Oct 4, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Zack Greinke (21) throws against the Atlanta Braves during the fourth inning of game two of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

NLCS Opens in St. Louis With Zack Greinke Taking Center Stage

 Zack Greinke vs. Joe Kelly

Lineup: 

Crawford LF

M. Ellis 2B

Ramirez SS

Gonzalez 1B

Puig RF

Uribe 3B

Ethier CF

A. J. Ellis C

Greinke P

The National League is down to two. Two historically bannered teams. Two incredible fan bases. Two beautiful cities. Two teams which have a rich history, and two clubs which have faced each other on the national scene before. The Dodgers and Cardinals will begin the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium at 5:30 p.m. PT this Friday in what is sure to be an epic matchup of aces, sluggers, and two young managers vying for that coveted chance to play in the Fall Classic.

The annoyingly good Cardinals are no strangers to the postseason. They have won 11 World Championships and 18 pennants since 1900, and won the World Series the last time in 2011. Last season St. Louis once again reached the NLCS, but they lost to the Giants who went on to win the World Series. It seems like the Cardinals really ramp things up toward the end of a regular season, and they know when and how to win down the stretch and into the postseason. They will certainly be a formidable opponent for the Dodgers in the NLCS this year, but they are beatable.

 

Mike Matheny has reached the postseason in each of his first two years as manager of the Cardinals. Photo: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Usually we focus on the pitching matchups for the pregame post, but today I thought it appropriate to also look at the managerial matchups. As Dodger fans, we are quite aware of the difference a manager makes on the game. Even though some may argue that a manager has little influence on the outcome of a season or game, I tend to strongly disagree. There has been many a Dodger game which has had its course changed due to a decision (whether good or bad) by Don Mattingly. Choosing to intentionally walk Reed Johnson to pitch to Jason Heyward in NLDS Game 2 comes to mind right away as a game changer. Luckily the Dodgers offense counterbalanced Mattingly’s head scratching moves and love of bunting in the series. Thank you Juan Uribe for failing to get that bunt down!

Mike Matheny, the skipper of the Red Birds, has been at the helm since 2012. The former defensively solid catcher has a record of 185-139 in his two seasons as manager in St. Louis after taking over for Tony La Russa. He finished 5th in the voting for 2012 Manager of the Year for the N.L. The 43-year old, like Don Mattingly, had no experience as a manager in professional baseball (or as a coach) before taking the reins. Being the youngest manager in baseball didn’t slow Matheny down in his first year as manager, and he led the Cardinals to a Wild Card in 2012. In his second season as manager, Matheny improved upon his successful first season by winning 97 games and the National League Central Division title. The Cards went on to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLDS 3-2 en route to their second consecutive appearance in the NLCS behind Matheny.

Don Mattingly is in his third year as manager of the Dodgers, and it hasn’t been

This will be Don Mattingly’s first go at a pennant since becoming the Dodgers’ skipper. Photo: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

a smooth ride. The former Yankee star is a bit older than Matheny at 52 but still young as far as managers are concerned. In three seasons, Mattingly’s managerial record is 260-225. Mattingly was a well-liked hitting coach under his mentor Joe Torre, and Torre named him his successor to the manager’s chair in 2011. Donnie’s only managerial experience was with a short stint with the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League in 2010. Mattingly’s managerial career has been plagued with inconsistencies, and he was reportedly very close to losing his job earlier in the season when the Dodgers were in last place before the epic turnaround. Mattingly is in his last year of his three-year contract, and the Dodgers have not yet re-signed Mattingly dependent on the outcome of the 2013 season. Mattingly has said that one of his managerial idols is none other than Tony La Russa.

Aside from less calls to bunt by Mattingly, the Dodgers will need some strong pitching performances in order to squelch the heavy hitters of the St. Louis lineup. Zack Greinke will take the ball in Game 1 after pitching well in his one start during the NLDS against the Braves. Greinke was pulled early in the seventh inning for a pinch-hitter after making only 83 pitches, but he only allowed 2 runs on 4 hits with 3 strikeouts and no walks. Greinke previously had pitched in the 2011 NLDS and NLDS when he was with the Milwaukee Brewers. Greinke faced St. Louis during the regular season back on August 5th at Busch Stadium, and he picked up the victory after allowing 2 runs on 8 hits through 6 1/3 innings pitched. In his career against St. Louis, the right-hander is 8-3 with a 3.10 ERA against the Cards. He has made 4 career starts at Busch Stadium, and he is 3-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 5 total games played at Busch. He’ll have to pitch carefully to Matt Holliday who is hitting .346 with 2 homeruns and 4 RBIs against him, and David Freese also has a homerun versus Greinke as well. The key for Greinke is to pitch a nice scoreless first inning since we have seen the Dodger pitchers struggle out of the gate this season.

 

Joe Kelly will pitch on four-days rest. Photo: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals will be countering with right-hander Joe Kelly. Kelly will be working on four-days rest after pitching Game 3 of the NLDS against the Bucs. He wasn’t involved in the decision after allowing 3 runs (2 earned) on 5 hits with 5 strikeouts and 4 walks in 5 1/3 innings. Kelly had also pitched in the 2012 NLDS and NLCS for the Cardinals which was his rookie season. The 25-year old is a Southern California native and was born in Anaheim and went to high school in Corona. He went 10-5 with a 2.69 ERA during the regular season in 15 games started. Kelly faced the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 25th, but he wasn’t involved in the decision in a game the Dodgers won. He pitched three innings of relief and struck out 6 Dodger batters which worries me. He is 1-1 with a 3.72 ERA against the Dodgers in 4 games played against them in his young career. Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier have both hit homeruns against him.

Speaking of Ethier, Dre has been feeling better and

Andre Ethier tests his ankle running the bases during his workout at Busch Stadium. Photo: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

better each day during workouts. The outfielder seems to be ready to start in center field for the Dodgers during the NLCS, but Mattingly said he will make the decision right before game time. Ethier has hit the Cardinals to a tune of .292 with a .470 slugging percentage over his career. I can’t wait to see Dre back in the lineup (no offense to Skip Schumaker who has filled in adequately).

The Dodgers will need to take advantage of their 1-2 punch of Greinke and Kershaw in Games 1 and 2. Even though the Cardinals have home field advantage, the Dodgers are a very good road team. It’s truly going to be an epic series, and I hope you stick with us during all the fun!

Remember, the game will be on TBS at 5:30 p.m. PT. Scott will have the recap following the conclusion of the game.

Go Blue!

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Tags: 2013 NLCS Busch Stadium Don Mattingly Joe Kelly Los Angeles Dodgers Mike Matheny St. Louis Cardinals Zack Greinke

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