In case you haven’t noticed, the St. Louis Cardinals can hit.
Their potent bats have carried them deep into the playoffs once again, feasting last night on the left-handed arm of Madison Bumgarner.
Not that Bumgarner pitched exceptionally well on Sunday night, but the fact that he’s left-handed put him behind the eight-ball to begin with.
After leadoff hitter John Jay and switch-hitter Carlos Beltran, the middle of the Cardinals lineup features an all right-handed three-through-six of Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina and David Freese.
The Cardinals as a team hit slightly better against left-handed pitchers, but not significantly, and no more than would be expected for most right-hand dominant teams.
But against left-handed starters, there was a huge discrepancy. Against southpaw starters, the Cardinals hit .287/.358/.478 as a team.
In other words, against left-handed starters, the entire Cardinals lineup was a borderline all-star.
Leading the charge was Holliday, who slugged .613 against lefties. Craig is among the league’s best against lefties, with a .630 slugging percentage. In the best offensive season of his career, Molina proved even more potent against lefties, hitting .342 with a .613 slugging percentage.
Essentially, against lefties, Holliday, Craig and Molina hit like Hall-of-Famers in 2012.
The Pittsburgh Pirates can’t put themselves in this situation in 2013.
The Pirates actually did a good job of limiting the Cardinals offense in 2012, holding them to a .659 OPS, lowest of any of the Cardinals NL Central opponents. But against a potent offense like the Cardinals, the Pirates can’t hope to play them primarily early in the season when their bats are cold again like they did this season.
The Pirates already have one rotation spot designated for a left hander, with returning starter Wandy Rodriguez penciled in for next season. Having spent his entire career in the NL Central, Rodriguez is well versed in facing the Cardinals, facing them 23 times with a 3.55 ERA against them. He also fares pretty evenly against right and left-handed hitters.
There are still a number of question marks in the rest of the Pirates 2013 rotation, and they could look towards the free agent market for help. Once there, they’ll find a number of mediocre left handers available, of whom they should probably steer clear.
It’s not necessarily a great team-building strategy to let your roster decisions be dictated by one opponent’s roster, but in the case of the NL Central, it’s been fairly obvious who has been the top competition over the past decade. Additionally, the rest of the division features right-handed dominant lineups like the Milwaukee Brewers, with Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez, and the Chicago Cubs, with Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano. Only the Reds, within the NL Central, offer a left-handed centric lineup.
The Pirates are in a spot where they should basically take the best talent available to them at all times, but they do need to be conscious of the makeup of their roster in regards to their main competition. Their best bet to make up the ground between them and the leaders of the NL Central may be to tailor their roster in a way that plays against the strengths of their closest competition.