We have to do this again?
After the tension and excitement of the NLDS, it seems like there should be more time to decompress and figure out exactly what we have going here. Instead, the Cardinals and Dodgers dive right back into things tonight, playing two games in less than 24 hours. We’ll have an interesting picture to discuss on Sunday night.
With the Tigers winning last night, you have a pretty classic postseason with the four remaining teams. All of them trace their history back to the founding of their leagues, with only LA in a different place than they were then. If you want your October dripping with black-and-white images and old film clips, this one is for you.
We all remember the Dodgers more fondly from 1985 and 2004, not as much from 2009. This is going to be a significant challenge for the Cardinals, though of course any team that you play at this time of year should be. I mean, it’s not like you can schedule San Diego for the NLCS. Sadly, doesn’t work that way.
The pitching for both teams will be paramount in this series. I know, shock and surprise. However, for all the focus on what the Dodgers are throwing at the Cards, we have to remember that there’s a lot of good, unflappable pitchers on the St. Louis side of things as well.
As we did for the NLDS, let’s take a look at five keys for the championship series.
1. Get at least a split in the first two games. The Dodgers are throwing out their two aces in St. Louis and, while the series wouldn’t be over if the teams go back to Los Angeles with the guys in blue up 2-0, it’d make for a much tougher road to hoe. Given the propensity for the offense to disappear versus left-handed pitching, needing to win four of five with three of them started by a lefty would be really hard. It would stand to reason that Game 1 would be the easiest of these to obtain, but either will work.
2. Get strong starting pitching. They can’t win if they can’t score. If Clayton Kershaw leaves Game 2 tied up at one (or less), the Cards are more likely to win that game, given their edge in bullpen guys. As long as Joe Kelly can keep doing what he’s been doing, this should be pretty doable for six of the games. Game 4, which will feature either Lance Lynn or Shelby Miller (most likely depending on how the series is going to that point) is the only real question mark.
3. Beat a lefty. Pretty obvious here, since there’s a strong chance either Kershaw or Hyun-Jin Ryu will start four of the seven games. The Cardinals have to win at least one of those games, preferably more than one. After all, beating Zack Greinke twice might be a tough chore and you don’t know what Game 4 is going to be like.
4. Think like Mark McGwire. McGwire, now the Dodger hitting coach, obviously had a serious impact on the players that are in St. Louis now. Those hitters have to know that their weaknesses will be highlighted in meetings with the man, even if they aren’t necessarily breaking news. On the flip side, pitchers may want to consider the McGwire strategy and see how best to attack it, giving them a bit of an edge on the Dodger hitters.
5. Stay loose. That’s not an issue for this team. They don’t scare, they don’t get uptight, they just get up and dance. If they ever lost that ability to relax and just play ball, I think they’d be done for. So let’s see Adam Wainwright come up with some elaborate routine for Game 1 in the dugout. Let’s see Kelly dance after a win. The team that can’t handle the pressure might break.
The Dodgers are a pretty balanced team, though they do have some significant lefties that might be able to be neutralized by the Kevin Siegrists and Randy Choates of the bullpen in big situations. They’ve got a pretty solid bullpen, with Kenley Jansen locking down all but four save opportunities he was given. It seems unlikely we’ll see too many 9-1 or 7-1 games in this series. A high-scoring game might be 4-3.
Kelly, who wasn’t even in the rotation to start the season, gets the call for Game 1 this evening. Kelly gave up two runs in three innings against the Dodgers in LA out of the pen, then won the only game St. Louis took in the four-game set in August at Busch.
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Historically, Los Angeles has been able to get to him. Then again, Kelly is a definite bend-but-not-break pitcher, who tends to allow his hits but they don’t necessarily come around to score. He’ll have to figure out Carl Crawford quickly, though. Letting the leadoff guy on is not the way we’d like to see tonight’s game start.
The Cardinals have a bit more history with Zack Greinke. They only saw him once this season, when he beat them with 6.1 innings of two-run ball (though they were able to get eight hits off of him).
They don’t dominate him or anything–it’s tough to dominate a guy like Greinke–but they hold their own. Matt Holliday in particular should be looking forward to this evening’s game.
It’s the postseason, of course, so everything that you thought you knew is probably wrong. That said, a win tonight would go a long way toward putting the Cards back into the World Series. Let’s hope they get it!