The Major League Baseball post-season is picking up as the St. Luis Cardinals (90-72), winners of the NL Central, are set to face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers ((94-68), winners of the NL West.The Cardinals battled the Pirates down to the wire to win the Central while the Dodgers were in a heated battle with the Giants. The Dodgers and Cardinals played seven games during the regular season with the Dodgers taking the season series 4-3. The teams have no met since July 20th when the Dodgers won 4-3. Below is a breakdown of the important pieces in this year’s battle.
Game 1: October 3 at Dodgers Stadium
Game 2: October 4 at Dodgers Stadium
Game 3: October 6 at Busch Stadium
Game 4: October 7 at Busch Stadium (If Needed)
Game 5: October 9 at Dodgers Stadium (If Needed)
When you consider that the post-season is a series of mini-seasons, you will be hard pressed to find a team that will go with its traditional five starters. Most teams will go to a four or even three man rotation when keeping off-days in consideration. The Cardinals will be sending out a formidable rotation led by Adam Wainwright, who pitched a Cy Young caliber season if it wasn’t for a player to be named later. After their ace, the Cardinals will send out Michael Wacha, who hasn’t been as impressive since returning from injury but can call on his 2013 playoff run for motivation. Many will believe he might be relegated to the bullpen in lieu of Shelby Miller but I just can’t see it. After that, the Cardinals will most likely use Lance Lynn and John Lackey, who has a career 3.03 playoff ERA in 19 starts. Shelby Miller will be sent to the bullpen for long relief or a spot start if the situation arises.
Update: The Cardinals decided to move Wacha to the bullpen and add Miller to the NLDS rotation. I still believe this is the wrong move. Yes, Wacha is struggling a bit but why take the guy that beat Kershaw in the playoffs last year out of the rotation. We will see how this unfolds.
On the other hand, the Dodgers will be trotting out the best pitcher, if not player, in the National League in the name of Clayton Kershaw. His Cy Young and possible MVP awards are formalities at this point in the season. His game one start against Wainwright will set the series tone. Remember he is beatable since he lost to the Cardinals twice in the playoffs last year. Behind Kershaw is an 18 game winning Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu (if cleared and all signs point to a game three start) and the rejuvenated Dan Haren. This is a formidable rotation to say the least, especially in a short series, but it is not a lock.
While there is no facet outside of a man named Wainwright that can say 2014 was as good as or better than 2013, the Cardinals bullpen would be the closest. Not as dominant as 2013 but still formidable. Factor in that either Wacha or Miller will be joining the bullpen for the Division Series and that only increases their effectiveness. Trevor Rosenthal had a decent 3.20 ERA during the regular season but shrunk to a miniscule 0.96 in September which implies, like last year, that he is ready. Carlos Martinez also appears to be ramping for the post-season as evident by his 0.64 September ERA. Factor in the experience of Randy Choate, the solid Seth Maness, and the youngster Marco Gonzales you create a quality bullpen.
The Dodgers can be expected to use a bullpen primarily made up of J.P. Howell, Brandon League, Brian Wilson, Pedro Baez, and Kenley Jansen. Jansen continues to be the anchor of the bullpen saving 44 of 49 games in 2014. Pedro Baez has taken a large role in his rookie season as he held teams to a .188 average against him in 20 games. Brian Wilson is a shell of what he once which can be proven by the 49 hits he gave up in 48.1 innings pitched. He can still strike folks out with a regularity but when he doesn’t things go very wrong. When you look at this bullpen in entirety it can be considered shaky outside of Jansen but then again the Dodgers bank on starters going deep into games.
These are not your 2013 Cardinals. They finished with 619 runs scored in 2014 (164 less than 2013 when they led the NL) and 105 home runs, which is good for last in the NL. They also lack any real team speed. They will be employing a lefty-heavy lineup with the likes of Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Jon Jay and Kolten Wong facing both Kershaw and Greinke. While the consummate professional, Yadier Molina, hit .282 in the regular season he only hit .250 in September. Jhonny Peralta has also seen September struggles only hitting .222 in the season’s final month. Matt Holliday continues to perform with a 20 home run, 90 RBI season as well as Matt Adams who finished with 15 home runs, 68 RBI and a .288 average. The departures of Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig can be felt throughout the lineup.
On the other side of the diamond are the Dodgers who finished second in the NL in runs scored at 718. They also managed a top third in home runs at 134 and second in team batting average at .265 all while leading the NL in stolen bases with 138. The Yankees of the NL have a solid mix of power and speed sprinkled throughout the lineup. Pop comes in the form of Matt Kemp (25 HR) and Adrian Gonzalez (27 HR) while speed comes in the form of Dee Gordon (64 SB) and a resurgent Carl Crawford (23 SB). Crawford is not getting enough credit for his 2014 season that saw him hit .448 in the month of September. Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez are not offensive slouches either.
Prediction: Dodgers in 4 games
I take nothing away from the NL Central winning season of the St. Louis Cardinals. Heck, you don’t win 90 games by being a bad team in a division that saw an improved Brewers team join the Pirates as legitimate division contenders. The Cardinals have also been a thorn in the side of the Dodgers in recent memory but this isn’t the 2013 or even the 2012 Cardinals.
The Dodgers will be sending out two of the best pitchers on the planet for at least three starts (if needed) in this series. It is hard to not envision them winning two of those starts. The direction of this series could not be more squarely pointed at the arm of Adam Wainwright. If he can go out and win game one in LA then there is a glimmer of hope for the boys in St. Louis, but that is a big if.
Offensively the Dodgers are the superior club at almost every position and they should be able to score enough runs per game to take down the Cardinals. Nothing against the Cardinals nation but this is the year that the St. Louis monkey gets off the Los Angeles Dodger back.