NLCS Game 1 Preview: SFG @ STL

For the fifth straight season the National League representative to the World Series will be either the San Francisco Giants or the St. Louis Cardinals, that is guaranteed. The team has been swapping the pennant around with the Giants making the trip and winning the World Series in 2010 and 2012, while the Cardinals won it in 2011 and lost to the Red Sox in 2013. If you want to go by patterns, it is the Giants’ turn.

The Cardinals arrived in the NLCS by winning the National League Central and defeating the Giants’ rival Los Angeles Dodgers in four games, beating Clayton Kershaw twice along the way. Unlike their success in the season, the Cardinals’ had plenty of offensive success, winning their games courtesy of the long ball. The Redbirds hit a Divisional Series high 7 home runs after hitting just 16 in the entire month of September (26 games).

The Giants punched their ticket to the postseason by winning the second Wild Card and stomping the Cardinals’ rival Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game. Then they dismissed the Washington Nationals, a team many experts chose as World Series favorites, in four games. While doing it, they have looked every bit the Giants teams who won the 2010 and 2012 World Series titles, getting quality pitching and timely hitting. [click to continue…]

Dodgers fall in four games

I can admit when I’m wrong. Happily, sometimes. I had the Cardinals losing their National League Divisional Series in four games, but rather it is them who is on top. In fact, the results of each game were the opposite of what I figured while I considered the series last week. I had the Cardinals beating Greinke and losing the other three. But Greinke beat the Cardinals and it didn’t matter.

There’s been a lot of media play on Don Mattingly and whether he should have stuck with Clayton Kershaw going into the seventh inning last night. My only question there is who should he have gone to instead? There is inevitably the faction that felt like Mattingly should have called on Kanley Jansen to pitch the seventh, but that assumes that Mattingly feels like going against every convention of modern management on the verge of being eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals for the second straight year. And we aren’t even 18 months away from calls for his head.

You have to be a manager who is very secure in his job to make such a decision. As the Art Howe character says in the Moneyball movie, “I’m playing my team in a way that I can explain in job interviews next winter.” If the move works, Mattingly is a managerial genius. If it fails, his head is probably on the chopping block. [click to continue…]

NLDS Game 4 Preview: LAD @ STL

Last night we found out we were wrong about Hyun-Jin Ryu as he pitched six innings, allowing just a solo shot by Matt Carpenter in his second at bat. The Dodgers battled back in the sixth inning after Yasiel Puig led it off by breaking his strikeout streak with a ball in the corner that Randal Grichuk misplayed into a triple for Puig. Two batters later, Hanley Ramirez doubled him home to tie up the game.

This series has been defined by lefties so far. Clayton Kershaw, Ryu, Carpenter, so it probably should have been expected when Kolten Wong put a ball in the Cardinals’ bullpen in the 7th inning off a left handed reliever to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. Pat Neshek would hold the lead this time and Trevor Rosenthal, after a couple bloop shots for singles from the Dodgers and a little mound work, was able to fend off the Dodgers attack to close out the game to take the series lead 2 games to 1.

The Dodgers had already determined before yesterday’s Game 3 that Kershaw would be pitching Game 4 on short rest. From the Dodgers’ perspective it makes the most sense, especially now that they are facing elimination in this afternoon’s game. Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball and you don’t want to go down with your ace kicking back in the dugout, even with his postseason record, most of which comes against the Cardinals. [click to continue…]

NLDS Game 3 Preview: LAD @ STL

Saturday night Zack Greinke quieted the St. Louis Cardinals bats, but the Cardinals weren’t asleep just yet. Matt Carpenter, who has been the team’s offensive spark plug so far this season, put a game-tying two-run home run over the right center field fence to tie up the game. The fact that Greinke had been near flawless all night didn’t matter anymore. The Cardinals were back in the game and Pat Neshek was coming in to pitch the bottom of the 8th. Unfortunately, Matt Kemp took the fourth pitch he saw from Neshek and put it over the left field fence to give the Dodgers a 3-2 lead. A lead they would keep the rest of the way to even up the series at one game a piece.

Tonight the Dodgers do a little gambling. Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has pitched just a single inning over the last month, will be starting for the Dodgers. Their manager, Don Mattingly, also revealed today that he will use Clayton Kershaw in game four on short rest and, if necessary, Greinke again in game five. For me it feels like a little bit of an unnecessary gamble as they have Dan Haren, who finished out the season strong, waiting for a start. Why start Ryu when he probably can’t go deep and then get into that soft Dodgers’ bullpen that, thanks to the Tigers’ elimination, is the worst remaining bullpen in the playoffs.

On the Cardinals end we will see John Lackey take the mound in the start he was acquired for. They had plenty of young arms who could get them to the playoffs, but none that had the experience of winning there once they did. Over his last five starts of the season Lackey had a 4.08 ERA and 1-2 record. Other than a bump against Milwaukee, he was performed well, and done that more often than not since his acquisition. Lackey last faced the Dodgers in August of 2013 where he went 8 innings and allowed 2 earned runs as the Red Sox lost 2-0. He has a career postseason ERA of 3.03. [click to continue…]

NLDS Game 2 Preview: STL @ LAD

Last night saw the Cardinals pull off yet another incredible postseason comeback to win a game they really had no business winning. At the end of the night they’d tagged Clayton Kershaw, a consensus pick for best pitcher in baseball, for 8 earned runs. That’s the most he’d allowed in a start since July 24, 2012. Also against the Cardinals. The two home runs he allowed tied a season high. Though he did on two occasions this season allow more than 8 hits.

Tonight we see each team’s #2 starters take the mound. They are two pitchers who could probably go to most other teams in baseball and be considered the staff ace. One used to be the staff ace of a team in the playoffs this season, Zack Grienke. The other has grown into the potential we’ve seen in him this season as he finally matured into a top level pitcher, Lance Lynn.

Lynn’s second half is what powered the Cardinals to the postseason. While Adam Wainwright and John Lackey each struggled with arm issues, it was Lynn’s steady right arm that kept the team in the hunt. Over the last five starts of the season, Lynn posted a 1-2 record and a 2.18 ERA. He allowed 2 earned runs on 4 hits over 6 innings in his only appearance against the Dodgers this season as the Cardinals won. He carries a career postseason ERA of 4.81, but his best postseason performances came in last season’s NLCS against the Dodgers. [click to continue…]