The Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals will meet in the NLCS for the first time since 1985. The Cardinals are in their third straight NLCS, after winning the NLCS (and the World Series) in 2011, and losing in 7 games last year, while the Dodgers are in their first NLCS since 2009, and are trying for their first NL Pennant since they won the World Series in 1988. The Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves in 4 games and the Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in 5 games in the best-of-5 NLDS to advance to the best-of-7 round. Let’s break down what should be a great series.
Lineup; Dodgers (tough call). The Cardinals had better stats throughout the season, and that’s mostly without Matt Adams, who has stepped up to be a force in the playoffs. Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, and Matt Holliday all had great series against the Pirates. The Dodgers, however, scored 26 runs in 4 games against the Braves, who had the best team ERA in the NL. Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, and particularly Hanley Ramirez are hot at the plate.
Bench: Dodgers. Michael Young and Nick Punto can come off the bench for the Dodgers, and both have loads of experience, even in the playoffs. Andre Ethier (or if he is able to start, Skip Schumaker) can pinch-hit while he battles injuries. The Cardinals also have a good bench, with contributions mainly coming from Shane Robinson, as well as Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, who share time at shortstop but also come into games late.
Rotation: Cardinals. This was a tough call, and the top two pitchers for both sides are pretty even, with Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha for the Cardinals and Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke for the Dodgers. After those top two, however, the Cardinals have Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn, fairly solid options, while the Dodgers have Hyun-Jin Ryu, who struggled against the Braves, and Ricky Nolasco, who was shaky in his final few regular season starts.
Bullpen: Dodgers. The Cardinals bullpen is decent, but not great, and may be their weakness in the series. The Dodgers have great leadership from veterans JP Howell, Brian Wilson, and Brandon League, while also receiving contributions from Ronald Belisario and Paco Rodriguez.
Closer: Dodgers. Kenley Jansen has less than a season of closing experience for the Dodgers, although he was impressive striking out the side in Game 4 against the Braves. The Cardinals, however, have had closer issues for much of the year, due to injuries and other struggles, and their latest closer Trevor Rosenthal had just 3 saves in the regular season, and only got 1 save in the NLDS (Game 4), since the other Cardinal wins were a blowout (Game 1) and an Adam Wainwright complete game (Game 5).
Manager: Dodgers. Don Mattingly will likely be NL Manager of the Year after taking the Dodgers from a 30-42 mark in mid-June to the NL West title, eventually winning that division by the largest margin in baseball. Mike Matheny isn’t bad either, as he has taken teams to the NLCS both of his first two seasons as a major league manager after replacing future Hall-of-Famer Tony La Russa.
Home-field/crowd: Cardinals. The Cardinals will have home-field advantage, hosting Games 1, 2, 6, and 7, after winning that right with the best record in the NL in the regular season. The Cardinals are also known for having one of the best fan-bases in the game; Busch Stadium will be a sea of red for the NLCS games in St. Louis.
The Dodgers may have the advantage here in 5 of the 7 criteria, but most of these were a very close call between the two teams. Therefore, I believe the series will be closer than that 5-2 margin would indicate. I think the Dodgers will win the series in 7 games, in what may be a classic NLCS, to advance to their first World Series in 25 years.