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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. Shely - Oct 7, 2009 at 9:20 AM

    Hey stupid. I wasn’t referring to a relief stint. He has not closed out any of his games. He may give you a quality 6-7 innings, but he needs help. Look at the results when he leaves the games with a 1 run lead. They lose many of those. How many games has he finished? He needs a relief expert (closer) like Franklin to win for him. I hope you are not counting on Franklin this late in the season. In case your brilliant mind has failed you, Franklin has not been doing too well lately. Use Smoltz as a closer, and they may have a chance.

  2. Shely - Oct 7, 2009 at 9:30 AM

    Exactly right! Someone finally gets it. They have a two man pitching staff at this time. Who will rise up from the bullpen to help? I don’t see it. You can cross your fingers and hope if it makes you feel better. You can not count on Pinero or Loshe etc.. If L A can hold on to beat Carp, it could be a Dodger sweep.

  3. George - Oct 7, 2009 at 10:50 AM

    Shely, what are you smoking ’cause it must be good? You are delusional. First, the 2004 WS was 5 yrs. ago. And the record after Sept. 10, did you forget about 2006. The Cards have 2 playoff proven starters, the league hasn’t seen a combo like that since 2001 and look what happened then. As for Franklin, what was his era again? That’s what I thought.

  4. Bdone - Oct 7, 2009 at 11:26 AM

    Do Dodgers fans just like to make stuff up?
    Pujols is pressing with runners on? He hit .361 this year with RISP and in Sept had 24 RBIs in 26 games…he also hit .588 with the bases loaded this year…the guy doesnt press with runners on, in fact, he is better with RISP.
    Manny doesnt destroy Card pitching, he is a robust .143 hitter this year vs the Cards.
    Wainwright pitched the most innings of anyone in the NL this year and you say he cant off his games? What more do you want out of the guy?
    Albert has no protection in the line-up…seriously?
    BTW, the series is 5 games, not 7
    Sure the Dodgers RP is better but the Cards had the 4th best reliever ERA in the NL so you cant say its as horrible as it is made out to be here.
    So what if the Dodgers made it to the NLCS last year and the Cards didnt make the playoffs…that has absolutely zero impact to the 09 playoffs.
    Should I go on?

  5. Shely - Oct 7, 2009 at 11:32 AM

    Why do you want to shoot the messenger? Franklin and his ERA has nothing to do with it. What has he done in the past month? He has failed miserably. Just keep your fingers crossed and click your heels three times, and wish real hard. Maybe they can pull this series out with good thoughts. They are in need of pitching. Like everyone has been saying, 04 doesn’t count, just what is going on now. And now, the pitching stinks. I saw the last three games in Cinti. We beat two of your four starters easily, with a bunch of minor league players.
    P.S. I don’t smoke. Just practical.

  6. salvo - Oct 7, 2009 at 11:56 AM

    “Pujols is pressing with runners on? He hit .361 this year with RISP and in Sept had 24 RBIs in 26 games…he also hit .588 with the bases loaded this year…the guy doesnt press with runners on, in fact, he is better with RISP.”
    Yes, Pujols is pressing. He had 25 rbi in Sept/Oct, but 14 in the first 9 games, just 11 in the season’s final three weeks (21 games). Of those 11, four came on sacfly/HBP, meaning he ended up with just five run-scoring hits (zero home runs) in his final 21 games. He wasn’t walked THAT much (8 walks total, 4 ibb).
    During that 3-week stretch he had a miserable .804 OPS (career OPS is 1.055). Lots of pop ups, weak fly balls with runners on base.
    So yes, in my opinion, with evidence to back it up, Pujols has been pressing with runners on the last several weeks.

  7. Jen - Oct 7, 2009 at 12:06 PM

    AGREED. When I first read her comment I was like…what? He had one bad outing a few weeks ago….the man is ridic. If anyone I worry about, it’s definitely Smoltz. & Piniero. Worried. But I have faith in my ‘birds….

  8. solbro - Oct 7, 2009 at 12:11 PM

    Manny “being Manny” sank the Dodgers. Pujols has outclassed him on every level. And he will certainly do it on this national TV event. Colletti not securing the Lee trade further put the nail in the coffin. Cardinals in 5.

