Now, this lack of drama is no fun at all in September, and it's nigh-unacceptable in the playoffs. So rather than just let things play out like they will, which is to say "predictably," we're going to try to throw a wrench into the hopes and dreams of fans of each of the aforementioned playoff probables. Because none of them are the Braves. AND SO: onward with the hating. Up next: the St. Louis Cardinals, the team with the only double-digit division lead.
Biggest Strength: Their stars. Albert Pujols is, of course, the best player in the league, and he's been worth 8 wins by himself. Matt Holliday, since coming over, has been hitting .378/.434/.701 with 12 dongers in 189 PA. Chris Carpenter is the second-best NL pitcher behind Tim Lincecum, with a league-leading 2.16 ERA and a sparkling 4.30 K/BB ratio. Adam Wainwright has been a horse, posting a 2.59 ERA over a league-leading 205 IP. He's got a little less control than Carpenter, but better strikeout stuff, including one of the best curveballs in the game. And John Smoltz has been great since coming over, with a neat 28.00 K/BB ratio (!) and a 0.91 WHIP.
But Wait a Minute!
How, exactly, is this team planning on scoring runs? Pujols is otherworldly, Holliday's been mashing, and...well...look out for Jarrett Hoffpauir? Julio Lugo? Beyond the 3-4 in this lineup, no one can hit their way out of a wet paper bag. And come on - there's no way Holliday can keep hitting at this pace. That .378/.434/.701 line we mentioned earlier? Compare that to a career .319/.388/.549 clip. Want some more hatin? Well, you knew this was coming. On the road in his career, he's been hitting .283/.353/.456. So there you see some Coors Field effects. What we're saying is, as his season goes on, his line is going to regress to the mean level he's been demonstrating throughout his career.
Of course, his career mean would still make him seem studly in comparison to some of the guys the Cards are running out there. Ryan Ludwick (.804) is the only guy OPSing over .750, and the next closest is Skip Schumacker's .746. Do you fear Yadier Molina, Julio Lugo, Mark DeRosa, Colby Rasmus, Brendan Ryan, Rick Ankiel, or Brian Barden? Probably not, and you're not even a big league pitcher (probably). They score a measly 4.58 runs per game, 18th in MLB - not exactly a championship caliber offense.
No, this is going to be a team that relies on its pitching to get its wins. And with a rotation of Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright - a latter-day Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, for our money -, a surprisingly good Joel Pineiro (3.01 FIP, 1.11 WHIP) and a resurgent John Smoltz, they could do just that. And as for the bullpen, they've had a spectacular year from Ryan Franklin (of all people), who's posted a 1.67 ERA and a 4.265 WXRL. Trever Miller, Kyle McLellan, and Blake Hawksworth have proven capable as well, and they'll have the useful Kyle Lohse as a long man. But can such a staff shut down the Dodgers, or even the Yankees should they get that far? Well, at the very least it should make for a fun series.