Series Preview: Cardinals at Dodgers June 26-29

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals (43-36) and Dodgers (44-36) meet for the first time since last year's NLCS. There will be pitching.

Schedule

Mise-en-scene

The Cardinals and Dodgers enter the series in nearly identical situations. The Dodgers have played one more game than the Cards and have one more win to show for it. Each team trails their division leader by a few games despite entering the season as strong favorites. And like the Cardinals, I think the Dodgers will end up winning their division and should still be considered one of the favorites to reach the World Series. Finally, there's a reasonable chance that David Price could find himself on one of these two teams by the time the series is over. I just don't know which one.

The Cardinals

The Cardinal bats might finally be waking up. Over the last ten games, they've scored 4.6 runs per, which is downright good, and close to a run better than their season average. They'll need to weather the loss of Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha, but with Carlos Martinez ready for a start unfettered by a limited pitch count, the rotation still looks strong enough to compete. Nevertheless, the pitching should be closely watched. Adam Wainwright was dominant in his last outing after missing a start with elbow soreness, and Shelby Miller left his last two starts hurting in different places. All eyes will be on Joe Kelly's first rehab start tomorrow.

The Dodgers

Like the Cardinals, the Dodgers have leaned heavily on three outstanding pitchers at the top of their rotation. Here is a number. This is the average ERA, FIP, and xFIP of Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryun, and Zack Greinke all rolled up into a not specifically meaningful ball of pitcher stats. Let's call it xFERA and agree it's useless except in a really geeky bar conversation. Now take a guess first. Got it? Here's the answer (what did you guess?) The number is 2.65. Anyway, for reference, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and Lance Lynn are a combined 2.97.

Josh Beckett has been much better this year than last. Downright solid, even. He had a no-hitter earlier in the season and owns a shiny 2.28 ERA though the peripherals-based metrics are merely pretty good. They signed Dan Haren to replace Ricky Nolaso, and it's not going all that well. His K% is way off his career norms (15.7% prior to last night's game, which did him no favors), and he's not making up for it anywhere else. Nevertheless, his groundballs are up and he's walking as few guys as ever, so he's managed a 3.84 ERA.

The bullpen hasn't been very good. Kenley Jensen is striking out 39% of the batters he's faced and JP Howell has been a good lefty, but everyone else is average or worse. Chris Perez and Brian Wilson have pitched a combined 52 innings and have been worth -1.0 fWAR as a pair.

On offense, well, how do you feel about Yasiel Puig? I've been watching the Dodgers-Royals tilt as I write this and have seen him double, triple, nearly throw out a guy at home, sail a throw over third, and batflip after a swing which resulted in a flyout (to deep center in Kauffman, to be fair). If it sounds like this is the same old Puig, there is one thing that's changed dramatically from last year: his plate discipline. Last year he swung at 37% of pitches outside of the zone. This year it's 28.5%, which is below league average. Last year he swung at 54.4% of pitches overall, this year it's 45.1%. Last year he made contact in 67.7% of his swings, this year he's done so in 74.9% of his swings. Add it up and his walk-rate has jumped from 8.3% to 11.1%, and his K-rate has dropped below 20. He has a .313/.402/.529 line, and the highest wOBA of any NL player who plays on a team I expect to make the playoffs. If Tulo continues his transcendent year, he might be the rare player to win the MVP for a losing team, but if not, how would you feel about MVPuig?

As a whole, the offense looks a lot like last year's. Matt Kemp has a little more power than last year, but he's still just a shell of the beautiful ballplayer he once was. Adrian Gonzalez is a tick down from last year's rebound, but he's still pretty good. Hanley Ramirez' Los Angeles resurgence is continuing, though he might miss some of this series with a shoulder ailment. Juan Uribe was off to yet another confoundingly good start before a hamstring injury sent him to the DL over a month ago. He is expected to be activated today. Carl Crawford was off to a poor start and then hurt himself reading about his poor start. Andre Ethier has an 88 wRC+. The Joc Pederson era will begin soon if he's not traded for David Price, but Pederson is out with a separated shoulder for at least ten days.

All of this is pretty similar to last year's collection of Yasiel Puig and some good old guys and some bad old guys and a couple of guys who are in their prime years but look an awful lot like old guys, but there's been one new key contributor. Mark Ellis left in the off-season for the greenest pastures there are, and the Dodgers signed Alexander Guerrero to, presumably, take over at 2nd. And when Dee Gordon won the job out of spring training, I figured it would be temporary. Well, eventually everything is temporary, but Gordon has put up a remarkable half-season and isn't handing that job over anytime soon. If Billy Hamilton has been nearly as good as advertised, Dee Gordon has been even more of what was advertised as Billy Hamilton. He has 40 steals in 47 attempts, and is getting on base at a useful .340 clip while playing average defense in the middle-infield. He's on pace for 80 steals (80 steals!), and fangraphs has him at 2.2 WAR so far. It'll be fun watching Gordon and Yadi dance their dance this series.

Scott Van Slyke and Justin Turner have done well as back-ups.

What to watch for

The pitching should be outstanding. This series will feature four guys who have won or finished second for the Cy Young. And yet Carlos Martinez vs Hyun-Jin Ryu, the lone game that features none of them, is the pitching duel I'm most excited to watch. It will offer two styles as contrasting as any that can be found in the league, and both are almost impossibly fun to watch. Martinez will try to overpower the Dodgers with electric offerings, while Ryu will try to frustrate the Cardinals into submission with a subtle and varied arsenal.

Who the hell is that?

That's Miguel Rojas! I can't find out much about him other than this: He was signed by the Reds out of Venezuela in 2008. He was released in 2012, and the Dodgers invited him to camp in 2013 as a NRI. His reputation is that he has an absolutely stellar glove that's easily plus even at shortstop. Given the above information, you know all you need to know about his bat. If Hanley misses time, expect Rojas at short. He did this during Kershaw's recent gem.

Notes

  • Tonight will be the Dodgers' 81st game. The Cardinals will reach that landmark tomorrow.
  • If the Cardinals win either of the first two games, they'll be ahead of their mark halfway through both 2011 and 2012.
  • The Dodgers like to play with a bubble machine.
  • They also like puppies. Yasiel Puig might be a puppy. Hyun-Jin Ryu asks "but what do they do?" Kirk Gibson is offended but has no official comment.
  • ok, ok. I know. They're the Dodgers. The money, the Los Angelesness of it all. Maybe Puig irritates you, maybe Adrian Gonzalez irritated you for some reason during the NLCS, maybe Hanley should have tried harder or less hard or differently hard at some point. Maybe you don't like that Zack Greinke said what everyone else thought about Chris Carpenter only he said it nicer than everyone else thought. But really, this is a fun team to watch play. I don't want them to beat the Cardinals, but I do want them to win their division, and when they do, I want Yasiel Puig to cannonball into Kirk Gibson's personal Jacuzzi.
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