NLDS Preview: Cardinals vs. Dodgers

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The Dodgers and the Cardinals have 35 National League pennants and sixteen World Championships between them. That said, there isn’t a ton of historical late season drama between these two teams. When the Gashouse Gang Cardinals were flying high, the Dodgers were bums. When those Jackie Robinson/Duke Snider Dodgers teams were manufacturing nostalgia, the Cardinals were often Stan Musial, a wish and a prayer.  Each franchise had some great 1960s teams and some great moments after that, but for most of their history they have see-sawed like birds on a bat.

Recent history has the Cardinals beating L.A. in the dramatic 1985 NLCS and once again topping the boys in blue in the 2004 division series.  Based on my uber-complicated scientific breakdown of this year’s NLDS — really, it involved beakers and a sextant and six different intellectual strains of alchemy — I have concluded that, once again, the Cardinals are going to beat the Dodgers.  Let’s see why, shall we?

2009 NLDS Probables 

Game 1: Chris Carpenter vs. Randy Wolf

Game 2: Adam Wainwright vs. Clayton Kershaw 

Game 3: Joel Piniero vs. Chad Billingsley. At least we think. UPDATE: Try Vicente Padilla!

Game 4:  Kyle Lohse or maybe a Lohse/Smoltz committee start or, if they’re in deep doo-doo, Carpenter on short rest vs. Dear God, the Dodgers have a decision to make, don’t they?

Game 5: Carpenter or Wainwright vs. Wolf or Kershaw.

As you can see, the starting pitching is where the rubber really hits the road in this series.  The Cardinals have what is almost certainly the best rotation in the playoffs, with two Cy Young candidates, a guy who never walks anybody, a totally serviceable fourth starter in Kyle Lohse, and the all-time postseason wins leader that is John Smoltz. And Tony La Russa is a total genius, so even if one of those guys lays and egg or gets slick balls or something, I’m sure he’ll be able to synthesize another starter out of some anti-matter and a few loose hairs found in an old Joaquin Andujar cap they found before demolishing the last Busch Stadium.

The Dodgers, in contrast, are kind of up the creek.  Billingsley has been erratic, having his last start skipped because of it.  He’s going to throw a simulated game today or tomorrow and unless something goes terribly wrong —  say, he gets simulatedly shelled — he should be the Game 3 guy. UPDATE: Or not.  Game 4 is going to be a toughie. Kuroda is hurt. Vicente Padilla pitched well yesterday, but the Rockies didn’t exactly throw their major league lineup out there. Jon Garland allowed five runs in 3 1/3 innings his last time out and is no one’s idea of a savior.  The Dodgers have had some decent rotation depth this year, but they are sorely lacking in high quality.  If I were Joe Torre, I’d consider a three-man rotation.

Upshot: I like Kershaw an awful lot and could totally see him shutting the Cards down, but I like the Cardinals in every other matchup. The Dodgers’ best chance to win this thing is based on the Cardinals mighty struggles vs. lefties this year, but if they can break through against either Wolf or Kershaw, L.A. is in deep trouble.

 

Offenses:  Both teams have a superstar (Pujols and Ramirez), a solid second banana (Holliday and Kemp) and a bunch of guys you can pitch to. To be fair, the Dodgers probably have a third banana in Ethier, and their offense is stronger from top to bottom, but that 1-2 punch is a doozy.  Of course, I’m reminded a bit of the Astros of the 1990s here, in that they always had a solid 1-2 in Bagwell and Biggio but would routinely get sent packing by the Braves or whoever.

Upshot: Ultimately, though, I just don’t think the Dodgers have the arms to shut both Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday down for five games, and as noted above, the runs will be hard to come by for L.A.

 

Bullpens: A lot of Dodgers fans are probably about ready to pounce on me for not noting that L.A. had the best bullpen in all of creation in 2009.  Fair point, but as Christina Kahrl points out here (sorry; subscription only), overall bullpen numbers can be misleading when the playoffs roll around.

Why? Because bullpen usage changes dramatically in the postseason. You don’t go six or seven arms deep in October, and you don’t save a guy for tomorrow when there may be no tomorrow. Indeed, if you cut things down to the top four or five relievers that a team is likely to use, the Cardinals’ Ryan Franklin, Kyle McClellan, Trever Miller and Dennys Reyes/Blake Hacksworth has actually been better than the Dodgers’ Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ramon Troncoso/Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo.

Upshot: The Dodgers pen is great, but the Cardinals is pretty darn good in its own right, even if it doesn’t look as sexy on paper. The difference certainly isn’t enough to neutralize the rotational differences and the mighty and just fury of Albert Pujols’ bat.

