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.

Rob Manfred wants a new, unnecessary rule to protect middle infielders


Commissioner Rob Manfred is at the Cards-Cubs game this afternoon and the sporting press just spoke with him about the fallout from the Chase Utley/Ruben Tejada play from the other night. Not surprising.

Also not surprising? Manfred’s desire to implement a new rule in an effort to prevent such a play from happening again. Or, at the very least, to allow for clear-cut punishment for someone who breaks it:

Which is ridiculous, as we already have Rule 6.05(m) on the books. That rule — which is as clear as Crystal Pepsi — says a baserunner is out when . . .

(m)A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play:

Rule 6.05(m) Comment: The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play.

That rule totally and completely covers the Utley-Tejada situation. The umpires were wrong for not enforcing it both then and in the past, but that’s the rule, just as good as any other rule in that book and in no way in need of replacement.

Why not just enforce that rule? What rule would “better protect” infielders than that one? What would do so in a more straightforward a manner? What could baseball possibly add to it which would make plays at second base less confusing rather than more so?

I suspect what Manfred is interested in here is some means to change this from a judgment call to a clear-cut rule. It was that impulse that led to the implementation of clocks for pitchers and batters and innings breaks rather than giving umpires the discretion to enforce existing pace-of-play rules. It was that impulse which led to a tripartite (or is it quadpartite?) means of determining whether a catcher impermissibly blocks the plate or a runner barrels him over rather than simply enforce existing base-blocking rules.

But taking rules out of the subjective realm and into the objective is difficult or downright impossible in many cases, both in law and in baseball. It’s almost totally impossible when intent is an element of the thing, as it is here. It’s likewise the case that, were there a clear and easy bright line to be established in service of a judgment-free rule on this matter, someone may have stumbled upon it once in the past, oh, 150 years. And maybe even tried to implement it. They haven’t, of course. Probably because there was no need, what with Rule 6.05(m) sitting up there all nice and tidy and an army of judgment-armed umpires standing ready to enforce it should they be asked to.

Unfortunately, Major League Baseball has decided that eschewing set rules in favor of new ones is better. Rules about the time batters and pitchers should take. Rules about blocking bases. Rules about how long someone should be suspended for a first time drug offense. Late Selig and Manfred-era Major League Baseball has decided, it seems, that anything 150 years of baseball can do, it can do better. Or at least newer and without the input of people in the judgment-passing business like umpires and arbitrators and the like.

Why can’t baseball send a memo to the umpires and the players over the winter saying the following:

Listen up:

That rule about running into fielders that you all have already agreed to abide by in your respective Collective Bargaining Agreements? We’re serious about it now and WILL be enforcing it. If you break it, players, you’re going to be in trouble. If you refuse to enforce it, umpires, you’re going to be in trouble. Understood? Good.


Bobby M.

If players complain, they complain. They don’t have a say about established rules. If, on the other hand, your process of making new rules is easier than your process of simply enforcing rules you already have, your system is messed up and we should be having a whole other conversation.

Anti-Chase Utley signs at Citi Field were brutal and hilarious

Chase Utley sign

Obviously Chase Utley was not the most popular figure in Citi Field last night. The fans booed him like crazy and chanted for him to make an appearance after the game got underway.

They made signs too. Lots and lots of signs. The one at the top of this article is the only one the Associated Press saw fit to grab a photo of, it seems. But there were more and, unlike that one, they were less than tame.

My favorite one was this one, held by a girl about my daughter’s age. It’s direct. It’s totally unequivocal. It gets the point across:

There’s no arguing with that. Utley could show up with a team of lawyers and after five minutes in front of this girl he’d be forced to admit, both orally and in writing, that, yes, he Buttley.

The New York Post categorizes many more of them here. Including one that didn’t make it into the park which said “Chase Utley [hearts] ISIS.” It was confiscated by Citi Field personnel. Why?

The sign, which actually used a “heart” drawing for loves, was confiscated by Citi Field security after she got inside Monday night. Culpepper was annoyed but gave a frank explanation.

“My guess is Isis doesn’t want to be associated with Chase Utley,” she said, calling him, “my least favorite player ever.”

Somebody call the burn unit.

NLDS, Game 4: Dodgers vs. Mets lineups

Clayton Kershaw

Here are the Dodgers and Mets lineups for Game 4 of the NLDS in New York:

CF Kike Hernandez
2B Howie Kendrick
1B Adrian Gonzalez
3B Justin Turner
SS Corey Seager
RF Yasiel Puig
C A.J. Ellis
LF Justin Ruggiano
SP Clayton Kershaw

With a left-hander on the mound for New York the Dodgers are stacking the lineup with right-handed bats, using an outfield of Yasiel Puig, Justin Ruggiano, and Kike Hernandez rather than Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and Joc Pederson. Adrian Gonzalez and Corey Seager are the only lefty bats in the lineup. A.J. Ellis gets the start over Yasmani Grandal by virtue of being the personal catcher for Clayton Kershaw, who’s pitching on short rest.

RF Curtis Granderson
3B David Wright
2B Daniel Murphy
LF Yoenis Cespedes
C Travis d'Arnaud
1B Lucas Duda
SS Wilmer Flores
CF Juan Lagares
SP Steven Matz

Obviously facing Clayton Kershaw is much different than facing Brett Anderson, but they’re both lefties and manager Terry Collins is using the same lineup as Game 3 with one slight change: Travis d’Arnaud and Lucas Duda flipped in the batting order.