Friday, October 11, 2013

2013 NLCS preview

By Rick Morris

Even without Matt Kemp and Allen Craig, the 2013 NLCS between the Dodgers and Cardinals features an array of many of the best players in baseball.

Start with Clayton Kershaw, the LA ace who is commonly regarded as the game’s best starting pitcher at this point in time.  Then move to the team’s #2, Zack Greinke, who is pitching up to his Cy Young form for the only time since he snagged the AL honor in 2009.  With Yasiel Puig providing one of the most explosive rookie impacts on a squad in MLB history, a renewed Hanley Ramirez snatching back his designation as one of the game’s very best and Adrian Gonzalez slugging at first base the way the Red Sox once envisioned (possible irony alert for the World Series), just like in the entertainment industry, LA has the star power covered.

The Cards also boast one of the game’s finest arms in Adam Wainwright and have two of this era’s best sluggers in Matt Holliday and (a revived) Carlos Beltran.  So while the Dodgers have ripped the claim of “the best team money can buy” from the Yankees, the Cards are no slouch in this regard.

And so this battle between the scratch-‘em-out-in-October Cards (one of the two best teams in recent years at achieving above the talent level on paper in the postseason, with the other being the Giants) and alleged champions-in-waiting Dodgers is more evenly matched on paper than the surface indications would allow.  Here’s how the checkmarks appear in key areas:

^ Lineup explosiveness at the core: Dodgers
^ Lineup effectiveness, top to bottom: Cardinals
^ Bench: Cardinals
^ Starting rotation, spots #1-2: Dodgers
^ Starting rotation, spots #1-4: Cardinals
^ Bullpen: Dodgers

In both the starting rotation and the lineup, the Dodgers have the star-power explosiveness, but the Cardinals have the top-to-bottom edge.

Taking the Dodgers feels like a sucker’s bet, something that feels obvious based on payroll, hype and the vaunted second-half surge.  Compared to the Cardinals’ propensity in recent years for pushing through and winning series in which they appear at least slightly on paper to be underdogs, the trendline appears clear.  But trendlines don’t account for the likes of Kershaw, a transcendent talent with a chance at his first world championship.  As we witnessed many times over the years, but perhaps most notably in 2001 (Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling) and 2004 (Schilling, Pedro Martinez), a killer 1-2 combo at the top of the rotation can be the most important factor.  Kershaw and Greinke are both at an elite level at this moment in time and that will be enough in the end.  Dodgers in five (4-2 record through the first two rounds, 4-0 in the LDS).

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