NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. St. Louis Cardinals, a first look

October 10, 2013

(Associated Press)

Wednesday night’s thorough 6-1 victory by the Cardinals in St. Louis over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 5 of their National League Division Series sucked much of the drama out of what had been, at times, a thrilling and tense matchup. But Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright — who was tattooed by the Nationals in Game 5 of the 2012 division series and would have been the goat (before a certain turnaround occurred) — suffocated the Pirates in a complete-game eight-hitter, sending St. Louis to the N.L. Championship Series for the third straight year.

So that clarifies half the playoff picture: The Cardinals will host the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday night, with Game 2 Saturday. The series will shift to Los Angeles on Monday.

More importantly: These are two of the best brands baseball has to offer, and they have a bit of a history between them. It’s both recent (the Dodgers swept the Cardinals in a 2009 division series), kinda recent (the Cardinals beat the Dodgers in four games in a 2004 division series) and downright historic (the Cardinals beat the Dodgers in six games in the 1985 NLCS, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to win four straight).

But if you’re looking for an underdog, look elsewhere. The Cardinals are in the postseason for the 10th time in the last 14 years. They won the World Series in 2011 with Albert Pujols as an otherworldy first baseman and Tony La Russa as a Hall of Fame manager, lost them both, and have been back to the NLCS in the two years since.

The Dodgers haven’t been a mainstay in the postseason recently; this is their third NLCS appearance since the 1988 World Series upset of Oakland (featuring Kirk Gibson). But an underdog they’re not. Their $216-million payroll is second in the game (to the Yankees), and there’s no contract they won’t pursue. Flush with cash (from a regional television contract) and talent (see Kershaw, Clayton and Puig, Yasiel), they could be in position to make a Cardinals-like run with several playoff appearances in a short span.

The difference in this upcoming series: Los Angeles had the chance to set its rotation, and St. Louis didn’t. So much was made of Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly’s decision to start his undisputed ace (and the game’s best pitcher), Kershaw, in Game 4 of the division series of Atlanta, what was overlooked is what is left now: Zack Greinke will start Game 1. Greinke’s numbers since July 8: 1.57 ERA, .196 average against, .289 slugging against. And then Kershaw can follow on regular rest for Game 2 (and 6, if necessary).

Because the Cardinals needed Wainwright in Game 5 of the division series, their rotation is more in flux. They used Lance Lynn, to disastrous effect, in Game 2 against Pittsburgh. Rookie Michael Wacha, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of Game 4 against the Pirates, would be on regular rest for Game 2. One odd possibility: rookie Shelby Miller, who went 15-9 with a 3.06 ERA but was passed over in the division series. He pitched in relief against Pittsburgh, but last started Sept. 25 against Washington.

From last night:

The Cardinals have been through celebrations, and they knew who they had to wait for: Wainwright.

No one knows the Cardinals like Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and he gets to the heart of their rotation.

And the losing side: The Pirates, after 20 losing seasons, were able to slap backs in the clubhouse following the decisive Game 5.

Today’s games

8 p.m. ALDS Game 5: Detroit at Oakland » TBS, WSPZ (570 AM)

Barry Svrluga covers the Washington Redskins and golf.
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Adam Kilgore | October 9, 2013