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2014 NLDS Preview: Cardinals vs Dodgers

A brief look at each Dodger's strengths and weaknesses.

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Look for the bare patch.
Look for the bare patch.
Harry How

There are approximately seven thousand previews of this series on the internet right now, so let's do something different. You know about the Cardinals, and you know the Dodgers are probably a little better than the Cardinals, and you know that doesn't mean a whole lot. You know the two teams have played each other in the playoffs a lot, and you know they're a bit chippy with each other, and you know that doesn't mean a lot either.

So let's just take a quick look at each key Dodger and see what they're really about. That probably means something.

Actually, I'm not sure that means anything either. Let me explain. It just struck midnight, and I have all my research for this post in front of me, but it's the postseason. The Postseason. Nothing means anything except the results on the field. I spent the last six months writing previews about who is doing what and what it all means for the teams' seasons and their development and their plans. I'm interested in good process and good decisions, because those are the things that lead to long-term success, and they're the things we can have meaningful insights about. But it's midnight and Mike Moustakas just hit a homerun off Fernando Salas and that's the only thing that matters tonight.

There will be good and bad managerial decisions to talk about going forward, but in the end, for just a few days, hopefully a few weeks, results trump everything. Mike Moustakas hit a homerun and it doesn't matter if he should have been sent down to AAA more or less this year. It doesn't matter if Chris Ianetta should have called a different pitch or Fernando Salas should have thrown a better pitch. It doesn't matter if Mike Scioscia should have gone to a different reliever. It doesn't matter if Ned Yost should have used Greg Holland earlier in the evening. Mike Moustakas hit a homerun and Greg Holland is about to try to lock down a win for the Royals to take a 1-0 lead in a five game series against a better team. It's the postseason. Are you ready?

Anyway, the Dodgers are better than the Cardinals. St Louis has a better defense and probably a better bullpen, but the Dodgers have a better rotation and a better lineup, too. The Cardinals have a good shot at winning anyway. Here's how they should go about trying.

The Path of Least Resistance

You probably know this already too, but here it is anyway.

  • Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw will start tonight in LA.
  • Lance Lynn and Zack Greinke will start tomorrow in LA.
  • John Lackey and Hyun-Jin Ryu, freshly recovered from shoulder irritation, will start Monday at Busch.
  • Shelby Miller and either Dan Haren or Clayton Kershaw on short rest will start Tuesday at Busch if necessary.
  • Adam Wainwright and either Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke will start Thursday in LA if necessary.
The simplest path for the Cardinals certainly appears to be as follows:
Step 1. Either Adam Wainwright or Lance Lynn should outpitch their slightly better opponent in either game 1 or 2. Win either one.
Step 2. Experienced Salty Bulldog (ESB) John Lackey should be better than a possibly rusty Hyun-Jin Ryu in game 3. Win this baseball game.
Step 3. Resurgent young Shelby Miller, now featuring real! command! and multiple! pitches! is better than ancient Dan Haren, and remember what the Cardinals did to Clayton Kershaw on short rest last year? Maybe win this game?
Step 4. Go play the Nationals or Giants.

Anyway, that looks like the simplest route from here to victory at the outset of the series, but again, postseason. Greg Holland just locked down that save. None of us know anything. The Cardinal offense I just ignored because they don't appear to be a threat to win much of anything against the Dodgers hurlers could explode just as easily as Anthony Reyes could outduel Justin Verlander.

Dodger Strengths, Dodger Weakness

Manager Don Mattingly

Strengths: Looks a bit like Bill Murray. Hasn't shot Yasiel Puig into the moon.

Weaknesses: Is a professional baseball manager. Makes wife call him "Donnie Baseball" most of the time, and "Don Battingly" sometimes.

Catcher AJ Ellis

Strengths: Makes contact, excellent batting eye. Good defensive reputation. Covered, drenched even, in veterany grit. Averagish throwing out runners.

Weaknesses: Doesn't do much with all that contact he makes. Absolutely no power. Poor pitch-framer. Misses wearing Mark Ellis' jersey for larks last year.

1B Adrian Gonzalez

Strengths: Good fielding reputation. Very strong overall hitter with good average and power.

Weaknesses: Metrics don't think he's actually a good fielder. Not as good at hitting as he used to be. Vulnerable to slider and changeup and bad against LHP. Should never ever ever face a RHP in a late and close situation.

2B Dee Gordon

Strengths: He is very, very, fast and is good at stealing bases. Adequate slap hitter. LHP's don't appear to be much of a problem.

Weaknesses: Positively refuses to take a walk and doesn't have much power. Hip a little banged up. Looks like averageish fielder, which is a weakness since he used to be a shortstop.

