Preview: Dodgers, Cardinals square off in NLCS
A look at the best-of-seven National League championship series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals:
Schedule: (All times EDT) Game 1, Friday, at St. Louis (8:37 p.m.); Game 2, Saturday, at St. Louis (4:07 p.m.); Game 3, Monday, Oct. 14, at Los Angeles (8:07 p.m.); Game 4, Tuesday, Oct. 15, at Los Angeles (8:07 p.m.); x-Game 5, Wednesday, Oct. 16, at Los Angeles (4:07 p.m.); x-Game 6, Friday, Oct. 18, at St. Louis (8:37 p.m.); x-Game 7, Saturday, Oct. 19, at St. Louis (8:37 p.m.). (All games on TBS).
Season Series: Dodgers won 4-3.
Dodgers: LF Carl Crawford (.283, 6 HRs, 31 RBIs, 15 SBs), 2B Mark Ellis (.270, 6, 48), SS Hanley Ramirez (.345, 20, 57, 10 SBs), 1B Adrian Gonzalez (.293, 22, 100), RF Yasiel Puig (.319, 19, 42, 11 SBs), 3B Juan Uribe (.278, 12, 50), CF Skip Schumaker (.263, 2, 30), C A.J. Ellis (.238, 10, 52).
Cardinals: 2B Matt Carpenter (.318, 11, 78, .392 OBP; led MLB with 199 hits, 126 runs and 55 doubles), RF Carlos Beltran (.296, 24, 84), LF Matt Holliday (.300, 22, 94, .389 OBP), 1B Matt Adams (.284, 17, 51 in 108 games), C Yadier Molina (.319, 12, 80), CF Jon Jay (.276, 7, 67, 10 SBs), 3B David Freese (.262, 9, 60), SS Pete Kozma (.217, 1, 35) or Daniel Descalso (.238, 5, 43).
Dodgers: RH Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63 ERA), LH Clayton Kershaw (16-9, MLB-best 1.83, NL-leading 232 Ks, 236 IP), LH Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-8, 3.00), RH Ricky Nolasco (13-11, 3.70 with Marlins and Dodgers; 8-3, 3.52 since trade from Miami).
Cardinals: RH Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69 in 37 games, 15 starts), RH Michael Wacha (4-1, 2.78 in 15 games, 9 starts), RH Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94, 223 Ks, NL-high 241 2-3 IP), RH Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97) or RH Shelby Miller (15-9, 3.06, led MLB rookies in wins).
Dodgers: RH Kenley Jansen (4-3, 1.88 ERA, 28/32 saves), RH Brian Wilson (2-1, 0.66), RH Ronald Belisario (5-7, 3.97, 1 save), LH J.P. Howell (4-1, 2.03), Edinson Volquez (9-12, 5.71 with Padres and Dodgers; 0-2, 4.18, six games five starts with Los Angeles), RH Carlos Marmol (2-4, 5.86, 2 saves with Cubs and Dodgers; 0-0, 2.53 in 21 appearances with Dodgers); RH Chris Withrow (3-0, 2.60, 1 save, 26 games, 43 Ks, 34 2-3 IP).
Cardinals: RH Trevor Rosenthal (2-4, 2.74, 3 saves), LH Kevin Siegrist (3-1, 0.45, 39 2-3 IP, 17 hits, 50 Ks, 18 BBs), RH Carlos Martinez (2-1, 5.08 in 21 games), RH Seth Maness (5-2, 2.32, 16 GIDP in 62 IP), RH Edward Mujica (2-1, 2.78, 37/41 saves), RH John Axford (7-7, 4.02 in 75 games; 1-0, 1.74 in 13 games with Cardinals after trade from Milwaukee), LH Randy Choate (2-1, 2.29 in 64 games).
