NLDS Roundtable: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals (91-71) and Los Angeles Dodgers (95-67) matches two of the most storied franchises in the history of baseball. The NL Central titleist vs. the NL West champ.
The Redbirds, who lead the all-time series 1063-1030, won five out of seven this season and four of six last year. The Dodgers, in fact, have lost 14 of their last 17 games in St. Louis.
I grew up a Dodgers fan and was surprised to learn that the team's back-to-back division titles in 2008-09 were the first since 1977-78. The Bums lost the World Series both years to the Yankees but won it all in 1981 and 1988. The Cardinals, meanwhile, captured the World Series in 2006 and could tie the Red Sox for the most world championships this decade if they can prevail in 2009.
To preview the St. Louis-Los Angeles series, let's turn to Dave Allen, Sky Andrecheck, Jeremy Greenhouse, Chris Moore, Patrick Sullivan, and yours truly of the Baseball Analysts staff.
Rich: Similar to the other NLDS roundtable, let's analyze each team's hitting, pitching, and defense to determine which side should have the edge in this series. When it comes to hitting, the stats favor the Dodgers slightly. But, then again, LA doesn't have Albert Pujols on its side.
Dave: The two most important things to producing runs are not making outs and hitting for power. The Dodgers do the first really well (best OBP in the NL) and the second surprisingly poorly (in the bottom third of the NL). James Loney, Orlando Hudson, Rafael Furcal, and Russell Martin all experienced fairly signifcant drops in their power this year (as measured by ISO).
Jeremy: Loney and Martin have been humongous disappointments this year. But what Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier lack with their gloves, they more than make up for with their bats, leading the Dodgers to the top of the NL in OBP as Dave pointed out.
Sully: It's a good unit but also one that slugged .332 over the last two weeks of the season. They need to re-heat.
Rich: I think the key to the Dodgers offense is whether we see the Manny of old or an old Manny. There is a peretty big difference between the two. He may have matched up well with Albert last year but not so much this time around.
Jeremy: Yeah, that Pujols guy. He's good.
Sky: There's a lot to like about this offense and, of course, the big reason is Pujols. I think commentators have made too much of the addition of Matt Holliday. Yeah, he's been awesome, but how long can you expect that to continue? Meanwhile, Pujols is going to hit no matter who's behind him. Great pickup, but not the single reason that the Cardinals have excelled in the second half.
Sully: There is no more fearsome duo heading into the playoffs than Pujols and Holliday and beyond that pair, the Cards don't have a hole in their lineup. Don't let the pedestrian season-long totals fool you. The personnel has turned over, and the St. Louis offense is formidable.
Rich: Let's turn the discussion over to the prevention of outs with a focus on the starting pitchers, relievers, and the fielders.
Skyy: I think the postseason format favors the Cardinals, with two dominant starting pitchers. That said, I do think that Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter have pitched over their heads a bit as their numbers are quite a bit better than their career stats.
Chris: Wainwright and Carpenter will pitch three of the five games; that will be a lot of innings in the hands of Cy Young candidates. I think two of the three games will be dominated by Wainwright and Carpenter, but that it won’t be enough because St. Louis doesn’t have the offense to back it up.
Dave: Things went about as well as anyone could have hoped for St Louis' starting pitching. Carpenter returned to ace form after effectively two lost years. Wainwright continues to improve (adding more strikeouts and groundballs) as one of the game's top pitchers. And Joel Pineiro somehow found a way to stop issuing both walks and fly balls. As a whole, the Cardinals get the second most grounders of any starting rotation. Wainwright, Carpenter and Pinero lead the way, all north of 50% GB/BIP.
Sully: How about Pineiro in 2009? I know much of the talk will center on Carpenter and Wainwright, but Pineiro's 3.89 K/BB ratio leads the St. Louis starters this season.
Jeremy: I'm concerned with Pineiro's lack of ability to miss Dodger bats. However, the Dodgers do struggle against groundball pitchers.
Rich: The Dodgers didn't have any trouble missing bats this year.
Jeremy: That's right, Rich. For the first time since 2000, the Cubs did not lead the majors in strikeouts. That honor belonged to the Giants, but the Cubs and Dodgers tied for second. I think I'm in the minority, but I'd take Clayton Kershaw/Chad Billingsley over Chris Carpenter/Adam Wainwright. I love me the strikeouts.
Rich: Yes, Jeremy, that's a contrary position for sure. But who knows if Billingsley will even get a start this series? Joe Torre has decided to go with Vicente Padilla in Game 3. Boy, that would be awfully embarrassing if the ace of the staff heading into the season didn't get a call in the postseason.
Dave: Run prevention is the name of the game for the Dodgers. Their starters are second to only the Braves in ERA (3.58). They are strong one to four with Randy Wolf, Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, and Billingsley all owning a FIP below 4.
