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.

Cubs release Shane Victorino

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File this under “not terribly surprising,” but Shane Victorino was released from his minor league contract with the Cubs yesterday after batting .233/.324/.367 through nine games with Triple-A Iowa. Victorino says he does not plan on retiring, however, and that he plans to try to latch on someplace else.

It’ll be a supreme long shot. Victorino, 35, Victorino suffered a calf injury during spring training and missed all of spring training. Last year he played in only 71 games between the Red Sox and Angels, and 30 in 2014 with the Red Sox. He was last healthy and effective in 2013. In a league where older players don’t do as well as they used to, it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to find a gig.

If this is the end of the road for the Flyin’ Hawaiian, he’ll finish with a career batting line of .2750/.340/.425 with 108 homers, 489 RBI, 231 stolen bases and four Gold Glove Awards in 12 seasons. He also has two World Series rings, from the 2008 Phillies and the 2013 Red Sox. He was a two-time All-Star.

Maybe not the way he wanted to end his career, if this is indeed the end, but Victorino had a fine career while it lasted.

Miguel Sano criticized by his manager for dogging it on a defensive play

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Sal Perez of the Royals had a nice night last night, going 5-for-5. One of those five hits was a triple. But it maybe didn’t have to be a triple, as Perez’s hit to right field went over the head of Miguel Sano and off the wall, bouncing back toward the infield.

Sano is no one’s idea of a gold glover so getting on him for not catching a ball at the wall is only going to have so much of an effect. But Twins manager Paul Molitor was rightly upset, it would seem, for how Sano reacted after the ball bounced off the wall. Specifically: he basically just stopped and watched it roll away as center fielder Danny Santana had to spring over and field it as the slow Perez lumbered around the bases. Molitor:

“I think maybe he assumed that [second baseman Eduardo] Nunez or Danny were going to be in better position after he positioned himself close to the wall to make the catch,” Molitor said. “But you want him to go for the ball even if you think there’s somebody else to help you out. Sometimes you get caught assuming out there and it doesn’t look too good.”

You can watch the play below. It starts at around the :37 second mark and is Perez’s third hit in the sequence:

Red Sox reliever Carson Smith to have Tommy John surgery

BOSTON, MA - MAY 09:  Carson Smith #39 of the Boston Red Sox looks on in the seventh inning during the game against the Oakland Athletics at Fenway Park on May 9, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Last season Carson Smith was an effective and durable relief pitcher for the Seattle Mariners, appearing in 70 games. In the offseason the Red Sox traded for him and Roenis Elias in exchange for Jonathan Aro and Wade Miley. This year Smith has appeared in just three games. And he will appear in no more as the Red Sox just announced that he will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery today.

Smith last appeared in a game ten days ago and, until today, it was believed that his injury was minor, like the flexor strain injury he sustained in spring training. Sadly, the news was much worse.

Bill “Spaceman” Lee is running for governor of Vermont

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Bill Lee pitched for the Boston Red Sox from 1969 through 1978 and for the Montreal Expos from 1979 through 1982. He’s far better known, however, for being a weirdo, in the best sense of the term. He was outspoken and controversial and funny and aggravating and above all else his own dude.

His most famous comment as a player was when he said that he sprinkled marijuana on his pancakes in order to immunize him from Boston bus fumes as he jogged to Fenway Park. Which is patently silly, as everyone knowns you can’t just sprinkle it. You gotta make butter out of the stuff and spread it on the pancakes. Or so I’m told.

In recent years Lee has alternated gimmicky and celebrity baseball appearances with political aspirations. His political aspirations, of course, have never been conventional either. In 1987, for example, he had announced plans to run for President of the United States for the Rhinoceros Party. Which would’ve been a neat trick as it was a Canadian political party. Still, we could’ve used it here, as its platform was fairly intriguing. The Rhinoceroses advocated, among other things, repealing the law of gravity, legalizing all drugs, privatizing Tim Hortons and giving a rhinoceros for every Canadian Citizen.

That campaign didn’t work out for Lee, sadly, but he is undeterred. And now he plans to run for office again. Governor of Vermont, to be specific. And he plans to soak the rich:

Now, he’s throwing his hat into the race to be Vermont’s next governor shaking off campaign contributions and decrying wealth inequality.

“You get what you pay for, if you want change, you vote for Sanders or me. I’m Bernie-heavy, I’m not Bernie-lite. My ideas were before Bernie,” said Lee. “If you want to see money come down from the 2 percent, we’re going to need umbrellas when I’m elected, because it’s going to be raining dollars,” he said.

This is no Rhinoceros Party joke, though. He’s a member of the Liberty Union party, which is where Bernie Sanders got his start. And his platform — legalization and taxation of pot in Vermont, single-payer health care, paid family leave — are all things which have no small constituency in a liberal state like Vermont.

Oh, he has one other platform plank: bringing the Expos back to Montreal. That may be a bit tougher for the governor of Vermont to do, but we’ll probably see some form of New Expos in Montreal in the next decade or so, and Lee will be proven to be on the right side of history. And that’s better than a lot of our politicians can say, right?