Two of the most storied and successful teams in National League history fierce rivals in the 1940s these signature franchises share a famous link in pioneer executive Branch Rickey. They've met three times in postseason play: St. Louis won the 1985 NLCS in six games and a 2004 division series in four before the Dodgers swept their 2009 NLDS in three straight. ... Los Angeles is without CF Matt Kemp, shut down on the final day of the regular season with swelling of a bone in his sprained left ankle. OF Andre Ethier was limited to pinch-hitting duty in the division series against Atlanta because of his own left ankle injury. But if it has healed sufficiently, he could play the outfield in this series for the first time since Sept. 13. ... By winning 97 games to tie Boston for the best record in the majors, St. Louis earned home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. That came in handy during a five-game division series against wild-card Pittsburgh and could be an edge again. The Cardinals went 6-0 on their final homestand and 54-27 overall at Busch Stadium, the second-best home record in the majors. Then they won two of three home games in the NLDS. Los Angeles, however, had the NL's best road record at 45-36. ... Wacha has been almost untouchable in his last two starts, displaying remarkable poise for a 22-year-old rookie. He lost a no-hit bid against Washington on an infield single with two outs in the ninth inning of his final regular-season outing, then pitched 7 1-3 hitless innings at Pittsburgh before Pedro Alvarez homered in Game 4 of the NLDS. With the Cardinals facing elimination, Wacha won 2-1 to send the series back to St. Louis. ... More than a dozen players remain from the Cardinals team that won the 2011 World Series. ... The Dodgers and Cardinals played it fairly even in seven games this season, with Los Angeles outscoring St. Louis 30-27. ... Lefty batting Crawford this year hit .481 (13 for 27) with four doubles against the Cardinals, who have all right-handed starters. ... Keep an eye on Holliday. He has great success against much of the Dodgers. In 43 career plate appearances against Kershaw, Holliday has walked 10 times and is hitting .303 (10 for 33) with a homer. He's 9 for 26 (.346) with two homers when facing Grienke. Against Nolasco he's even better: 12 for 26 (.462) with six extra-base hits and seven RBIs. ... Beltran is 16 for 47 (.340) with a homer and three RBIs against Nolasco, but he's also K'd 11 times. ... Slick-fielding but light-hitting Kozma is 4 for 5 with three RBIs against Kershaw. ... Ethier is only Dodgers regular who has any success against Wainwright. He has three homers and three doubles in 33-at bats and is hitting .303 against the Cardinals ace. ... Lance Lynn is 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA in three career starts against Los Angeles. In 55 plate appearances against Lynn, the Dodgers have only two extra-base hits, both doubles. He could start Game 4.
Dodgers: They haven't reached the World Series since winning the title in 1988. Los Angeles lost consecutive NL championship series to Philadelphia in 2008-09, both times in five games. ... The Dodgers began the season with the second-highest payroll in baseball at $220 million, but by June 21 had dropped a season-worst 12 games under .500 and 9 1/2 games behind first-place Arizona. Manager Don Mattingly was rumored to be on the hot seat. Injuries to Greinke, Ramirez, Capuano, Mark Ellis, A.J. Ellis and Kemp were a big reason for the early struggles, and the Dodgers took off once they got healthier. The arrival of Puig, the energetic Cuban rookie, in early June sparked the team and helped spur a 62-28 surge that produced an NL West crown. ... The Dodgers (92-70) went 42-8 from late June to mid-August before their momentum ran out and they finished as the third seed in the NL, forcing them to start both playoff series on the road. ... Puig came close to making the All-Star team mere weeks after his June 3 call-up. Ramirez also was instrumental in the turnaround despite appearing in barely half the team's games because of injury. ... This is the club's first playoff appearance under new management that includes former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson. ... Riding a Cy Young-caliber season from Kershaw, Los Angeles finished 11 games ahead of the Diamondbacks for its largest first-place margin since moving West in 1958. The Dodgers became the third team in major league history to be 9 1/2 games behind and finish in first by 10 or more, joining the 1911 Philadelphia Athletics (won by 13 1/2 games) and the 1914 Boston Braves (won by 10 1/2 games). ... Kershaw, the only Dodger on the All-Star team, led the majors in ERA for the third straight season. His 1.83 mark was the lowest since Boston ace Pedro Martinez had a 1.74 ERA in 2000. ... Mattingly, in his third season with the Dodgers, is managing in the postseason for the first time. He got off to a successful start when Los Angeles beat Atlanta in four games in the NLDS. Crawford homered three times in the final two games and Uribe hit a pair of timely long balls, including a go-ahead shot in the eighth inning of Game 4. Ramirez batted .500 with a homer, four doubles and six RBIs. Puig hit .471 and scored five runs in his playoff debut. Kershaw threw a gem in the opener, then started the clincher on three days' rest for the first time in his career and took a no-decision. Greinke pitched well in a Game 2 loss.
