NLDS: Cardinals vs. Padres: Pujols winsby Jeff Sackmann
October 04, 2006
Last year, after Game 1 of the Cardinals-Padres NLDS, Brian Gunn wrote:
There wasn’t much to suggest that Jake Peavy was pitching any worse than Chris Carpenter. Carpenter struggled a bit with his location, while Peavy was flashing a plus heater, a nice tailing change and a two-seamer with extra bite. But he didn’t make pitches when he needed them most, and he was gone before the end of the fifth inning—numbers-wise, his worst outing of the year.
This year, Peavy didn't have a cracked rib and made it all the way to the 6th, but there was no doubting which starter brought his best stuff. This year's Game 1 was all Carpenter: he racked up more strikeouts than baserunners, flashed his very best breaking balls, and even singled off of Peavy himself.
But, as usual, it wasn't so much the Carpenter show, it was the Albert Pujols show. As if determined to head off any comparisons to Alex Rodriguez, Pujols hit yet another game-changing postseason home run: his 4th inning blast with Chris Duncan aboard opened the floodgates against Peavy and turned out to be the only play of the game with a WPA of more than 8%. Before that swing of the bat, the Cardinals had a 55% chance of winning; after, it was 76%, and the Redbirds never looked back.
If the Padres have a Pujols equivalent, it may be Brian Giles, hitting second in between Dave Roberts and Adrian Gonzalez. Giles also found himself in the middle of the some of the biggest plays for his side, but unlike his counterpart, his contributions were more mixed. Little did fans know that his double-play grounder in the first inning would be the second biggest play of the game: with an effect of 7.8% against San Diego's chances, it trailed only Pujols's home run.
Giles was also responsible for the largest positive change for the Pads. In the 4th inning, again with Roberts on first, his single was worth 7.6%, nudging his team's chances back to about 70%. Once Carpenter set down Gonzalez, Mike Piazza, and Russell Branyan to end the inning, the Cards had an 87% chance of winning. For the rest of the game, they would stay above 85%.
For the first game of a short series, in which we're always reminded that anything can happen, Game 1 followed surprisingly close to the script. The Cardinals offense isn't noticeably superior to that of the Padres, but even in cavernous Petco, the Cards have a greater chance of changing the game in an at-bat or two. Every Cardinals starter did get a hit, but after watching this game, Bruce Bochy still can't be too worried about the 6-7-8 of the Redbirds lineup.
Despite their lack of punch, the Padres would seem to have some hope headed into tomorrow's Game 2. Against Carpenter at his best, they threatened multiple times, and only a couple of stellar defensive plays from Pujols and Ronnie Belliard kept them from making a game out of it in the 8th. The unlikely bullpen duo of Rudy Seanez and Chan Ho Park kept the Cardinals bats quiet for 3.2 innings, suggesting that, especially when the Padres throw out their best bullpen arms, the Cardinals will have to score early or not at all.
But in between wondering how on earth Branyan hit a triple and what it is with Jake Peavy and Game 1's, Bruce Bochy will have to figure out what to do about Albert Pujols. For what seems like the dozenth time in Prince Albert's short career, this series doesn't appear to be about the Cardinals, it's about their superstar.
Jeff Sackmann is the creator of MinorLeagueSplits.com. With Kent Bonham, he founded CollegeSplits.com. Jeff and Kent blog about college baseball and the draft, and you can follow them on Twitter for bite-sized snacks of minor league and college stats. Jeff also has an email address.