If talking about two storied franchises, one need look no further than this year’s NLCS combatants.
The National League was founded in 1876. Something I did not know until today: The NL is, according to Wikipedia, “the world’s oldest current professional team sports league.” St Louis had two other teams represent the city before the current Cardinal franchise joined in 1892. The Dodgers joined the NL in 1883.
No matter how you slice it, these are two of the most successful teams in NL history. Depending on where you draw the line, either the Dodgers or the Cardinals can claim bragging rights. The Dodger franchise (Brooklyn and LA combined) has 21 NL titles since the league’s inception; the Cardinals, 18. Since the start of the modern National League in 1901, each franchise has 18 pennants. Since the advent of the World Series in 1903, St Louis has won 11 Fall Classic titles, the Dodgers 7 – with six of those coming after they packed up and moved to California.
The franchise histories are intertwined, more so than most. Brooklyn fans gave Stan Musial his famous nickname. Lou Brock broke Maury Wills‘ stolen base record 12 years after it was set. Perhaps the apex of this rivalry occurred in the 1960s, when either one team or the other won every NL pennant from 1963-1968 (LA 63, 65, 66; STL 64, 67, 68). They had a similar run in the 1980s; St Louis won the NL in 1982, 1985, and 1987; the Dodgers in 1981 and 1988.
One of my favorite LA/STL statistics, and one that the estimable Vin Scully often talks about, is their head-to-head record. Since 1901 the teams have played each other 2,037 times. LA has 1012 victories; STL, 1009. To play someone virtually even for over one-hundred years? That’s cool. This year is no exception. LA won the season series 4-3. St Louis had the bad luck of running into the Dodgers while they were in the midst of the best 50-game stretch in 70 years. Los Angeles took 3 of 4 at Busch.
There is playoff history between the two, but it isn’t extensive. LA swept the Cardinals the last time they met, in the 2009 NLDS. Yes, 2009 – the Game 2 ninth inning from hell, followed by being shut out at home courtesy of Vicente Padilla. Five years before that, in the same round, St Louis knocked out the Dodgers in 4 games. Jose Lima shut the Cardinals out in Game 3. Their lone NLCS tussle was a memorable one – 1985, with St Louis winning in six games. The series of two awful games in LA, The Tarp, a game 4 blowout where the baseball Cardinals out-scored the football Cardinals, Whitey’s quick hook, Ozzie Smith, “Go Crazy Folks”, Jack Clark, Pedro Guerrero throwing his glove, Tom Niedenfuer‘s recurring nightmare. All told, St Louis has seven playoff game wins, the Dodgers six. Of course.
This series could go either way. On paper the Dodgers have the stronger rotation. Left-handed pitchers will probably start 4 games; St Louis has been terrible against left-handed pitching all season (sOPS+ of 90, according to Baseball Reference, in games started by a LHP; 100 is league average). They beat Kershaw twice this season, a fact that defies logic considering the struggles against LHP and that Kershaw will probably win the NL Cy Young this year. A lot will be asked of Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha, and Shelby Miller. The bullpens, to my eye, are even.
So are the lineups. St Louis scored the most runs in the league, but struggled mightily against Pittsburgh. This series might hinge on keeping Carl Crawford off the base paths, and getting Matt Carpenter onto them. David Freese needs to get hot, and Pete Kozma needs to stay hot. Los Angeles, like the Pirates, has the deeper bench.
So buckle up, sports fans – this should be a good series. It could be a great one. I have no intuition on who wins this series. That in and of itself will make it fun – and nerve wracking – to watch.
Seemed appropriate to finish Dan’s title quote.
I try to post here on Fridays, more often if time ever allows. I have a Twitter account too, which four out of 5 doctors surveyed proscribe for insomnia.