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.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 23: Rob Segedin #25 of the Los Angeles Dodgers crosses the plate after a solo home run in the second inning of the game against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on August 23, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Orioles 8, Nationals 1: Kevin Gausman tossed six shutout innings and, even though the O’s had a seven-run lead, Vance Worley got a save because the save rule is kind of dumb. Adam Jones went 4-for-5 and Chris Davis hit his 30th home run. After these past two games in Baltimore they now play two games in Washington. I wonder if they fly into National Airport or Dulles.

Pirates 7, Astros 1: Ivan Nova took a shutout into the ninth inning and, despite allowing one run in the final frame, finished with a six-hitter that took only 98 pitches to complete. Gregory Polanco hit two home runs and the Pirates had a 4-0 lead before making their first out of the game. This, hopefully, freed up fans watching at home to switch over to their Roku players to catch up on “Mr. Robot,” which everyone should be watching. The Christian Slatersainnce is happening, people.

Blue Jays 7, Angels 2: R.A. Dickey allowed two runs on six hits and got a good bit of run support for once, thanks in part to Russell Martin‘s three hits and two driven in. Tyler Skaggs of the Angels walked five dudes including issuing a free pass to Martin with the bases loaded. That’s no way to go through life, son.

Reds 3, Rangers 0: Dan Straily and three relievers combined to shut out the Rangers. Joey Votto singled in one and knocked another in via a sac fly. Billy Hamilton didn’t hit but boy did he field:

Just look at the amount of ground he covered with that catch. He was shading way to right field as it was and still made it over there. It wasn’t just his wheels that helped him there, though obviously most guys don’t catch up to that ball, but his jump and his route was great too. Man.

Royals 1, Marlins 0: Yordano Ventura and three relievers combined to shut out the Marlins. Joey Votto and Billy Hamilton didn’t do anything to help here as they were over 1,100 miles away playing in a different game. The Royals have won nine in a row and their bullpen, for all of its injuries, has tossed 32 consecutive scoreless innings, which is a franchise record. The Royals are still seven and a half back in the division and four back in the Wild Card with a bunch of teams in front of them, but they’re . . . interesting.

Red Sox 2, Rays 1: Clay Buchholz pitched one-run ball into the seventh inning and struck out nine. That’s the second strong start in a row for Buchholz and the third at least decent one since being put back in the rotation. The Clay Buchholziannce?

White Sox 9, Phillies 1: Carlos Rodon continued his good pitching since coming off the DL, allowing only three hits in six and two-thirds. Jose Abreu homered for the third straight game and singled in a run as well. Justin Morneau hit a solo homer.

Brewers 6, Rockies 4: Hernan Perez hit a two-run triple in the Brewers’ three-run seventh inning to help key a comeback win. Brent Suter got his first career win and Corey Knebel got his first career save, and then things got . . . weird:

. . . their teammates doused them in whatever they could find after the game.

“They are going to share the (game) ball, mail it back and forth to each other in the offseason, maybe, to kind of caress and live that moment again,” Milwaukee starter Chase Anderson joked. “But they enjoyed the shower together. I can tell you I did see that — a little mustard, ketchup, all of the above. It was great.”

Baseball After Dark.

Tigers 8, Twins 3: Cameron Maybin walked twice — once with the bases loaded — and singled in two more runs in the sixth, putting the Tigers up for good. Erick Aybar singled in a run and homered. He’s hitting .292/.320/.500 since coming over from the Braves because life makes no sense.

Mets 7, Cardinals 4: Jon Niese got knocked out with an injury in the first inning but Johnny Wholestaff, led by Robert Gsellman, who pitched three and two-thirds shutout innings in his unexpected major league debut, came on and got the job done. Despite never being in the bigs before, he has his cliche game down already, saying after the game that he just tried to “make some pitches.” In all the Mets ran out six relievers to take care of things while Wilmer Flores hit a three-run homer and four other Mets drove in a run a piece for a weird victory.

Braves 7, Diamondbacks 4: With the Braves down one, Matt Kemp hit a bases-loaded double in the eighth. Two of the runs were driven in, a third scored on the play when the outfielder bobbled the ball. After the game Braves manager Brian Snitker said “He’s been there, done that. You know, he’s an RBI guy.”

Yankees 5, Mariners 1: CC Sabathia, who I’ve mentally written off a whole bunch of times, allowed one run over seven innings and struck out seven. So he lives. Jacoby Ellsbury hit a two-run homer, so he lives too.

Athletics 9, Indians 1: Khris Davis, atoning for his bad-looking strikeout to end the game the night before, hit a three-run homer in the first and the A’s never looked back.  Sean Manaea was sharp for seven innings and Oakland had no trouble knocking Danny Salazar around.

Dodgers 9, Giants 5: Remember back when the story was that Madison Bumgarner owned the Dodgers? Yeah, not really operative anymore. He’s dropped quite a few to his team’s biggest rival lately and took a beating last night, allowing five runs on nine hits in five innings. Adrian Gonzalez hit a sac fly and drove in two more with a single. Rookie outfielder Rob Segedin hit a homer off of Bumgarner early and then, in the eighth inning, was switched out of the game because his wife went into labor. Big night for Segedin. His kid is, unfortunately, gonna have to hear the story of the night he/she was born for the rest of his/her life, though.

Cubs 5, Padres 3: Jake Arrieta threw eight scoreless innings of two-hit ball for his 16th win. It’s been an up and down season for Arrieta but he’s back up again. Kris Bryant and Addison Russell homered. Yawn.

Jon Niese leaves start with knee pain

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 17:  Jonathon Niese #49 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 17, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Mets starter Jon Niese left his start Tuesday night against the Cardinals due to left knee pain.

Niese walked two and gave up an RBI single before leaving with a trainer with one out in the bottom of the first inning. He was eventually charged with three earned runs. Robert Gsellman, just up from Las Vegas, took over, making his major league debut under unexpected circumstances.

Niese, who has not pitched well at all since coming over in a trade with the Pirates, is likely to be placed on the disabled list after the game or before tomorrow’s game.