  9. Bdone - Oct 7, 2009 at 12:18 PM

    point taken. I respect your opinion.
    From watching Albert for 9+ years now, he is the last guy I am worried about on the Cards team. He has always stepped up to the plate when needed and feel he lost a little edge (along with the rest of the team) down the stretch as the division was pretty much wrapped up there the last three weeks. He and the rest of the Cardinals will turn it on again starting tonight as the games mean something again. On a side note, I also noticed the Cards plaing a lot less agressive these last few weeks as it seems they were playing but at the same time making sure not to get hurt.

  10. Alex - Oct 7, 2009 at 4:39 PM

    I love when people try to argue against Cardinal fans. Don’t they know that Cards fans are known to be the most knowledgeable in baseball? Even as a Braves fan, I know I better bring my shit if I’m going to try to argue stats with a Cardinals fan…Good luck Shely, but by the looks of it, you lost all your arguments. Not that they were very good to begin with…

  11. Shely - Oct 7, 2009 at 5:41 PM

    Remember the first Pro team in baseball, was right here in Cincinnati. We know our baseball, but unlike some others, we are not all homers with unrealistic expectations. As I said before, cross your fingers, click your heels three times and pray that the Dodgers and Manny have a cold streak. (For at least 5 games)

  12. Bo - Oct 7, 2009 at 5:44 PM

    As both teams stand right now, the Dodgers have a slight edge. That Cardinal slump in September was a true collapse. Poor hitting against mediocre pitchers and poor pitching (SP and BP) against average hitters. And this is not a weekend slump we’re talking about…this has lasted for over a month.

  13. Shely - Oct 7, 2009 at 6:00 PM

    Yes Yes. Will someone try to beat this into the heads of the StL homers. This is all I tried to say from the beginning. They have had a terrible collapse and I don’t see the end of it. It is not just a few poor games. they were bad for a month or so. When they needed a win to give Wainwright 20, they blew it. Then they proceeded to get swept. I think that was about as important as a NLDS game.

  14. Tommy Tune - Oct 7, 2009 at 6:14 PM

    Shely, “cross your fingers, click your heels three times and pray ” …. yeah, that is all that Reds fans have done the last twenty years or so in hopes of being relevant, but I can assure you Shely, the Cardinals are NOT your Reds. Just because your team has to depend on divine intervention and blind luck to get over .500 for a season does not mean that other clubs need to. The Redbirds have a great 1-2, a well above average offense with the best hitter in baseball, and above average defense. Are the Dodgers a good team? Of course they are, jeez, but don’t act like they didn’t back in to the playoffs. In this matchup the Cards have more going for them, and should win the series in 4, possibly 5. Your points were adequately shot down in previous posts, so no need to belabor those. The Cards have won more WS’s than any team not in black and white pinstripes, so feel free to shelf your little history lesson, too. The last thing I need is a Reds fan to lecture me on Baseball knowledge, history, or fan pig-headedness. Cardinal fans love their team, but are always quick to acknowledge good plays, good teams, hard fought games, and take defeat with respect and humility. We leave the car and couch burning to other Midwest Metro areas….

  15. Shely - Oct 7, 2009 at 8:37 PM

    Look whose making stuff up. The best hitter in baseball is playing in NY right now. His name is Mauer. This is not about the Reds dummy. You lost two out of three to the lousy Reds. That is the point. To make matters worse, you could not win no. 20 for your star pitcher when he needed it. Then you got swept by a so so Milwaukee team with a poor pitching lineup. Then you have the nerve to expound on how great your team is and compare it to the Reds who beat you with 3 major league players (Phillips-Voto-Bruce) and 6 from the minors? How dumb is that? It doesn’t matter if you take anything away from this at all. Watch and see how they will fold during this series. That is what they did for the last month of the season. Then write your opinions when the Yankees are playing the Phillys in the series. I like to support my team too, but I am not a homer and believe the impossible when defeat is starring me in the face. I never called the Reds to finish better than third this year, as I had a perspective on who they had on the team. You need to paint your face red and white and shout outside the park when they come to play.

