The St. Louis Cardinals are pretty much the perfect organization, the writer remarked for the 15th time. They make hitters out of unformed hitter clay. They have a spigot that shoots out 95-m.p.h. fastballers. They don't overspend on free agents. And they're in the World Series for the 12th time in 11 seasons. Pretty much the perfect organization.
Say, look at that. A zit! A gross, nasty zit that just jumps out of the prom picture! Not so perfect now, huh?
For perspective, the Cardinals' sOPS+ suggests that against they're basically the 2013 Cubs against left-handed pitching. Quick, name five Cubs! Alfonso Soriano doesn't count anymore. I've been saying "Nate Schierholtz … Starlin Castro … Nate Schierholtz …" in a Joe Cabot voice and making this face for five minutes.
Why in the heck were the Cardinals so bad against lefties?
|Yadier Molina||vs LH Starter||.864||135|
|Carlos Beltran||vs LH Starter||.814||160|
|Matt Carpenter||vs LH Starter||.814||175|
|Matt Holliday||vs LH Starter||.788||149|
|David Freese||vs LH Starter||.782||163|
|Allen Craig||vs LH Starter||.748||154|
|Jon Jay||vs LH Starter||.667||102|
|Shane Robinson||vs LH Starter||.624||93|
|Matt Adams||vs LH Starter||.564||49|
|Pete Kozma||vs LH Starter||.534||147|
|Adam Wainwright||vs LH Starter||.500||27|
|Ty Wigginton||vs LH Starter||.496||21|
That's just against lefty starters, but it gives you an idea. The players you expect to do well against lefties do well enough. But this season, there hasn't been a freaky, lefty-mashing, sample-size monster on the Cardinals. There hasn't been a Hanley Ramirez or a Jayson Werth … or a Jordy Mercer for that matter. There's been "well enough" from a handful of guys, and then there's a cliff of awful.
Ty Wigginton was added for effect.
So you can explain away Jon Lester's dominance in Game 5 by noting the Cardinals just don't hit lefties well. Except, that's not exactly true. The Cardinals have six starters who OPS'd better than the league average against lefties, and Jon Jay wasn't too far off that average. Yadier Molina demolished lefties last year, as did Matt Holliday. They both had the same 1.021 OPS against lefties, which is a little freaky. Carlos Beltran has actually been a little better against lefties in his career, and Allen Craig was much better against southpaws before this season. Right-handed-hitting Cardinals batted .281/.342/.477 against lefties last year. There just wasn't the one guy who made up for the ills of Robinson, Adams, and Kozma with a fluky performance.
You have two options, then. One, believe the Cardinals' skills eroded between seasons, and they just forgot how to hit lefties. Or two, believe it was just one of those things, man. Mark me down for the second one. If you play a 16,200-game 2013 season, the Cardinals probably do quite well against lefties.
Looking at the Cardinals' roster, then, and eyeballing the hitters instead of studying the micro-splits, I'll wager the Cardinals are actually an excellent team against lefties. Yadier, Holliday, Craig, and Freese all start with the platoon advantage, and Beltran's switch-hitting prowess gives them five solid hitters against southpaws. Matt Carpenter hasn't shown any platoon issues yet. The Cardinals are probably built to hit against lefties. And they're probably built to hit against righties, too. That's the part up there about the perfect organization.
Jon Lester was better.
For a night, at least. And you never know what happens if Carpenter walks in the third instead of getting rung up on a pitch that almost hit the first-base coach. But it's too easy to look at the Cardinals' splits in 2013 and assume they were doomed, that Lester didn't have to do anything but show up and be Doug Davis. The Cardinals should be excellent against lefties, just as they were last year, and just as they were against righties this year.
Lester was just too good, though. And the Red Sox get two chances to win a World Series at Fenway Park for the first time since Ted Williams was born in 1918. The Cardinals didn't lose two games against Lester because they're fatally flawed against lefties; they lost two games against him because Lester's been magnificent.
I can still see the offseason of the Cardinals trending toward a Jonny Gomes type, even if the real Jonny Gomes is otherwise occupied. The Cards actually tried something like that with Wigginton but, well, that certainly didn't work out. As is, though, don't blame the Cardinals' showings against Lester on an Achilles' heel. Just praise Lester until you pass out. He's been that good.