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NLDS Preview: Cardinals vs. Dodgers

Oct 5, 2009, 11:19 AM EDT

The Dodgers and the Cardinals have 35 National League pennants and sixteen World Championships between them. That said, there isn’t a ton of historical late season drama between these two teams. When the Gashouse Gang Cardinals were flying high, the Dodgers were bums. When those Jackie Robinson/Duke Snider Dodgers teams were manufacturing nostalgia, the Cardinals were often Stan Musial, a wish and a prayer.  Each franchise had some great 1960s teams and some great moments after that, but for most of their history they have see-sawed like birds on a bat.

Recent history has the Cardinals beating L.A. in the dramatic 1985 NLCS and once again topping the boys in blue in the 2004 division series.  Based on my uber-complicated scientific breakdown of this year’s NLDS — really, it involved beakers and a sextant and six different intellectual strains of alchemy — I have concluded that, once again, the Cardinals are going to beat the Dodgers.  Let’s see why, shall we?

2009 NLDS Probables 

Game 1: Chris Carpenter vs. Randy Wolf

Game 2: Adam Wainwright vs. Clayton Kershaw 

Game 3: Joel Piniero vs. Chad Billingsley. At least we think. UPDATE: Try Vicente Padilla!

Game 4:  Kyle Lohse or maybe a Lohse/Smoltz committee start or, if they’re in deep doo-doo, Carpenter on short rest vs. Dear God, the Dodgers have a decision to make, don’t they?

Game 5: Carpenter or Wainwright vs. Wolf or Kershaw.

As you can see, the starting pitching is where the rubber really hits the road in this series.  The Cardinals have what is almost certainly the best rotation in the playoffs, with two Cy Young candidates, a guy who never walks anybody, a totally serviceable fourth starter in Kyle Lohse, and the all-time postseason wins leader that is John Smoltz. And Tony La Russa is a total genius, so even if one of those guys lays and egg or gets slick balls or something, I’m sure he’ll be able to synthesize another starter out of some anti-matter and a few loose hairs found in an old Joaquin Andujar cap they found before demolishing the last Busch Stadium.

The Dodgers, in contrast, are kind of up the creek.  Billingsley has been erratic, having his last start skipped because of it.  He’s going to throw a simulated game today or tomorrow and unless something goes terribly wrong –  say, he gets simulatedly shelled — he should be the Game 3 guy. UPDATE: Or not.  Game 4 is going to be a toughie. Kuroda is hurt. Vicente Padilla pitched well yesterday, but the Rockies didn’t exactly throw their major league lineup out there. Jon Garland allowed five runs in 3 1/3 innings his last time out and is no one’s idea of a savior.  The Dodgers have had some decent rotation depth this year, but they are sorely lacking in high quality.  If I were Joe Torre, I’d consider a three-man rotation.

Upshot: I like Kershaw an awful lot and could totally see him shutting the Cards down, but I like the Cardinals in every other matchup. The Dodgers’ best chance to win this thing is based on the Cardinals mighty struggles vs. lefties this year, but if they can break through against either Wolf or Kershaw, L.A. is in deep trouble.

 

Offenses:  Both teams have a superstar (Pujols and Ramirez), a solid second banana (Holliday and Kemp) and a bunch of guys you can pitch to. To be fair, the Dodgers probably have a third banana in Ethier, and their offense is stronger from top to bottom, but that 1-2 punch is a doozy.  Of course, I’m reminded a bit of the Astros of the 1990s here, in that they always had a solid 1-2 in Bagwell and Biggio but would routinely get sent packing by the Braves or whoever.

Upshot: Ultimately, though, I just don’t think the Dodgers have the arms to shut both Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday down for five games, and as noted above, the runs will be hard to come by for L.A.

 

Bullpens: A lot of Dodgers fans are probably about ready to pounce on me for not noting that L.A. had the best bullpen in all of creation in 2009.  Fair point, but as Christina Kahrl points out here (sorry; subscription only), overall bullpen numbers can be misleading when the playoffs roll around.

Why? Because bullpen usage changes dramatically in the postseason. You don’t go six or seven arms deep in October, and you don’t save a guy for tomorrow when there may be no tomorrow. Indeed, if you cut things down to the top four or five relievers that a team is likely to use, the Cardinals’ Ryan Franklin, Kyle McClellan, Trever Miller and Dennys Reyes/Blake Hacksworth has actually been better than the Dodgers’ Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ramon Troncoso/Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo.

Upshot: The Dodgers pen is great, but the Cardinals is pretty darn good in its own right, even if it doesn’t look as sexy on paper. The difference certainly isn’t enough to neutralize the rotational differences and the mighty and just fury of Albert Pujols’ bat.

