Due to the shortened season, the Cardinals and Padres are facing each other for the first time since June 2019. It’s safe to say that the Padres look a lot different than they did last year. The most notable difference is Fernando Tatis Jr. has established himself as a MVP candidate and caught the attention of baseball fans around the country. The Padres were also by far the most active team at the trade deadline, making upgrades at almost every position. They acquired Austin Nola from Seattle, Mitch Moreland from Boston, Trevor Rosenthal from Kansas City, and perhaps most notably Mike Clevinger from Cleveland. Although Clevinger will not be on the Wild Card roster, these moves along with the offseason additions of Trent Grisham and Tommy Pham makes this a Padres team that the Cardinals have not seen before. The Cardinals had a rather quiet offseason and trade deadline, losing Marcell Ozuna but signing free agent Brad Miller and international free agent Kwang-Hyun Kim from Korea along with some other minor moves. Another notable addition to the Cardinals this season was the anticipated call up of top prospect Dylan Carlson, who struggled initially and was sent to the satellite camp but has since returned having seemingly made some improvements. Overall the Padres offense is much better than anything the Cardinals have faced within their division this season, and the series will certainly be an uphill battle.
The Padres finished the regular season 37-23, the second-best record in the National League. The Cardinals finished 30-28, good for second place in the division due to tiebreaker rules. The Padres offense has been great: their .333 OBP is the fourth best in the National League, their .466 SLG is the third best, and their 121 wRC+ is fourth best. The Cardinals rank eighth in OBP with .323, fourteenth in SLG with .371, and ninth in wRC+ with 93. Possibly the biggest factor in this series will be home runs. The Padres have 95 this season and the Cardinals have 51. One potential positive for the Cardinals is they have Kwang-Hyun Kim starting the first game, who has a 0.69 HR/9, which is about half of the league average of 1.34. He is also a lefty, and the Padres have been held to a 106 wRC+ against LHPs this season. They also have a 45.8% ground ball rate, which is the third highest in the NL. Kim himself has a 50% ground ball rate in 39 innings pitched. The Padres do have a much better lineup than Kim has ever faced however, so it remains to be seen how this will translate to his playoff start. Padres game one starter Chris Paddack, on the other hand, is having a bit of a down year, in part due to his 2.14 HR/9. One thing that both pitchers have done well this season is prevent walks, with Kim’s 2.77 BB/9 and Paddack’s 1.83 BB/9 both below the league average of 3.54. Although it’s nearly impossible to predict exactly what will happen in a one game sample, it seems likely that home runs will be the key for the winner of the first game.
Beyond the first game the Cardinals have Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty in game two and a potential game three respectively. The Padres have only announced Paddack so far. Wainwright and Flaherty both sit around league average in HR/9, however, and Flaherty has struggled this season. Wainwright has kept the walks down while Flaherty is around league average there as well. In any case, game one may be the most important one in the series, as the Padres hot bats will prove to be a challenge for Cardinals pitchers and keeping them from hitting the ball over the fence will be crucial.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
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