The St. Louis Cardinals, our Cardinals, are in beautiful San Diego, California, for a four-game set with the Padres. The Cardinals lead the all-time series 283-194, and boast a +385 run differential. Regardless of what happens this weekend, expect the Cardinals to still hold a firm lead in both categories come Monday.
There is never a bad time to visit San Diego, but this is a really good time given that the Cardinals are coming off two very uninspiring games versus the Twins and could use some better mojo. As you just read, the Padres have always been willing to help. The head-to-head record noted above comes out to a .593 winning percentage (a 96-66 season pace), which is the Cardinals’ best record against any franchise for a a minimum of 400 games played. In fact, you have to drop all the way down to the Marlins (.597) to find a team the Cardinals have beaten more soundly, and they have only played that silly team 186 times.
The Cardinals and Padres have also met in the postseason three times (1996, 2005, 2006), each taking place in the NLDS, and the good guys hold a 9-1 advantage in those games (with the Cardinals obviously winning all three series). During the 2006 meeting, Ronnie Belliard made this play in Game 1, which is perhaps the seminal moment in Cardinals – Padres lore (however much weight you want to give to said lore is your call).
*The play does not occur until the 13:55 mark but the build up of tension is almost worth it.
The Cardinals dominating any franchise is a good thing, but I must say I get a little less enjoyment out it being the Padres than I do say the Phillies, or the Cubs for that matter. They play in a division with the Dodgers and Giants, two teams who are much easier to dislike. They gifted us Ozzie Smith. David Freese, too. And those two names are responsible for a lot of joy in our lives.
And I recently lived in San Diego, and it is the most pleasant place filled with mostly pleasant people. Last month I observed the following tweet from our editor-in-chief John Fleming…
…who is traveling to watch these games as we speak, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Padres fans are un-trollable. (I personally find it ridiculous when someone assumes everyone who inhibits a region or fan base is some monolithic being but since I am saying nice things about them, I think it is fine.) The average Padres fan is probably more likely to compliment John on his attire and mention how much they loved Ozzie Smith than to take it as a burn. Padres fans operate with a level of chill not often seen in sports. Spend enough time online and stumble across enough videos of silly men fighting at sporting events and you learn not to take this environment for granted. (Also, John captured this spirit quite well in his piece on Padres history yesterday which you can read here.)
Then, there’s the ballpark. Have you ever been to Petco? It’s beautiful. I don’t know if it is better than AT&T Park or PNC, but what I can tell you is that with its sandstone and stucco it would be out of place in most any other MLB city. And you can’t say that about a lot of the newer parks, most of which are interchangeable with each other. (This includes the current Busch Stadium, which I, of course, still love.) It really should get more play in those “30 stadiums ranked” columns that get written every year.
Lastly, and of the least amount of importance, during my time spent in San Diego, I acquired by way of a gift and a stadium give-away two Padres hats. I consider them both objectionably endearing.
On to the series. To expedite the process, here’s a screenshot from FanGraphs Cardinals team page showing the projected starters and the Cardinals’ win probability for each game.
The Padres as you can gather are not a good team. They have the second worst record (13-24) in the National League, which is something of a feat given the depths some teams are sinking to in the name of rebuilding. They also reside in one of the toughest divisions in MLB and their postseason odds sit steady at 00.1 percent. This is probably not their year.
Their pitching has been interesting. As a staff, they have the third worst ERA (4.47) yet the fifth best FIP (3.85) and the 0.61 difference between the two is by far the biggest disparity in all of baseball. Saturday’s starter Tyson Ross, along with 80-grade name Joey Lucchesi, who the Cardinals are missing, have held the Padres rotation together. After that, they don’t employ a single starter who has an ERA under 5.72.
It’s not pretty on the offensive side either. The Padres rank at or near the bottom in team WAR, wRC+, OPS, ISO, you name it, and their 27.2 percent strikeout rate is the worst in baseball and by far the worst in the NL. If the Padres were a player, they’d be Rhys Hoskins only without any of the good stuff.
One bright spot has been rookie Christian Villanueva, who has the 15th best wRC+ (149) in the league and was part of a feel-good story last week when he became just the third Mexican to play an MLB game in his home country. And then there’s the big splash from the offseason, Eric Hosmer, who signed a polarizing $144 million deal over eight years. The thinking here, if I am allowed to make an assumption and I am not the first to make this assumption, is that this is a Jayson Werth-type signing – a bit of an overpay to add a veteran presence to a club that sooner or later will be ready to win. I don’t think that is always a bad move, per se.
And Hosmer has been as advertised – even better – hitting .276/.378/.496, with a wRC+ of 144. The problem is, when will this team be ready to win? Over the course of the Werth contract (2011-2017), the Nationals were the second best team in baseball to the Dodgers (the Cardinals were third, if curious). He was never on a bad team. It helped that Werth’s time came just after and during the arrival of two franchise altering draft picks, and maybe the Padres will be able to say the same – their farm system is ranked as high as number one by some outlets – but it’s clear Hosmer and the Padres will have to endure at least one ugly season before this gets better.
For the sake of this franchise, their fans, and the lovely city they call home, I hope it gets better sooner rather than later. Until then, if the Cardinals want to take three of these four games I won’t complain.