 

Overrated Angle: These games will be on TBS instead of FOX, so the “we must create a compelling storyline and drive it into the ground” thing won’t be quite as obvious, but I’m sure we’ll see one of two things hit hard and hit often: (a) Torre vs. La Russa: the battle of Hall of Fame managers!; and (b) Manny vs. Pujols: the battle of evil superstar vs. good superstar!  I’ll grant that those four guys are the biggest personalities in this series and thus will create some appeal to even the more common fans, but that’s all pretty boring, ain’t it?

Underrated Angle: The surprising balance of the Cardinals. Above comments notwithstanding, it’s not all Albert and Matt.  Yadier Molina had a great offensive season — especially for a Molina — and is outstanding behind the dish. Ludwick and Ankiel aren’t fabulous or anything, but they’re capable. Joel Piniero is not as big a falloff from Carpenter and Wainwright as most people think and, like I said, the Cardinals’ bullpen is being seriously undersold.  They’ll be a lot of talk about how both the Dodgers and the Cardinals skidded into the postseason, but the Cardinals (a) weren’t really playing for anything; and (b) are a better overall team in my estimation.

 

Prediction: Kershaw beats St. Louis in Game 2, but the Cardinals win it, 3-1 as the back end of the Dodgers’ rotation is exposed.

  1. Ted - Oct 5, 2009 at 1:58 PM

    No. Good day.

  2. Levi Stahl - Oct 5, 2009 at 2:08 PM

    It’s the lefties on the Dodgers and the recent shakiness of the St. Louis bullpen that worries me as a Cardinals fan. Nonetheless, I’ll gladly take my chances with Carpenter, Wainwright, and the world’s greatest hitter.

  3. Shely - Oct 5, 2009 at 2:24 PM

    You are over optimistic about the Redbirds. Wainwright showed that he can not be counted on like Carpenter. If Carp. loses Tuesday, the Dodgers will sweep.
    Shely in Cinti.

  4. Shely - Oct 5, 2009 at 2:30 PM

    Oh yea, I almost forgot to mention. Closer Franklin has been self destructing for the past month or so. How is it that he is going to put it together magically now? I still don’t see the birds winning, except that the Dodgers have been imploding as well. However, should the birds get past them, either Col. or the Phillthys will dominate them.
    Shely

  5. Chappy - Oct 5, 2009 at 3:02 PM

    Shely
    Really, are you kidding me? Wainwright cannot be counted on? What planet are you on? He only has the lowest ERA in the National League in the second half of the season. Can you please be more specific with your comments. The Dodgers will be provide a tough out but Carpenter is 5-0 against the Dodgers and Wainwright has been equally as good if not better. He is the work horse and has the most innings pitched. You need to check your facts. The only way the Dodgers win is by getting shutouts by their lefties, period. This will not happen!

  6. Chappy - Oct 5, 2009 at 3:03 PM

    Shely
    Really, are you kidding me? Wainwright cannot be counted on? What planet are you on? He only has the lowest ERA in the National League in the second half of the season. Can you please be more specific with your comments. The Dodgers will be provide a tough out but Carpenter is 5-0 against the Dodgers and Wainwright has been equally as good if not better. He is the work horse and has the most innings pitched. You need to check your facts. The only way the Dodgers win is by getting shutouts by their lefties, period. This will not happen!

  7. Caleb - Oct 5, 2009 at 3:48 PM

    Advantage Cards. The Manny/Pujols comparison isn’t much of a comparison this year, and I have full confidence in Carpenter and Wainwright going deep into their respective games. St. Louis can struggle a bit against lefties, but will have a heavily right-handed lineup that features Pujols and Holliday. LA will need to manufacture runs, and that’s precisely where Molina will be useful… shutting down the running game.

  8. Doug - Oct 5, 2009 at 4:09 PM

    And if the Dodgers have any sense, the world’s greatest hitter will not see one pitch to hit when it counts. That being said, I still think the Cards will win regardless of what the Dodgers do with Albert.

  9. Shely - Oct 5, 2009 at 4:18 PM

    Sorry to say, that this is just wishful thinking on your part. I am not a Dodger fan. Wainwright has a good ERA for the year. Manny eats up Cardinal pitching, and Wainwright has not been able to close out games ALL YEAR, Leaving Franklin to save. Good luck with that now. The birds do have what it takes this year. They are not the same team of August and early September. I don’t know what happened. If by some miracle they beat L A, they will get swamped by the Phillthys. Sorry to tell you, the Cardinals is dead.

  10. DougTucson - Oct 5, 2009 at 5:37 PM

    Both have hurlers who can be excellent. The Cardinals’ two are more consistently excellent, but Kershaw and Billingsley can be superb and Wolfe is a warrior. Pujols is without peer, but the Dodgers, when they are right, can put hits together, and Manny likes the big ones. Torre and LaRussa are proven, and sometimes surprise. Home field advantage is worth maybe a couple of runs over a 5-game series. Should be fun.

