With the postseason’s marquee series being the last to play ball, they didn’t even need those extra days at the end. The Dodgers didn’t need to put away the Giants with a week to go, and the Cardinals didn’t need to call Adam Wainwright back from the bullpen Sunday night to keep him fresh.
We would have had the National League’s pitching matchup of the year Friday no matter what. No. 1 vs. No. 2, Clayton Kershaw vs. Adam Wainwright, in a rematch of the 2013 NLCS that the Cardinals won with a bonus of demolishing Kershaw. But now everybody’s on extra rest and ready to go at 6:37 p.m. ET Friday.
This year’s Cardinals team isn’t as good as the previous iteration, but if they can keep these games close, their advantages will come as the ninth approaches and Don Mattingly has to make a series of phone calls he might not want to be making. The Dodgers will once again see if their “had ‘em all the way” regular season can be parlayed into something more befitting of a team whose lineup and rotation are this talented.
Los Angeles enters as not only a pretty heavy favorite to win the series, but also a consensus favorite to win the World Series. St. Louis, San Francisco/Washington and the champion of the stronger league would be a hell of a route though.
(Note: Neither team's Divisional Series roster is set, so we'll update the article when the names are officially announced.)
Lineups (AVG/OBP/SLG/TAv, WARP)
3B-L Matt Carpenter (.272/.375/.375/.289, 3.8)
CF-L Jon Jay (.303/.372/.378/.279, 1.5)
LF-R Matt Holliday (.272/.370/.441/.293, 2.9)
1B-L Matt Adams (.288/.321/.457/.282, 1.3)
SS-R Jhonny Peralta (.262/.336/.443/.286, 4.5)
C-R Yadier Molina (.282/.333/.386/.258, 1.9)
RF-R Randal Grichuk (.245/.278/.400/.245, 0.1)
2B-L Kolten Wong (.249/.292/.388/.242, 0.6)
We didn’t hear nearly as much this year about the Cardinals’ intangible magic, and that’s because their unsustainable numbers with runners on base obviously didn’t sustain themselves. But the magic didn’t disappear; it just migrated. This year’s crazy outperformance came in a different order of the route to determining record. They scored just about how many runs they should have scored – finishing 10th in the National League in both runs scored and true average. But their Pythagorean record was very much out of whack, with a 90-72 record and underlying totals that would normally call for 83 wins. The loss of Allen Craig is much like the loss of Yoenis Cespedes for Oakland, in that it’s fair to ask what they really lost, but they certainly haven’t filled the spot. Neither young Grichuk nor Oscar Taveras has stepped up, and things could get dicey at the bottom of the order.
Still, this is a lineup that is relatively suited to face the Dodgers, who will be throwing lefties three times in a five-game series. While the league as a whole hits 8 OPS points better against lefties than righties, the Cardinals hit 39 points better.
2B-L Dee Gordon (.289/.326/.378/.267, 2.4)
CF-R Yasiel Puig (.296/.382/.480/.320, 5.8)
1B-L Adrian Gonzalez (.276/.335/.482/.300, 4.0)
RF-R Matt Kemp (.287/.346/.506/.306, 3.8)
SS-R Hanley Ramirez (.283/.369/.448/.304, 2.7)
LF-L Carl Crawford (.300/.339/.429/.296, 2.7)
3B-R Juan Uribe (.311/.337/.440/.280, 3.7)
C-R A.J. Ellis (.191/.323/.254/.227, -0.2)
For a team that had so many potential questions, especially in the outfield, this has been a remarkably consistent group throughout the second half of the season. Even more remarkable when considering the medical charts that this group had compiled heading into 2014, with Kemp’s resurgence and Crawford’s unexpected steadiness after major injuries being the keys to all of the stability. With the Cardinals starting only right-handed pitching, there should be very little day-to-day variation over the three-to-five games. The Dodgers were second in the league in runs scored, trailing only Colorado, and not surprisingly, they led the league in true average. The Dodgers, despite the presence of Dee Gordon at the top of the lineup and on base frequently in 2014, have been a very average base-running club.
Starting Pitchers (ERA/Innings/FIP)
While Kershaw should run away with the National League MVP award, one pitcher does not a 5.5 Game 1 over/under make. Wainwright, who has pitched close to 30 more innings, has been nearly as accomplished and finished strong, winning the NL’s Pitcher of the Month award in September. St. Louis should be well set up for the games in Los Angeles but may need to rely on the bullpen to a greater extent back on the home front. The decision came down to Miller vs. Michael Wacha, and Miller got the spot on the strength of an excellent finish. He had a 1.69 ERA in his last six starts with seven walks and 29 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings. So last year’s postseason breakout star will head to the bullpen, while its missing person will get Game 4.
The most likely place for this series to be standing after three games is Dodgers 2, Cardinals 1, and the Dodgers have been here before. This was the situation in the 2013 NLDS when the exact same top three got them to that point. Last year, Game 4 was at home, and the Dodgers went for the kill, throwing Kershaw again in Game 4 on three days of rest and getting the win. Whether related or not, Kershaw got lit up in the next round, and given what the scientific method looks like in baseball, it would not be a surprise to see them give Haren a start if they’re up 2-1. Of course, this would be in St. Louis, and it would give Kershaw a chance to start Game 5 at home or be saved for Game 1 of the NLCS. If the Dodgers are down in this series, though, look out. This group does drop off fast, especially considering the uncertainty around Ryu’s recent injury history.
