NL Divisional Series Predictions: Cardinals Vs. Dodgers
by Robert Ferringo - 10/7/2009
It all just seems too easy, right? Of the three playoff series that begin today the two teams that seem to be penciled in to the League Championship Series are the New York Yankees (over the Twins) and the St. Louis Cardinals over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cardinals head to Chavez Ravine tonight at 9 p.m. to take on the Dodgers in the first game of the National League Divisional Series. The pitching matchup is Chris Carpenter of the Cards going up against Randy Wolf of the host Dodgers, and St. Louis has been installed as a -140 favorite with a total at 7.0.
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The Cardinals are actually favored to win this series (-155 vs. +135 for the Dodgers) despite having a worse record and ceding the home-field advantage. The main reason for that has to be the Cardinals' recent domination of the Dodgers coupled with L.A.'s lackluster performance in their last several postseason appearances. St. Louis is 36-16 in the last 52 games against Los Angeles and the Cards are 10-4 in their last 14 trips to Chavez Ravine.
It all just seems too easy though, right? The Cardinals have Albert Pujols, Matt Holiday, two Cy Young candidates in Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, and a recent World Series (2006) under their belts. They should simply roll through a Dodgers team that barely held off Colorado for the N.L. West title and one that really played lackluster ball through the last month or so of the season. Right?
Well, apparently no one has ever watched the Major League Baseball playoffs. Because nothing is ever as easy as it seems.
While the Carpenter-Wolf matchup in Game 1 and the Wainwright-Clayton Kershaw matchup in Game 2 both seem to heavily favor the visiting Cards there is one thing that is being overlooked: the Cardinals can't hit lefties. Even with a lineup that boasts Pujols and Holiday the Cardinals are the worst team in baseball against left-handed hitting at a pathetic .233. That is even lower than Pittsburgh, San Diego and Oakland. And that's really, really bad.
So the Dodgers have the benefit of low expectations, two sweet lefty pitchers (Wolf and Kershaw have combined for a 3.05 ERA in 65 starts this season), home field advantage, and a lineup full of postseason veterans. Players like Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, Juan Pierre, Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson and one Manny Ramirez have all had their fair share of October success. Mix in a talented core of young players that starred in an upset win over the Chicago Cubs last year and you have a group of guys that have proven themselves this time of year.
Smells a bit like an upset in the making. But not if Pujols and Co. have anything to say about it.
Pujols is clearly the game's best player and is capable of single-handedly winning a series with his bat. He is supported by Holiday, the ring leader for the amazing Rockies run through the playoffs just two years ago, and a lineup full of opportunists. This team is just 18th in runs scored, 12th in hitting and 18th in home runs. They excel at nothing. However, the roster is full of utility parts that can be used in any situation: slick fielders, speedy base runners, power from both sides of the plate, and veteran pinch hitters dot this dugout and make them a vintage Tony LaRussa concoction.
One key situation to keep an eye on is Yadir Molina's knee. The catcher is the second-most valuable Cardinal behind Pujols and his availability and effectiveness is still very much in question. He labored through a start on Saturday and then didn't play on Sunday.
This series also features the best coaching matchup of anything in the playoffs. LaRussa guided the Cardinals to the 2006 World Series and has been one of the best managers in baseball for the last quarter century. Joe Torre's resume speaks for itself. And his run of success with the Yankees is the stuff of October legend. LaRussa is a known risk-taker and Torre is a stoic, by-the-book type of leader. This series very well could be determined by moves made - or not - by the club leaders.
Another key to this series is going to be the bullpens. It's no secret that playoff games are usually deliberate, low scoring, methodical, tightly contested endurance trials. And in that type of environment most of the pressure ends up falling on the bullpens and closers. The Dodgers have the No. 1 bullpen in baseball and a hammer at the back end in Jonathan Broxton.
St. Louis is actually No. 5 in the Majors this season after finishing No. 20 in 2008. They had the fourth-fewest blown saves in the league (14) this year and will have the benefit of using John Smotlz out of the pen in this series. However, I still doubt if anyone would say that they would take St. Louis' bullpen over anyone else's in the National League playoffs.
I feel like this is the most evenly matched series of any in the first round of the postseason. That will make it highly entertaining but also exceedingly dangerous for gamblers. Remember: it's the playoffs. And nothing is as easy as it seems.
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and you can purchase a full season's package of his football selections for just $25 per week! Click here for details.
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