA. They have no SS worth putting a bat in his hands. Uggla is Uggla.  The Cardinals on the other hand have Molina, Freese, Holiday, and Craig hitting as well as the best Brave since the All-Star break, and Jay and Beltran are no slouches either. They do have a middle infield issue (no Kozma isn't this good) so that 7-9 is real easy usually, but you aren't getting through their middle hitters as much as surviving them.

The one thing though that keeps the Braves from being beaten soundly in this comparison? The Cardinals don't walk at al the Braves have a couple guys.  In all honesty though neither see a lot of pitches. 


I think Fredi is dumb dumb dumb.  The Braves haven't given him much opportunity to show it this year but I can see a crucial 8th inning 1-out situation be left to someone other than Kimbrel because "who would save the 9th if we got there with a lead?".  I don't know anything about Matheny other than he's not Fredi.


I'd expect the crowds to be equally as raucous, it is the playoffs, but anecdotally you have to give the edge to the Cardinals.  Add in it's a longer flight, different time zone, and a stadium the Nats don't see as often and you get the feeling that coming away from St. Louis down 2-0 is more likely that coming away from Atlanta down 2-0.

As far as the last series went though, whatever psychological advantage that give would have to be stronger for the Braves. They swept the Nats and beat Gonzalez in the process. The Cards did pound the Nats recently but pounded Detwiler and Jackson, guys they might see combined once. Sure they crushed ZNN hard but that was a month ago, and he came back to pitch fine against them last time.

All in all I guess I'd rather face the Braves, the familiarity with the team, the lack of a strong offensive threat. I think the Nats could simply out pitch the Braves, winning games 4-2, 3-0. The Cardinals is more of a situation where the Nats would probably have to out slug the other team, and while that's possible, I don't think that's the Nat strength. It's an offense that feels like even facing a good pitcher would be hard to shut out, but would not prone to knocking him out.


blovy8 said...

I'm looking forward to the roster constructions for these wildcard games.

I think the Cards may be a bit scarier, but they just don't have a guy like Medlen to make them feel dominant in one game. I still think I'd rather face the Cards, they won fewer games in a worse division. They don't do as well in close games. We could probably get blown out in one game, and still win three close ones against them.

Zimmerman11 said...

It's informative that the non-Nats fan would prefer to face ATL. In my head I'm thinking "PLEASE anybody but the Braves".

Psychologically it would do me greater harm to lose to ATL than to STL, But on the flip-side it WOULD bring me more joy to beat ATL than STL.

Harper doesn't have to think about such things... he's a soulless automaton. He can tell us what is in our best interests when our fuzzy logic and emotions cloud our judgement.

BlueLoneWolf said...

Would the Cards have Lohse back in time for maybe a game four or five in the division series? If so, then that could be somewhat of an issue. Lynn, Garcia, Carpenter, Lohse, Wainwright...ugh. I don't like the thought of facing either team. Medlen's back if Lohse is back, and no one, espcially the Nats, have hit him so well. Ug-lee. I fear the Cards offense more. They were leading the league in run differential for much of the year. So, in other words, I don't like either matchup, but I don't like the Cardinal matchup more.

Kenny B. said...

I think I'd rather face the Braves. They came on too hot at the beginning of the season and started getting colder at the very end. That, plus they swept us last time. So the law of averages says that they won't be at their hottest in a playoff against the Nats. And there's no way they can keep up the Medlen win streak forever. It's due to end very soon.

Plus, I think division rivalries are fun, and the playoffs magnifies that. Especially since the beginning of the playoff would coincide with a football game between the Skins and the Falcons, creating a multi-layered battle for the sports capitol of the south.

Honestly, I think the NLDS would be tougher against either team than the NLCS. The Nats have been solid against the Reds, who also faltered a bit late in the season, and we dominated SF pretty hard. So I think an NLDS win and we cruise to the World Series. No predictions from me on the CF that is the American League playoff bracket.

Kenny B. said...

Apologize, that should have been:
"They came on too hot *near the end* of the season."

cass said...

Kenny B:

How can DC be the sports capital of the South if DC isn't even in the South?

I realize that DC is not a Northern city like I thought it was when I was growing up in Georgia. But I was born in the South. I know the South. DC is definitely not part of the South.

Kenny B. said...

I was born in SC, raised in NC, and never really thought of DC as the south either. However, it is technically below the Mason-Dixon line, and it definitely isn't in the north.

For some reason, in sports I do think of it as southern. I suppose it's really for lack of options that it makes sense to me. Florida teams don't count (surely you agree with me on that), so unless you count Charlotte (which doesn't even have a baseball team), it really has to be DC and Atlanta, otherwise Atlanta gets the claim to the south by default.

