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October 18, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

NLCS Game Six Preview: Dodgers at Cardinals

by Ben Carsley

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Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw) vs. Cardinals (Michael Wacha) – 8:30 PM EST

PECOTA Odds of Winning: Dodgers 53.6%, Cardinals 46.4%

Dodgers vs. Wacha (R)

Cardinals vs. Kershaw (L)

Carl Crawford, LF (L)

Matt Carpenter, 2B (L)

Mark Ellis, 2B (R)

Carlos Beltran, RF (S)

Hanley Ramirez, SS (R)

Matt Holiday, LF (R)

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B (L)

Yadier Molina, C (R)

Andre Ethier, CF (L)

David Freese, 3B (R)

Yasiel Puig, RF (R)

Matt Adams, 1B (L)

Juan Uribe, 3B (R)

Jon Jay, CF (L)

A.J. Ellis, C (L)

Pete Kozma, SS (R)

Clayton Kershaw, P (L)

Michael Wacha, P (R)

With their proverbial backs against a proverbial wall in Game Five of the NLCS, the fun-loving, ever-exciting Dodgers fought back against the stodgy, holier-than-thou Cardinals to force a Game Six.

Or is it that the Cardinals, the paragon of all that is just and sportsmanlike, allowed the very essence of America’s moral decline, the Dodgers, to extend the series?

No matter which side of the aisle you stand on, let’s not lose track of the most important development of the NLCS to this point: this series has been a ton of fun to watch.

That figures to continue tonight, when the Cardinals will attempt to take down the best pitcher in baseball in Clayton Kershaw with one of the game’s more promising young arms in Michael Wacha.

The last time Kershaw and Wacha went head-to-head, St. Louis’ rookie lived up to the daunting task of outpitching the Dodgers ace. Wacha allowed no runs on five hits, one walk, and eight strikeouts in 6.2 innings en route to a 1-0 Cardinals victory. Brooks Baseball tells us that Wacha’s terrific changeup was especially effective, as Dodgers hitters swung and missed at nearly a third of his off-speed offerings.

Puig and Uribe had particularly tough nights in Game Two, combining to go 0-for-8 with seven strikeouts, while Schumaker and Gonzalez were also both held hitless. However, the Dodgers were without two of their better hitters in that game in Ramirez and Ethier, both of whom figure to start tonight. Despite the rib fracture he suffered in Game One of this series, Ramirez has been one of October’s better hitters, putting up a .357/.471/.679 line in 34 PA. Neither player has ever faced Wacha in his career, which makes sense given that Wacha has just 64.2 innings of regular-season pitching to his name.

As good as Wacha has been to this point in his career, and especially in the postseason, there’s a reason PECOTA picks the Dodgers to win this game: Clayton Kershaw.

We’re all aware of what Kershaw can do at this point. In the postseason, he’s picked up where he left off at the end of September, allowing one earned run and fanning 23 batters in 19 innings.

None of the Cardinals had more than one hit against Kershaw in his Game Two start, which meshes with how St. Louis’ starters have faired against Kershaw all time: only Holliday and Kozma have been remotely successful in facing the southpaw.

Similarly to Wacha, Kershaw got his best results in Game Two relying on his off-speed pitches. Brooks tells us that hitters swung and missed at about a quarter of his curveballs and sliders. (And if you want to see the definition of a consistent release point, look at Kershaw’s results from that game.)

While the Cardinals and Dodgers had the second- and fourth-best OPS’s by NL teams this season, the two starting pitchers are quite capable of making this a low-scoring game. And thanks to the day off and relatively light usage in Game Five, both teams should have their bullpens fully stocked heading into Game Six.

My prediction: PECOTA probably doesn’t give quite enough credit to the rookie Wacha here, but it remains, as always, very difficult to bet against Kershaw. I like the Dodgers to take this one in St. Louis and force an incredibly entertaining NLCS to a Game Seven.

That’s something that everyone, save for Cardinals fans, should be happy to hear.

Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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