This season has been (I know you’re tired of hearing it) a grind. And yet, here we are, ready to watch the Division Champion St. Louis Cardinals take on the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second postseason in a row. Once again, these Dodgers pose an intimidating threat, as they send Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and (likely) Hyun-Jin Ryu to the mound, supported by a cast of All-Stars and a surging offense.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, stumbled into the postseason after soaring through much of September. Nothing is easy with this team. And yet, they’re poised to take down the Dodgers once again.
But this rematch is more than just Wainwright vs. Kershaw. It has layers; it has history. But what made up the 2013 version of this contest is far from what will make it work this time.
This is not your 2013 Cardinals vs. Dodgers faceoff.
Kershaw is better.
If WAR’s your thing, that is also impressive at 7.5 on the season.
Then again, Wainwright is better, too.
Meanwhile, his WAR is a sluggish (kidding!) 6.1.
The Cardinals’ offensive production, though, is worse.
Last season’s NLCS MVP, Michael Wacha, who out-dueled Kershaw in Game 3 of last year’s meeting, is not only out of the rotation, but a question mark in the bullpen. But, the Dodgers’ #3 starter Ryu is mystery, too, as he tries to regain form after being sidelined with his own injury.
As obvious as it sounds, last year’s series — and the result — don’t dictate what will happen this time around. The Cardinals can’t get caught up in the “But, it worked last time!” narrative. Confidence based on past results is fine; overconfidence is a killer.
Execution trumps motivation.
Not that Big Leaguers should need external motivation, but if they want it, there’s plenty to be had in this series.
The Dodgers want revenge. The Redbirds bounced them out of the playoffs one round before the Fall Classic in 2013, and no one has let them forget it.
The Kershaw/Wainwright matchup is as marquee as it gets. Both guys — friends in the off season — will be feeling the pressure. Wainwright to finally out-dual his nemesis, and Kershaw to finally carve up the Cardinals the way he’s done to every other team in baseball.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals have unfinished business to attend to. The sting of the Game 6 loss in Boston is far from gone. Plus, the pressure is on Mike Matheny to take the final step in year three of his tenure in St. Louis.
The Dodgers are solid at home, but even better on the road. Cardinals aren’t great on the road, but they’re dominant at home. Both teams carry the weight of great expectations.
The impetus is there. But it won’t be the desire to win that has one team or the other popping the bubbly and moving on. It won’t even be a solid game plan that turns the tide. It’s all in the execution.
Shelby Miller — from Invisible Man to Most Valuable Pitcher?
Okay, maybe that’s a stretch. But, hear me out.
We know, for the most part, what to expect from Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, and even postseason-tested John Lackey. Miller, on the other hand, is a bit of a wild card. Since July 31st, Miller went 3-1 with a 2.94 ERA. Shelby earned his spot in the rotation, to be sure. But, that’s not where the job ends. Rather, it’s where it starts.
Barring a sweep, Miller will take the ball in St. Louis for Game 4. As it stands, there’s a good chance he’d pitch opposite Kershaw, especially if it’s an elimination game for LA. So, after hanging out on the bench last October, his first chance at a postseason start may be his toughest assignment of the season.
Not only could he be facing Kershaw, but Miller’s track record against the Dodgers isn’t anything to write home about. In five starts against them, he’s given up 9 runs and 5 walks in 12.1 innings pitched. Adrian Gonzalez is 4-for-7 with a home run and 4 RBI against Miller. Andre Ethier is 2-for6 with a homer run and 3 RBI of his own. And though the Small Sample Size warning is blaring, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez have handled Miller just fine, too.
Of course, that was all prior to Shelby’s transformation over the last two months of the regular season.
He’s also, better at home (3.41 ERA at Busch vs. 4.14 ERA on the road). So, at least there’s that.
Suffice it to say, Shelby Miller could go from 2013 “zero” to 2014 hero, if he pulls this off.
Matt Adams or bust.
Call him “Big City,” “Big Mayo,” or “Patch.” I don’t care. Just don’t call him “predictable.”
When Adams struggles most, he becomes an easy out. His tendencies are quickly exposed, and any good pitcher can find — and take advantage of — the holes in his swing. His pre-All Star Game average of .329 and OPS of .876 plummeted to .235 and .650 respectively after the break. The lefty/righty splits are even more concerning. The .318 average against right handers will do just fine, but the drop to .190 against southpaws isn’t great for the
everyday only first baseman against LA (especially when 2 of 3 starting pitchers are lefties…).
Whatever happened on his rehab assignment in Memphis that led to his success at the end of the first half needs to happen again, and fast.
Matt Holliday is healthy. Jhonny Peralta has been more productive than most realize. But, Yadier Molina is not quite back from the thumb injury. Kolten Wong, Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk have “pop,” but less reliability. But, if the big guy makes himself an easy out, there are plenty of ways to work around the (little bit of) power in this lineup.
Plus, he’s it … Unless you consider Daniel Descalso a reasonable backup. Since Allen Craig was shipped to Boston, the first base options have been limited, to say the least. Xavier Scruggs was brought up, but as little more than emergency relief. As such, he was left off the postseason roster.
Buckle up, Matty A. You’re it.
Find the switch and flip it.
Last year, someone bumped the “off” switch on the offense. This year, someone needs to find it and flip it to “on.” The postseason can change everything. Is it naive to expect a completely different Cardinals team to take the field against the Dodgers tomorrow? Probably. But, it’s not unheard of for the team not expected to win to ignore headlines and do the impossible. The Cards are good in one-run games. But, they’ll be better if they give their rotation (and a bullpen that struggled down the stretch) some breathing room.
They haven’t been able to breathe much all year, after putting themselves in such a hole early in the season. Perhaps winning the division was just what the doctor ordered. Take the pressure off, if even for a moment; replenish the “swagger” tank; and flip the power switch.
Conventional wisdom seems to favor the Dodgers. But if we’ve learned (or re-learned?) anything this season, it’s that games are won and lost between the lines, not by the numbers.
Let the battle begin.