 

Overrated Angle: These games will be on TBS instead of FOX, so the “we must create a compelling storyline and drive it into the ground” thing won’t be quite as obvious, but I’m sure we’ll see one of two things hit hard and hit often: (a) Torre vs. La Russa: the battle of Hall of Fame managers!; and (b) Manny vs. Pujols: the battle of evil superstar vs. good superstar!  I’ll grant that those four guys are the biggest personalities in this series and thus will create some appeal to even the more common fans, but that’s all pretty boring, ain’t it?

Underrated Angle: The surprising balance of the Cardinals. Above comments notwithstanding, it’s not all Albert and Matt.  Yadier Molina had a great offensive season — especially for a Molina — and is outstanding behind the dish. Ludwick and Ankiel aren’t fabulous or anything, but they’re capable. Joel Piniero is not as big a falloff from Carpenter and Wainwright as most people think and, like I said, the Cardinals’ bullpen is being seriously undersold.  They’ll be a lot of talk about how both the Dodgers and the Cardinals skidded into the postseason, but the Cardinals (a) weren’t really playing for anything; and (b) are a better overall team in my estimation.

 

Prediction: Kershaw beats St. Louis in Game 2, but the Cardinals win it, 3-1 as the back end of the Dodgers’ rotation is exposed.

Report: Blue Jays closing in on a deal with Jose Bautista

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 17:  Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on during batting practice prior to game three of the American League Championship aagainst the Cleveland Indians Series at Rogers Centre on October 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports that the Blue Jays are closing in on a deal with free agent outfielder Jose Bautista. This is not particularly surprising, as Bautista’s market has been slow to develop despite recent reports having listed the Orioles, Twins, and Indians as other interested teams.

Bautista, 36, is coming off of a lackluster 2016 performance. Over 517 plate appearances, the six-time All-Star hit .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI.

The Blue Jays needed to provide some clarity in their outfield as Ezequiel Carrera was listed first on the depth chart. Bautista, of course, will supplant him if and when the deal is finalized.

Collin McHugh calls out Donald Trump for criticism of John Lewis

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 30:  Starting pitcher Collin McHugh #31 of the Houston Astros watches from the dugout during the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on May 30, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Astros pitcher Collin McHugh was among those who took to social media on Saturday after Donald Trump disparaged Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis on Twitter.

During NBC News’ “Meet the Press” interview on Friday, Lewis called Trump’s presidency into question, casting doubt on its legitimacy after the alleged tampering of the election results by Russian hackers. In response, Trump posted a series of tweets that criticized Lewis for not spending enough time “fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested),” despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Trump also accused Lewis of being “all talk, talk, talk – no actions or results.” The Congressman, whose efforts to further civil rights span over 50 years, served as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee from 1963-66 and is considered one of the six fundamental leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

McHugh was one of many to call out Trump on Twitter, defending Lewis and speaking directly to his own experiences in Atlanta:

Last year, McHugh was also one of several players to speak out on social media when Trump dismissed his own crude, misogynistic comments as “locker room talk” after an Access Hollywood video was leaked prior to the election.

I don't like to comment on politics publicly. I never feel competent or knowledgeable enough to say something that a thousand more well-informed people haven't already said. However, I feel the need to comment on the language that Donald Trump classified the other day as "locker room talk", given my daily exposure to it. Have I heard comments like Trump's (i.e. sexist, disrespectful, crude, sexually aggressive, egotistical, etc.) in a clubhouse? Yes. But I've also heard some of those same comments other places. Cafes, planes, the subway, walking down the street and even at the dinner table. To generalize his hateful language as "locker room talk" is incredibly offensive to me and the men I share a locker room with every day for 8 months a year. Men of conscience and integrity, who would never be caught dead talking about women in that way. You want to know what "locker room talk" sounds like from my first hand perspective? Baseball talk. Swinging, pitching, home runs, double plays, shifts. The rush of victory and the frustration of defeat. Family talk. Nap schedules for our kids. Loneliness of being on the road so much. Off-season family vacations. And most importantly, coffee talk! The best places to find quality #coldbrew. What's currently brewing on the #aeropress in the empty locker between me and Doug, affectionately known as #CafeStros? How strong do you need it today? Kid wouldn't sleep last night? I'll make it a little stronger for ya. Maybe Mr. Trump does talk like that in his country club locker room. Perhaps he's simply not privy to the kind of conversations that take place in other locker rooms. But as for me and my @astros team, our "locker room talk" sounds absolutely nothing like his. And I couldn't be more proud of that.

A photo posted by Collin McHugh (@cmchugh) on

While some applauded McHugh for his strong words on Saturday, the pitcher was quick to state that he doesn’t consider himself “anti-Trump,” just “anti-bullying and pro-respect.”