Sky: I'd say LA's rotation goes six deep. Too bad for them it's only a five-game series. And Wolf is going twice. The Dodgers had a great regular season staff, but it's not necessarily going to translate in the playoffs.
Sully: It's as fascinating a mix as there is in the playoffs. Kershaw is a promising youngster who may be outpiching his peripherals. Padilla has been solid since joining the club. Game 1 starter Wolf has been way better than many realize, while Billingsley has struggled down the stretch. Stay tuned.
Rich: I think all of us would agree that the Dodgers have a fairly significant advantage as far as the bullpens are concerned, no?
Dave: The Dodgers lead the league in reliever ERA by a healthy margin (3.14 with the Giants the closest at 3.49). Jonathan Broxton leads the league in K/9 with 13.5 and is the first pitcher since Brad Lidge in 2005 to have greater than 13 K/9.
Jeremy: While the Dodgers paced the league by a fair margin in bullpen ERA, not one of their relievers has a decent walk rate. As such, that could get them in hot water when Broxton's not striking everybody out.
Chris: The one aspect I’m looking forward to most is watching LA's bullpen go to work. Ronald Belisario should line ‘em up and mow ‘em down.
Sully: Torre has no shortage of reliable options in his bullpen. How he deploys them will be something to watch.
Sky: I agree, Sully. Torre could put some of those leftover starters in the bullpen, too. I love Broxton closing and George Sherrill, Belisario & Co. setting up, the late innings advantage is going to LA big time.
Jeremy: The Cardinals have a lot of options, and Tony La Russa isn't afraid to seemingly use all of them at once. Ryan Franklin's a solid closer, Trever Miller's a great lefty, Jason Motte can get strikeouts, and Blake Hawksworth and Dennys Reyes can get grounders.
Sky: Franklin has been lights out this year. Unfortunately for the Cards, he too is in over his head. His FIP is 3.31, betraying his sub-2.00 ERA. I still do like the Cardinals pen though, as Kyle McClellan, Miller, and Reyes are serviceable relievers.
Dave: Franklin has succeded as a closer on the strength of low BABIP and HR/FB and in spite of a K/BB ratio below 2. It seems relief pitchers might have a little more control over these numbers than starters, and Franklin has had a low BABIP throughtout his career. But his 3.2% HR/FB is way out of line with his career total.
Sully: The Cards bullpen has to be a question mark heading into the post-season, especially given the way Franklin has faltered down the stretch. Will La Russa introduce America to Motte? He may have to in a big way for St. Louis to make a run.
Rich: Which team catches and throws the ball better?
Jeremy: What a disaster that would be if Torre plays Ronnie Belliard at second over Orlando Hudson. They have a terrific infield defense and ugly outfield defense but, fortunately for the Dodgers, the Cardinals as a team have a slight propensity to hit the ball on ground.
Sky: If the infield defense is a plus, outfield defense is a minus in my opinion.
Sully: Did you know that Rafael Furcal had another strong season? Yes, defense matters.
Dave: With so many ground ball pitchers, infield defense is espically important to the Cards. That makes it all the more rash that they moved Skip Schumaker from OF to 2B before the season. UZR says he has played below average, but not horribly so, -6 runs per 150 innings.
Jeremy: Schumacher's a liability at second base, but he's surrounded by plus fielders in Pujols and Brendan Ryan. Pineiro's a really solid fielder, and Yadier Molina's a good receiver too, and we too often neglect pitcher and catcher defense.
Sky: Not only can Pujols hit, but he's also a GG-caliber first baseman. Simply an amazing player.
Sully: It's a mixed bag for the Cards but as a unit they're pretty good. However, they fall short of the Dodgers defenders. Holliday and Schumaker may not win Gold Gloves anytime soon, but with standout youngsters like Ryan and Colby Rasmus, they more than hold their own.
Rich: OK, it's time to make our
Sky: The teams seem evenly matched on paper, but I think there are too many Cardinals playing over their heads this year....they've gotta come back to earth at some point. I predict it will happen this series. Dodgers in 5.
Jeremy: I agree with Sky. Dodgers in 5.
Dave: I'm going to go you one better. Dodgers in 4.
Rich: Wow, Dave's not afraid to make these bold calls. He picked the Rockies in 4 in the other NLDS.
Chris: I like the Dodgers in 4 as well.
Sully: I'll take the Dodgers over the Cardinals over the long haul but it's hard to bet against the Cardinals, who feature the two best starting pitchers in the National League post-season. St. Louis in 4.
Rich: This is a tough one for me. My heart and even my mind says Dodgers, but I'm a sucker for the top-heavy Pujols/Holliday/Carpenter/Wainwright fearsome foursome. I'll be different and say Cardinals in 5.