Benches (AVG/OBP/SLG/TAv, WARP)
INF-R Pete Kozma (.304/.385/.435/.298, 0.3)
INF-L Daniel Descalso (.242/.333/.311/.245, 0.1)
OF-L Oscar Taveras (.239/.278/.312/.218, -1.2)
OF-R Peter Bourjos (.231/.294/.348/.243, 1.2)
C-R Tony Cruz (.200/.270/.259/.191, -0.7)
The missing name here is A.J. Pierzynski, whose pursuit of a third championship ring will start out in a much more passive role than his first two as he will reportedly be off the roster. Tony Cruz gets the backup spot and presumably same playing time as the third catcher in the dugout, Mike Matheny. Kozma basically played all season at Triple-A Memphis, and is not all that effective a use of a roster spot. Despite being right-handed and despite the Dodgers throwing a ton of lefties, he’s a career .208/.302/.302 hitter against lefties, and Descalso doesn’t provide much of any platoon advantage either, making this sort of a low upside bench. Bourjos is dangerous on the bases for a poor base-running team, so expect to see him late in games.
OF-R Scott Van Slyke (.297/.386/.524/.330, 2.7)
OF-L Andre Ethier (.249/.322/.370/.262, 0.4)
INF-R Justin Turner (.340/.404/.493/.339, 4.0)
INF-R Miguel Rojas (.181/.242/.221/.175, -0.3)
C-R Drew Butera (.188/.267/.288/.213, 0.0)
This, like the Cardinals’ bench, has been relatively average this year, but the upside is a little bit higher here, and Don Mattingly, if he uses it properly, can get some more out of it. Van Slyke has the pop, Ethier, for all his lack of production, still has a little bit of potential in a proper platoon situation, and Turner’s year would have had him started in most of the major leagues. If Rojas has to hit, it will mean either something bad happened or the Dodgers are so far up that they’ll yank Ramirez for defense. Butera is a good extra arm in case of extra innings.
Relief Pitchers (ERA/Innings/FIP)
RHP Trevor Rosenthal (3.20/70.1/2.96)
RHP Michael Wacha (3.20/107/3.14)
RHP Seth Maness (2.91/80.1/3.35)
RHP Pat Neshek (1.87/67.1/2.35)
RHP Carlos Martinez (4.03/89.1/3.15)
LHP Randy Choate (4.50/36/3.55)
LHP Sam Freeman (2.61/38/3.76)
LHP Marco Gonzales (4.15/34.2/4.72)
For the second straight year, this has been a middle-of-the-road bullpen, but what lies beneath the surface stats are very different from the team that went to the World Series last year. The 2013 Cardinals were fourth in the league in strikeout rate, while this group is second-to-last. Even with Kevin Siegrist struggling and on the outs, they’ll still have three lefties to pitch to Adrian Gonzalez and crew – they’ll need their three more than the Dodgers will need theirs. (Righty Jason Motte is another notable cut.) With the specialists and with enough high-end arms here, including Wacha from the rotation, this bullpen could play up in the playoffs again.
RHP Kenley Jansen (2.76/65.1/1.88)
RHP Brandon League (2.57/63/3.37)
RHP Brian Wilson (4.66/48.1/4.26)
RHP Pedro Baez (2.62/24/3.85)
RHP Jamey Wright (4.35/70.1/3.44)
LHP J.P. Howell (2.39/49/3.27)
RHP Carlos Frias (6.12/32.1/3.57)
LHP Scott Elbert (2.08/4.1/2.87)
The rap on this group is that they’re the scariest part of the team, and that’s probably deserved. Kenley Jansen is mostly reliable at the end, but if they have to piece a game together after an early exit or if Ryu can’t give them much in Game 3, there is danger on the way to the ninth. By ERA, they’re toward the bottom – even with the ballpark bonus – but what’s worse is the walks. Only the Reds bullpen had a higher walk rate among National League teams.
The Cardinals have the edge in defensive efficiency, coming in third in the National League with LA seventh. None of the individual performances behind the pitchers have been all that outstanding, just generally steady. They also have the edge behind the plate, with Molina being a better framer than Ellis and creating a very interesting matchup with Gordon, who led the majors in steals and had the most of any Dodger since Davey Lopes in 1975.
The Dodgers have Gonzalez, so their defense is never going to be a total disaster. The best defensive first baseman of this era still is, and by a pretty good margin in the 2014 stats. Uribe at third has graded out excellent as well. Where things get less pretty is in the outfield, where the injured guys haven’t sprung back as fast with the glove. Everyone’s been pretty uniformly negative, so it’s not like there’s a solution here that they’re just too stubborn to reach the way some teams are with veterans playing out of position. Speaking of which, Ramirez made the Dodgers the second-worst fielding team at shortstop by FRAA, ahead of only the Yankees.
Matheny will make his money this series in his bullpen usage. There are few enough decisions of consequence to be made with the lineup, that any of these will mostly be narrative rather than real advantages gained or lost, and while pinch-running may play a role, this is a team horribly built for small-ball. Deciding when to hook his right-handed starters and start matching up lefty-righty against the Dodgers’ dangerous middle of the order while maintaining enough pitching for late innings, that’s going to be the pressure on his seat.
Matheny has the experience of two relatively long playoff runs to bank on here, but for the Dodgers, the situation is different. They have a green skipper on their side, and one who in the little we do know about his tactical history, has been shown to be especially liberal with substitutions of position players. This will have to be tempered now that he’s down to just a 25-man roster. He has also been known to be quite emotional, which can work against you in short series. Still, his winning percentage is unquestionable, and if Juan Uribe can indeed skipper the Dodgers to their first World Series crown in 26 years, it may usher in a whole new era in the history of the position.
The favorites are favorites for a reason. Dodgers in 5. Kershaw wins it if they’re able to save him for this game. If not, the offense has enough to get them through some of their other shortcomings.