The matchups: Dodgers vs. Cardinals
LOS ANGELES – They are two-time defending divisional champions with long playoff resumes. During the regular season they met seven times with the Dodgers holding a slim one game advantage over the Cardinals. They met in the National League Championship Series last season with the Cardinals pulling out a 4-2 win.
None of that matters now as all the past injuries, clutch hits and rough outings are behind them. The Dodgers hold the home field advantage by winning four more games than the Cardinals this season. They’ll take any advantage they can get as they seem to be evenly matched with one of the more dangerous October teams.
Game 1 is a matchup of 20-game winners as the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (21-3, 1.77) takes on the Cardinals’ right-handed ace Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38). It’s also a rematch of Game 2 of the 2009 NLDS in which both pitched well but did not get a decision. The Dodgers roll out another Cy Young winner for Game 2 as Zack Greinke (17-8, 2.71) takes on the Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn (15-10, 2.74). The Dodgers announced Thursday that Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-7, 3.38) will start for the first time since Sept. 12 against another right-hander John Lackey (3-3, 4.30) who didn’t have a huge impact after coming over in a mid-season trade but has a ton of playoff experience. Game 4 could pit another right-hander for the Cardinals, Shelby Miller, (10-9, 5.26) against Dan Haren (13-11, 4.02). Haren, who started with the Cardinals, picked up a playoff win over the Dodgers in 2004. The Dodgers posted the fourth best ERA in the National League at 3.40 while the Cardinals were eighth with a 3.50.
Yadier Molina is one of the best catchers in baseball with a little home run power (seven) and a .282 average. His biggest asset is defense, where he threw out a Major League-leading 48 percent of base-stealers. The Dodgers catcher is A.J. Ellis, who hit three home runs, including two in one game, and finished with an average of just .191. He’s a respected handler of pitchers but threw out just 25 percent of base-stealers.
Adrian Gonzalez led all of baseball with 116 RBIs and also hit 27 home runs with an average of .276. It was his sixth consecutive season driving in at least 100 runs and the year prior to that he drove in 99. He was tied for second in fielding percentage among National League first basemen. The Cardinals have Matt Adams at first, in his first year as a full-time starter. The left-hander hit .288 with 15 home runs and 68 RBIs and was tied for sixth in fielding percentage at first.
Dee Gordon had to win his job in spring training and then had a break-out season. The speedster led all of baseball with 64 stolen bases and hit .289 while making the All-Star team. He also made a number of acrobatic plays in the field making him a stand-out defender. The Cardinals’ Kolten Wong had a slow start but hit 12 home runs with a .254 average.
Last season’s series seemed to turn when Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez was hit by a pitch and had to sit out Game 2 with broken ribs. Ramirez battled injuries this year, playing in 128 games while batting .283 with 13 home runs and 71 RBIs. He had the lowest fielding percentage of all qualifying big league shortstops and is usually replaced late in games by Miguel Rojas. The Cardinals have one of the best hitting shortstops in baseball in Jhonny Peralta, who hit 21 home runs with 75 RBIs and a .263 average. He also had the fifth highest fielding percentage among NL shortstops.
Injuries were also an issue at third base for the Dodgers, where Juan Uribe played in just 103 games but he did manage to hit .311 with nine home runs and 54 RBIs. He is an above average defensive player and if needed the Dodgers have a great backup in Justin Turner, who hit .340 with seven home runs in 322 plate appearances. Matt Carpenter plays third for the Cardinals and hit .272 with eight home runs and 59 RBIs. He is a mid-range defender compared to National League third basemen.
The Dodgers’ platoon of Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke will lean heavily toward Crawford in this series as the Cardinals have only right-handed starting pitchers. Crawford rode a red hot August to a .300 average with eight home runs on the season while Van Slyke could be a valuable late game replacement as he hit .297 with 11 homers. The Cardinals have one of their top sluggers in left field in Matt Holliday, who hit 20 home runs and drove in 90 runs with a .272 batting average. Neither team has defensive standouts at this position and Holliday may have bad memories of losing a fly ball in the white handkerchiefed-background of Dodger fans in the 2009 playoffs.
Yasiel Puig took over center field for the Dodgers midway through the season and has been a defensive standout with several highlight reel catches and throws. He’s no slouch with the bat either, raising his average to .296 in the last weeks of the season while finishing with 16 home runs and 69 RBIs. The Cardinals play speedsters Jon Jay and Peter Bourjous in center field. Jay is the better hitter with a .303 hitter while Bourjous is a better defender but bats just .231.
In late July, Matt Kemp went on a tear and looked like the player who was an MVP candidate a few years back. He finished the season with 25 home runs, 89 RBIs and a .287 average and 38 doubles. He is not the strongest player in the field according to defensive metrics. The Cardinals have another platoon in right field with Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk splitting time. Taveras batted .239 with three home runs in 80 games while Grichuk hit .245 with three home runs in 47 games. Grichuk is an above average defensive player.
Kenley Jansen had 44 saves and a 2.76 ERA and J.P. Howell had an excellent year setting him up, but the rest of the Dodger relief corps had difficulties at times, including Brandon League and Brian Wilson. Wilson is a former closer with playoff experience as a member of the 2010 World Series winning Giants. Trevor Rosenthal had 45 saves for the Cardinals with a 3.20 ERA and has a bevy of strong setup men in Pat Neshak, Carlos Martinez and Seth Maness.
The Dodgers have two of the better bench players in baseball with Turner and Van Slyke along with former All-Star Andre Ethier. Rojas gives them one of the better defensive substitutes in the game. The Cardinals do not have any home run power on the bench with Jay and Grichuk the key reserves in games that they don’t start.
Don Mattingly finished second in Manager of the Year voting last year and has guided the Dodgers to two consecutive division titles and four winning records in his four years at the helm. Mike Matheny is in his third year leading the Cardinals which include three winning seasons, two division titles and last year’s pennant.