Entering tonight’s game one of the National League Championship Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers are coming in feeling very confident after defeating the Atlanta Braves in four games in the division series. Facing perhaps, the best lineup in baseball, the Dodgers are going to win or lose this series by how their pitchers handle the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals have a powerful lineup from one through eight that features tons of experience and a couple of young guns playing out of their minds. Matt Carpenter normally leads off for the Cards. Carpenter led the NL in runs scored with 126 and batted .318. Carlos Beltran is one of the best postseason hitters of all time and will bat second followed by a great 3-4-5 combo of Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, and Yadier Molina. Matt Adams has done amazing since becoming their starting first baseman in September after Allen Craig went down with an injured foot. Adams went 6 for 19 with a double, a home run, and two RBIs. They also have David Freese who has been one of the best postseason hitters in the past decade. Freese has the MLB record for most RBIs in a single postseason with 21.
In the NLDS, CY Young Candidate (about to be winner) Clayton Kershaw pitched great in his two starts. In game one, Kershaw had 12 strikeouts and went seven innings of one run ball, picking up his first career playoff win. On three days rest, he went six innings and gave up two runs (zero earned) in the series clinching game four and will need to pitch in his typical fashion in the NLCS. He struggled against the Cards this season as he was 0-2 and gave up six earned runs in 13 innings. But I expect Kershaw to have the same if not a better series than he had against the Braves.
Zack Greinke also pitched well in the NLDS although he got the no-decision in game two. He is familiar with the Cardinals from his days with the Milwaukee Brewers and knows how to pitch at Busch Stadium. Greinke has won five of his past six games against the Cardinals and went 1-1 in the 2011 NLCS against them. We know the Dodgers have the best 1-2 punch with Kershaw and Greinke but who will Mattingly pitch in game three and will he pitch Ryu or Nolasco in game four or will the Dodgers go with a three man rotation? Nolasco didn’t pitch in the NLDS as “Donnie Baseball” went with Kershaw over him in game four but has been eager to pitch. He told reporters that he is ready for whatever the Dodgers have planned for him. “I’ll be here ready to take the ball whenever they ask me to pitch,” Nolasco told LA Times reporter Bill Shaikin when the Dodgers were making the decision about who to start in game four of the division series. Like the Cardinals with rookie Michael Wacha, the Dodgers are rolling the dice with Hyun-Jin-Ryu. Ryu had a great rookie season with 3.00 ERA and 14 wins but as we saw in the NLDS, playoff baseball is completely different than the regular season and Ryu lacked confidence in game three. The key with Ryu is his first couple of innings. If he can get past the first three innings, he can pitch six or seven solid innings but if he is rattled, we could be looking at a repeat of his three-inning performance. Ryu and Nolasco will both benefit from pitching with their home crowd in Dodger Stadium as games 3,4, and 5 are in LA.
Kenley Jansen looked good in his two appearances in the division series and has looked like one of the best closers in the national league since he took over for Brandon League. Brian Wilson (“Wild Thing”) is the most experience pitcher on the team having been apart of a World Series championship team. I love the Wilson 8th Jansen 9th combo and feel really confident if the Dodgers have the lead when they enter. J.P. Howell saved the Dodgers in game four and provides a great lefty specialist which I see Mattingly using often especially against Adams and Carpenter. But who else will step up? The Dodgers replaced Paco Rodriguez and Chris Capuano on the NLCS roster with Carlos Marmol and Edinson Volquez and I am not a fan of Ronald Beilsario, who had a 7.94 ERA in the month of September. Volquez will likely pitch in long relief if needed and Marmol pitched in the NL Central for eight years with the Chicago Cubs so he is very familiar with the Cards.
The Dodgers have the advantage in pitching over the Cardinals by a good margin and need to outpitch the Cardinals and slow down St. Louis’ offense in order to win the series. I want to go to the World Series! The Dodgers haven’t been to the World Series since I have been alive and I am only 19! In Kershaw and company we trust!