  16. John Doe - Oct 7, 2009 at 10:10 PM

    Cards didn’t slump in 2004 and were incredible during the regular season…and then lost in the World Series.
    Cards slumped terribly in 2006 and barely made it into the playoffs…and then won the World Series.
    I’m not assuming that this year’s version will be 2006, but I don’t think that the last weeks of the regular season (especially when the games didn’t matter) are going to be an accurate assessment of the Cardinals this postseason. The biggest strength that I see from the Cardinals this year is incredible balance. Cardinals have less glaring weaknesses than any other team.
    We’ll soon find out who’s right in this argument!
    Go Cards!

  17. PimP JuicE - Oct 8, 2009 at 9:53 AM

    Craig, “the Cardinals are going to beat the Dodgers. Let’s see why, shall we? ”

  18. Shely - Oct 8, 2009 at 1:40 PM

    Hello all of the StL. Kool-Aid drinkers. What did I say. Albert 0-3, Carpenter 5-0 against the Dodgers. Protection for Albert. Walking 4, hitting one by your ACE. They got beat by JEFF WEAVER. He can’t pitch for anyone lately. Yada Yada Yada. this team had folded up in September. they have not come out of it yet. Dodgers in 3. Sorry

  19. Congrats - Oct 8, 2009 at 3:36 PM

    Yes, congrats. This was only game one and it was played in LA. Perhaps you should quit shoving that single dodger victory into everyones face and wait until the series is over. I find it aggravating why people such as yourself have to ruin a blog by posting an uncalled-for hatrid for a team that are in the playoffs. You are a disgraceful baseball fan.

  20. Shely - Oct 8, 2009 at 4:44 PM

    Where did they play the last three games of the regular season? Did they look any better last week end? They had about 15 chances to do better yesterday. they were all left on base (LOB) If you look at any dictionary under CHOKE, you will find the Cardinals picture. What else can you call it? What did they do last week end when Wainwright needed a win for 20? Yes Choke! This is not one game. This started in mid September and is continuing. Lets see tonight if they are able to beat a Rookie on the mound with their ACE. We will give them a 50-50 chance in this series if they can do that.
    Not a hater, but just practical truth teller. Sorry it hurts.

  21. Public weirdo - Oct 8, 2009 at 6:22 PM

    Shely, you are a weirdo, plain and simple. Since I already know what you will say on this blog if the Cards lose, I really, really hope they win as it will be entertaining to see how you justify your “brilliant” analysis.
    Just out of curiosity, have you been this bold and passionate on the other blogs previewing the other games?

  22. come on man - Oct 9, 2009 at 11:06 AM

    Hey Craig, 2-0- zip,nada,zilch- Dodgers now have to walk Pujols
    anytime someone is on base.This may end up a sweep.
    YANKEES IN 5-6 GAMES ……….

  23. JTiesi - Oct 9, 2009 at 1:55 PM

    Everyone counted the Dodgers out this year just like last year. Everyone wants to talk stats but are ignoring the big ones. Dodgers had the Best combined ERA in the nation league and the best run differental in ALL OF BASEBALL!!!!!!! Dodgers will win this in 3 just like last year against the Cubs. All of you Dodger haters out there better hope the Phills pull it out agains the Rockies because the Dodgers have owned the Rocks all year. Philly is the only one with any hope to beat the Dodgers. Dodgers and Yankee’s world series for the first time since 1981.

  24. shely - Oct 9, 2009 at 2:11 PM

    Yes this is the last word. Look at blog. 30. Prediction: Franklin will blow the game. What happened last night? It is Cards 3 and Out. Dodgers are not going to fold, just like they didn’t fold with the Rockies. And the blame should go TLR. he knows more about baseball then any of us. Why did he let Franklin in the game to blow another save when everyone could see he was struggling badly. This is just a continuation of September baseball by the birds.

  25. Dodgerfan - Oct 10, 2009 at 1:47 PM

    Looks like you missed the prediction on this one. Cardinal aces are aced out.

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