  11. BIGBRUCE11047 - Oct 5, 2009 at 6:00 PM

    The Cardinals starting pitchers are stronger than the Dodgers but the Dodgers bullpen is one of the strongest in the major leagues. The Cardinals offense is pretty much centered around two power hitters while the Dodgers have eight batters who can beat you on any given day. It’s going to be a great series but it’ll be the Dodgers in 5 games.

  12. Phil0819 - Oct 5, 2009 at 7:09 PM

    The Dodgers in 5, with 3 games going to extra innings. All will see the value of a great bullpen.

  13. arodoll - Oct 5, 2009 at 8:02 PM

    How come so many are writing off the Dodgers? They made it to the NLCS last year and the Cards didn’t make the playoffs. The Dodgers have the best team ERA in baseball and the most wins in the NL this year. The Cards 1-2 starting pitching punch is impressive but I don’t think the Dodgers are just going to roll over. Pujols doesn’t have any protection. Manny on the other hand is the weakest offensive player in the Dodgers outfield (which is saying something). Manny is a monster in the playoffs. Dodgers in 4.

  14. GimmeSomeSteel - Oct 5, 2009 at 10:28 PM

    Cut “Shely from Cinti” some slack. She/he/it hasn’t seen a home playoff game this century and probably knows little about playoff pressure. However, like most Reds fans, she/he/it overrates her/his/its baseball “knowledge”.

  15. Dave - Oct 5, 2009 at 11:22 PM

    Shely – Manny is 4-for-28 against the Cardinals this year. That is all.

  16. tom - Oct 6, 2009 at 1:18 AM

    i think the cardinals win–i just wish i understood the september stumble

  17. Joe Dodger - Oct 6, 2009 at 5:08 AM

    It’s doubtful that Billingsley pitches game three. Most likely it will be Padilla. Therefore, you might want to re-think your predictions.

  18. Jeff - Oct 6, 2009 at 9:31 AM

    Pujols doesnt have protection? Manny destroys cardinal pitching? Wainwright cant be counted on? Dodger fans are hilarious…or delusional. Cardinals in 4.

  19. Eric, Salinas, CA - Oct 6, 2009 at 10:30 AM

    The Dodgers will surprise the Cardinals with their superior pitching. Too much made of the Card’s starting rotation but their bullpen isn’t as good as the Dodgers and that’s where the Dodgers will win it. Dodgers have a better ERA and batting average than the Cards!

  20. CardsOffenseUnderrated - Oct 6, 2009 at 10:35 AM

    That’s funny, this St. Louis team is completely different than last year. There is so much talk about Pujols here, but if you look at the offense you have Holliday, DeRosa, Lugo, Rasmus, Molina, Ryan and Ludwick of which all are potentially dangerous. It will be a good series. Shely, your insane.

  21. Shely - Oct 6, 2009 at 11:07 AM

    Manny doesn’t hit the birds? Really, what happened in the World Series against Boston? Oh that doesn’t count
    Too bad, you are going to lose. Look at the birds record after Sep. 10. They were swept three or four times in less than 3 weeks. How do they win against the best team in the NL?

  22. heyzeus - Oct 6, 2009 at 12:55 PM

    Shely, “the World Series against Boston” was 5 years and many cycles of high-grade ‘roids ago for Manny. The Cardinals would love to have the Rolen and Edmonds of 2004 back, but that ain’t gonna happen either. Manny’s been an .840 OPS player since his suspension. That’s not bad, but you can’t just close your eyes and pretend he’s the same guy.

  23. salvo - Oct 6, 2009 at 2:22 PM

    The Dodgers secret weapon is Casey Blake. And no I am not kidding.
    If Carp and Wainwright are on, even that may not be enough. Birds bats have been anemic for weeks, Albert is really pressing with runners on and he didn’t homer the last three weeks of season.

  24. Akbled - Oct 6, 2009 at 3:39 PM

    Shely- Manny doesn’t hit the birds? Really, what happened in the World Series against Boston? Oh that doesn’t count
    Yeah Shely is right. Manny hit .400 against the Cardinals in 1997 so obviously he’s going to kill the Cardinals staff this year. Selective memory huh, maybe you forgot that Manny isn’t on steriods now and was approaching the Mendoza line for the last month of the season.
    But wait there is more
    Shely- and Wainwright has not been able to close out games ALL YEAR
    In case you don’t know Wainwright hasn’t pitched in relief in 3 years. We are talking about this years playoffs you know.
    Idiot

  25. steve - Oct 6, 2009 at 4:34 PM

    sorry but the cards rotation is a long way from being great.their 1 and 2 starters are bigtimers but the rest of the rotation is weak.carp is a stud but wainwright can be beaten i just dont see it 3-1 cards…i think this series goes the limit and the cards squeak in in a close game 7 3-2..

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