Oct 18, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher J.P. Howell (56) reacts during the fifth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals in game six of the National League Championship Series baseball game at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

What Separates The Good Teams From The Great Teams? Being Prepared

What separates the great teams from the good teams? One word: preparation. being prepared. Planning. Doing your homework. Coming up with game strategies. The Dodgers did not do their homework during the NLCS, and the Cardinals did. Sometimes it’s the littlest things that can define a great team from a good team. The Dodgers are a good team, but they weren’t a great team this season. The Cardinals were a great team in 2013, and the details are what classifies them as such.

The Cardinals paid attention to the details, that’s why. They went over game plans, discussed strategies, watched video. They studied scouting reports, and came up with brilliant game plans for how to hit Clayton Kershaw. It worked.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers looked like they gave up, threw their hands up during their 9-0 white-washing during game 6 of the NLCS. The loss meant the end of their season, a 4-2 series loss, and another lost chance to advance to the World Series. Don’t mistake this for blind criticism. The Dodgers still had a great season. Even though they lost the pennant by a couple of games, just getting to the NLCS is an accomplishment. Only three other teams make it that far, and to go from last place on June 22, to the NLCS and doorstep to the World Series is an incredible achievement.

Yet I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand I’m proud of the Boys in Blue for getting as far as they did. On the other hand I’m disappointed they gave up so quickly. The 25 year drought continues, even though this season was the 25 anniversary of the 1988 World Series. The last Dodger team to win it all. Depressing.

But what was more depressing was the Dodger’s total lack of planning and concentration. The entire team melted down in the biggest game of the year on Friday night, and a lack of homework led to their down fall.

The Cardinals are a smart team. They’re a thinking man’s team. Before you say anything, consider this. Kershaw throws first or second pitch fastballs 84% of the time. The scouting reports recommend that the only way to possibly beat him is to attack him early in counts.

The Cardinals figured that out early on in game 6. They began to first pitch or second pitch swing on nearly every at-bat. Kershaw became unraveled quickly, but was not able to make an adjustment. As much as I hate to say this, A.J. Ellis was taken to school by a better catcher.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

I love A.J.  I really do, and he has worked hard to get where he is, but his game calling, pitch selections, and defense were substandard throughout the entire NLCS. Compare him to Yadier Molina who called excellent games the entire series. A.J.’s pitch selections were terrible, and his defense and plate blocking subpar. A.J. didn’t even try to go out to the mound and calm Kershaw down when the Cardinals were hammering his fastballs. Kershaw had a rare bad game, and the pressure of the situation flustered him. His defense didn’t do him any favors, especially with Puig’s ridiculous throws, but A.J. made no attempt to right the ship at all. I’m not trying to bag on A.J. here, I mean I love the guy. My point is, it takes a really good catcher with excellent game calling and plate blocking in order to advance all the way through the postseason. A.J. needs some work. It’s not all A.J.’s fault. Kershaw just had a bad game, it happens, but I think A.J.’s sub-standard catching in the series tied into it.

Sure Yasiel Puig’s throwing errors were bad, but eventually meaningless. The Dodgers offense did nothing against NLCS MVP Michael Wacha, and the rest of the Cardinal’s staff. Molina’s excellent game calling, and pitch selections were a huge part of that. The Dodgers had just two hits the entire game. One was a piddly infield single from Crawford in the first inning, and the other ironically a double from A.J.

This Wacha kid limited the Dodgers to just seven hits over 13.2 innings. The Dodgers could not figure him out. What irritates me the most is how the club said they would be ready for him during their postgame conferences after game 5. They puffed out their chests and proclaimed they had seen him once before, and that they would execute. What the hell happened to the Dodgers?

They didn’t prepare properly. They never did their homework. They thought they could coast through the playoffs on just their talent alone. Sometimes it’s not the most talented teams that win, but the clubs that prepare the most diligently. The playoffs are NOT a crapshoot. The playoffs are designed to separate the pretenders from the contenders. Sure the best regular season team may not win, but the team that prepares the best will.

Talent alone is not enough to win championships. It takes more than that. The Dodgers learned a valuable lesson from losing this NLCS to the Cardinals. Learn from this Dodgers. Next year, when you are back in the NLCS, please study some game footage. Read scouting reports. Do your homework. Because if this NLCS has tought us anything, it’s that if you don’t do your homework, a better team just may take you to school.

Tags: A.J. Ellis Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers Yasiel Puig

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