And of course, I'm just making things up. Geographical distinctions in the U.S. are always a little hazy.

Donald said...

@BlueLoneWolf -- Lohse and Medlin are pitching on Friday for the play in game. They should both be available to pitch again on Wednesday. That's game 3, the first in D.C. Games 1-2 are Sun/Mon away. Tuesday's a travel day.

blovy8 said...

I'm guessing the Braves don't have a Stone Mountain heads race.

BlueLoneWolf said...

Thanks for the confirmation (and coinciding indigestion)

Donald said...

@BLW -- right. If we lose the first two games on the road, we will face the opposing teams ace against Detwiler or Jackson. Definitely heartburn material. Even if we split on the road, if we lose that game 3, we're facing a 1-2 deficit with 2 must wins in a row. At that point, I'm guessing we'd see Gio and Zimm on short rest.

BlueLoneWolf said...


It may or may not be heartburn material, depending. Detwiler's hit a bad couple starts but before that he was actually doing rather well. So it is possible he could turn it around. But the heartburn until we actually know is going to take some heavy-as-heck Maalox.

Harper said...

blovy8 - won fewer games but the Exp W-L gives them 93 wins to the Braves 92. Basically they are about the same teams in overall talent.

Z11 - Well, this post did have a lot of "I feel this way" but I'll grant you it didn't have the Nats fan viewpoint. I think it isn't a clear choice, which translates to their shouldn't be a strong aversion to the Braves (but if you'd rather face the Cardinals there's an argument there)

BLW / Donald - Yeah that doesn't seem to bode well, but the flipside is those first two should tilt more the Nats way that previously. There a much better chance they head into game #3 up 2-0 then if Lohse or Medlen were in game 1. If they are up 2-0 than worst case scneario puts Gio in game #5 in DC vs their 2nd best pitcher.

Kenny B - It's not surprise you think the NLDS will be harder than the NLCS - both the Giants and Reds outperformed their pythag. Neither is signif better than the Braves or Cardinals. Both their offenses are flawed (unless you like Scutaro and Nady to keep hitting like they are) and the only group I really like pitching wise is the Reds bullpen.

KennyB / cass - For a NY to NC person, DC doesn't seem Southern. (Maryland is south of the M/D line too and I'd actually put that in the North) My feeling is the country sees DC as the "East Coast", part of the giant megalopolis going fron Boston through NYC, PHI, BAL, and ending in DC. Sports tends to work that way except for Hockey. DC is entwined with the cities above it, rarely below it (mainly because it's a long way before you hit a city of that type of consequential size - sorry Richmond, Charlotte, etc.)

WiredHK said...

It genuinely doesn't matter to me who we beat and I'll be equally satisfied if we advance (check that, equally joyous -- fans can have emotions, Harper :).

But I do think our pitching has a better chance to stifle Atl compared to StL. I like our two main LHPs in that series, not to mention StL is just a flat better hitting team than Atl, as you mention Harper. Might even see Lannan in game 4 if we play Atl, which would be interesting.

I see both the opposing pitching staffs as equal between StL and Atl, as well, so to me that doesn't enter the equation.

So, let's go Braves? Weird.

Anonymous said...

I rather play the Braves, we can throw lefties at them and we hit the Braves well minus Medlen who is pitching tomorrow vs. Cards.

Anonymous said...

Harper great post, I agree with you 100%.

Anonymous said...

I won't be rooting for a particular team during the wild card, but will be hoping for an offensive extravaganza that goes into extra innings and burns both teams' pitchers.

Anonymous said...

There we go! Somebody got the wild card wish right. Lots o' runs, lots o' bullpen.


Donald said...

So any predictions to start out the day? Who's gonna be on the 25-man roster? Who's gonna win the playoff games?

blovy8 said...

I think this love of Lohse is a bit overblown, his peripherals don't match his ERA, and he's gotten lucky on balls in play. Maybe I'm just remembering his AL years too much, but I feel like it's no big disadvantage for St. Louis not having him twice in a series with us. Run differential is still mitigated by their weaker schedule, and they win big rather than close games (21-26 in one run affairs). You can say the Marlins mailed it in the second half, but the Astros and Cubs never left the post office.

Medlen knows how to pitch in relief, if game four is going badly for the Braves, you know he'll be ready. Fredi may be dumb, but not using your best pitcher at all in a series will get you fired. I keep thinking Bourne would figure out a way to get on base a few times and be a pest. If either team runs, that's the biggest weakness on the club, I figure it's less likely to happen from the Cards.