Thursday, October 10, 2013

NLCS Breakdown: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers



VS.


    



So far, this Major League Baseball postseason has been full of one-run games, electrifying home runs, stellar web gems, and truly great pitching. As I predicted, both the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals advanced through the National League Division Series and now find themselves in a very intriguing match-up to decide who will represent the NL in the World Series. This series is going to have it all, from tape-measure home runs to late inning heroics, and everything in between. Even the mildest of baseball fan should be tuned in to this series as it really is the epitome of what playoff baseball is all about. Not only are there big name studs like Yasiel Puig and Yadier Molina, there are also up and coming All-Stars like Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha. When you really break this thing down, it’s going to come down to pitching and which team makes the fewest mistakes; that is how evenly matched this series really is. The farther you advance in the playoffs, the more magnified everything becomes as each pitch could be the key to the series. Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the series as I see it:

Cardinals C Yadier Molina
Catcher: Yadier Molina vs. A.J. Ellis
Edge: ELLIS
One of the true no-brainers in this series, Yadier Molina is unquestionably the best all-around catcher in the majors today. Defensively, he is a wizard behind the plate who will prevent any passed balls and will also limit the Dodgers ability to steal bases. Offensively, he is a tough out at the plate that can provide some power and excellent situational hitting. A.J. Ellis had a great NLDS, but this one isn’t even close people.



Dodgers 1B Adrian Gonzalez
1st Base: Matt Adams vs. Adrian Gonzalez
Edge: GONZALEZ
The Cardinals received devastating news last week regarding their stud first baseman Allen Craig, who is unlikely to play again this season regardless of how far the team goes. Having said that, Matt Adams is no slouch himself, especially at the plate, but he’s no Craig. Adrian Gonzalez has long been one of the purest hitters in the game, which he remains to this day minus the power. Both sides of the ball point in Gonzalez’s favor here.

2nd Base: Matt Carpenter vs. Mark Ellis
Edge: CARPENTER
Excluding that horror show we witness in the NLDS, Matt Carpenter is one of the top 3 or 4 second basemen in all of baseball. Mark Ellis on the other hand is just some guy with average skills across the board. It is hard to fathom Carpenter struggling at the plate again like he did against the Pirates; it’s the law of averages at work. Do not expect anything exciting from Ellis, but also don’t expect any mental mistakes either. Carpenter will need to wake his bat up if the Cardinals hope to take this series.


Shortstop: Pete Kozma vs. Hanley Ramirez
Edge: RAMIREZ
Dodgers SS Hanley Ramirez
Easily the most one-sided battle of the entire series, the offensive differences here are astonishing. Ramirez always has been and will continue to always be one of the best hitters in the game, while Kozma will hope to scratch out a few hits while playing stellar defense. Ramirez posted a whopping 1.618 OPS in the NLCS and will likely be one of the key cogs for the Dodgers if they win the series. All the Cardinals can hope for is Kozma finding some of his postseason magic like he found against the Nationals last season

3rd Base: David Freese vs. Juan Uribe
Edge: URIBE???
This is an interesting position battle right here. Both guys are not exactly what you would call ideal fielders and neither will dazzle you with the bat, but they will both play key roles in this series mainly because they have the enviable ‘clutch’ gene. Freese was the NLCS and World Series MVP 2 years ago and hit a go ahead 2-run bomb in the clinching Game 5 win on Wednesday. Uribe hit the winning 2-run dinger in Game 4 to propel the Dodgers past the Braves and actually had a bounce back season. The relative consistency of Uribe’s bat, combined with his defensive edge over Freese helps give him the slight nod here.

Cardinals LF Matt Holliday
Left Field: Matt Holliday vs. Carl Crawford
Edge: HOLLIDAY
Coming into this year’s playoffs, this edge would have been much larger in favor of Holliday, simply based on the massive power advantage he possesses over Crawford. Having said that, the fleet-footed Crawford hit 3 home runs in the NLDS and began showing signs of the player he was during his Tampa Bay days. Regardless, Holliday is the consistent power performer here, and although his defense is suspect when compared with Crawford’s, the fact that he can single-handedly change a series must be taken into consideration.



Center Field: Jon Jay vs. Skip Schumaker/Andre Ethier
Edge: PUSH
This is a tricky one, considering that Andre Ethier may be cleared to do more than just pinch-hit in this series as his left ankle continues to heal. If he does start some games, the edge immediately shifts to the Dodgers. Otherwise, it is a pretty boring match-up really. Jay has an edge defensively and neither provides much at the plate. Keep an eye out for Ethier though, his bat would be a huge addition to this lineup and could increase its potency severely.


Cards RF Carlos Beltran
 Right Field: Carlos Beltran vs. Yasiel Puig
Dodgers RF Yaiel Puig
Edge: PUSH
I cannot in good conscience give an edge here either way. Beltran is an absolute machine in the playoffs and may become a Hall of Famer simply because of his postseason exploits. Puig has found a way to harness his energy and take it out on opposing pitchers, as he posted a 1.029 OPS in the NLDS. While Puig is certainly the more dynamic player here, Beltran’s consistency at the plate in the playoffs is something to behold.


Bench: Los Angeles Dodgers
The loss of Allen Craig forced Matt Adams into the everyday lineup, taking Manager Mike Matheny’s best bench bat away from him. With a power guy like Andy Van Slyke and a consistent utility man in Michael Young, the Dodgers appear to be more prepared for something to go wrong in the series.


                  Starting Pitching: Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodgers Ace Clayton Kershaw
This is truly an intriguing comparison here. The four man rotations are pretty evenly matched as both teams have an ace (Wainwright & Kershaw), a reliable #2 (Wacha & Greinke) and above average #3 and #4 starters (Kelly, Miller & Ryu, Nolasco). The edge here goes to the Dodgers mainly because if you throw out the 4 games the #1 and #2 pitchers will start, the Dodgers have the superiority. Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller are unknown entities, while Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ricky Nolasco have both been there and done that. Wainwright and Kershaw cancel each other out basically, while Greinke and Wacha do the same.



Bullpen: St. Louis Cardinals
A really close match-up here with neither side really having a disadvantage. The consistency of the arms coming out of the Cardinal’s bullpen, combined with Manager Mike Matheny being an expert at using them is what separates these teams by the slightest of margins.



PREDICTION: DODGERS IN 7

No matter what happens here, this series will be a true spectacle for baseball fans. Both teams have all of the makings of World Series contenders, and even the slightest of mistakes could be the difference in the series. Having said that, starting pitching is key to just about any series, and the fact that the Dodgers have a deeper starting rotation leads me to believe they will come out on top in an epic NLCS. 

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