Cardinals: Back in the NLCS for a third straight season, the Cardinals are seeking their second World Series title in three years and third since 2006. They nearly repeated as NL champs in 2012 before blowing a 3-1 lead against San Francisco in the NLCS. But when the season is on the line, nobody's been better than St. Louis. After winning the final two games of their best-of-five division series against Pittsburgh, the Cardinals are 8-1 when facing postseason elimination the past three years. ... The pressure was on throughout the regular season and the Cardinals (97-65) pulled away at the finish from Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to win the NL Central after never leading by more than four games nor trailing by more than four. To win another pennant, they'll need a long list of youngsters to keep coming through for second-year manager Mike Matheny. ... After setting a franchise record by batting .330 with runners in scoring position, the Cardinals' potent lineup was minus a big bat during the division series. Allen Craig, who led the majors with a .454 batting average with RISP and was among the NL leaders with 97 RBIs, was in a walking boot with a left mid-foot sprain sustained in early September. Adams hit eight homers filling in at first base down the stretch but can be vulnerable against lefties he's never faced Kershaw. His two-run homer in the eighth inning all but sealed Game 5 against Pittsburgh. ... Wainwright was 4-0 in his last five regular-season starts and dominant in all of them, recovering from out-of-character consecutive drubbings by the Reds. Then he shut down the Pirates in the NLDS, going 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA and 15 strikeouts (one walk) in two starts including a complete game in the clincher. He is 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA and four saves in 15 career postseason games, including six starts. He even helped St. Louis to a championship as a rookie closer in 2006. ... Kelly was a fill-in for the second straight year but ended up being the team's most consistent starter for about six weeks. Miller and Wacha, both 22, are top-end talents. The bullpen anchors are also young, led by the hard-throwing Rosenthal, the closer of the moment. St. Louis rookies had a major league-high 36 wins. ... Despite losing his job as closer in mid-September, Mujica was kept on the division series roster. ... St. Louis had plenty to overcome this year after losing longtime ace Chris Carpenter, closer Jason Motte and shortstop Rafael Furcal to season-ending injuries before the season even started. Still, the Cardinals racked up their most wins since 2005, when they won 100 games. ... Wainwright tied Washington RHP Jordan Zimmermann for the NL lead in wins and joined Dizzy Dean (1934-35) and Mort Cooper (1942-43) as the only St. Louis pitchers to lead the league twice. ... According to STATS, Adams became one of three rookies to reach 17 homers and 50 RBIs in fewer than 300 at-bats the first to do it in the NL since Tom Haller for the Giants in 1962.
Aces Up. Kershaw won the NL Cy Young Award in 2011 and is the clear-cut favorite again. His closest competition could be Wainwright. Both aces have embraced the postseason pressure, and neither shows any signs of fatigue following heavy workloads all season. They may not face each other in this series, but if one of them wilts it could be difficult to overcome.
Big Hit. Carpenter was 1 for 10 during the final weekend of the regular season, falling one hit short of 200. Then he went 1 for 19 with six strikeouts in the NLDS. But it's been a spectacular year for the St. Louis leadoff man, who led the majors in hits, runs, doubles and multihit games. He broke Stan Musial's club record for doubles by a left-handed batter. Plus, he was a quick study at a new position after learning second base in spring training. If he snaps out of his slump in time, Carpenter can spark the Cardinals.
The Old Adage. Good pitching stops good hitting, right? That's the mantra passed down from the very beginnings of baseball. Well, here's one more test. The Dodgers ranked second in the majors with a 3.25 ERA. St. Louis led the NL with 783 runs, 77 more than the next-highest team (Colorado). But the Cardinals have some super arms of their own that held Pittsburgh to a single run in each of the final two games in the NLDS.
Puig Control. The rookie sensation helped lead the Dodgers out of last place and into a big lead in the NL West with dynamic play this summer. He's a menace at the plate and on the bases and has an impressive arm in right field. But he was benched and reprimanded by Mattingly for his lapses of judgment and concentration down the stretch in the regular season. Puig batted .471 (8 for 17) in the division series, his first postseason action. If Puig can keep his unbridled enthusiasm under control against the disciplined and experienced Cardinals, his big-play ability could be the decider in what should be a tight series.