SS Hanley Ramirez

Strengths: Has played like an MVP candidate when healthy, and is as healthy as he gets right now. Good average, OBP, and SLG skills, and can run, too.

Weaknesses: Defense appears to be slipping. Is he really healthy? Really? Hasn't been as good this year in general as last year. His batting helmet desperately needs a good washing. Maybe some goo gone.

3B Juan Uribe

Strengths: Yes he is 35 and big, but yes he is superb with the glove at third. Is clearly about as beloved as a human being can possibly be in the LA clubhouse. Hits for a high average with a bit of power. Whatever that trick you're thinking of using, he's seen it.

Weaknesses: Doesn't walk at all. Is not part of the St Louis clubhouse. Not a stolen-base threat. Swings out of the zone a lot without great results.

LF Carl Crawford

Strengths: Can still run and swing an above average bat. Good against curves and sliders. Can hold his own against lefties.

Weaknesses: His days of being a special offensive player are long gone, and his once superlative defense has slipped as well. Not good against fastballs, chases out of the zone some.

CF Yasiel Puig

Strengths: Bill Plaschke hates him. Extraordinary athlete. Can make spectacular catches and throws. Hits baseballs about as hard as Matt Holliday and can hit for average, power, and has shown a much-improved eye this year with better than average O-Swing% and no problems with offspeed pitches.

Weaknesses: Can take terrible routes and make wild throws. Will try any throw, which is a weakness except when it's not. Slumped in the second half and there are some whispers of a nagging injury, though he had a good September. There is only one of him, and the world needs more.

RF Matt Kemp

Strengths: If you believe his second half surge was the result of a change in his batting stance and isn't random variation, he's suddenly a very good hitter again. He's hit .309 with 17 homeruns since the all-star break, which sounds suspiciously like the 2011 MVP candidate.

Weaknesses: Is he really fixed? Are we sure? Bo Hart once looked good over a small sample size. Maybe he's Bo Hart. He stunk in 2013 and the first half of 2014. Can be vulnerable to the slider. He was atrocious in center, but is probably better in right.

The Bench:

As of now, the full roster hasn't been released, but I expect to see this very strong bench:

  • Darwin Barney and Miguel Rojas who cannot hit a lick and are superb defenders at 2B and SS, respectively.
  • OF/1B Scott Van Slyke, who hit a very BABIP fueled .297/.386/.524 this season in 246 PA, which would be impressive even when the .394 BABIP is normalized. He struggles with the curveball.
  • Andre Ethier, who went from being a not great kind of washed up starter to a pretty darn good backup outfielder. He can play any OF position adequately and has a decent bat with a little power. Cannot hit LHP.
  • Justin Turner, who has played every infield position this year and rode a .404 BABIP to a .340 batting average in 322 PA. He can take a walk but doesn't have much power. Very good year as a utility guy, though he's nothing special with the glove anywhere.
The Starters:

LHP Clayton Kershaw

Strengths: Nobody laughs if somebody argues his curveball is as good as Waino's. Also has an amazingly effective fastball. And slider. And if he felt like throwing something else it'd probably be great too. Has pristine command. Is the best pitcher in baseball.

Weaknesses: Not quite vintage Pedro Martinez. The Cardinals have hit him ok a couple of times in the past. Can't do anything to affect how well Adam Wainwright pitches tonight or in a possible game 5.

RHP Zack Greinke

Strengths: Throws fastball, slider, curve, and change all with good command. The changeup and fastball are especially effective. Can hit.

Weaknesses: Is on the same team as Clayton Kershaw so nobody notices how good he's been the last two years. Is not quite Clayton Kershaw. Other than his hitting, he can't do anything to affect how well Lance Lynn pitches in game 2.

LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu

Strengths: As good as a junkballer could possibly be. Like, can you imagine Randy Wolf only really, really good? Great slow curve and slider with reasonably effective fastball that everyone swears they should have hit that time. Good at working the edges of the plate.

Weaknesses: Coming off his second DL stint this season for shoulder irritation. Hard to know how effective he'll be or how long he'll last. Also not quite Clayton Kershaw, though FIP likes him better than Greinke (2.60 to 2.97. Don't ask Kershaw's. You don't want to know. I guess it's my job, though. It's 1.81. Oh lord.)

RHP Dan Haren

Strengths: Doesn't walk too many people. Used to be very  good. Has a knuckle curve this year that has gotten pretty good results. His feel for it will be key if he starts game 4 or comes in early for Ryu in game 3.

Weaknesses: Hasn't been very good since 2011. Gives up dingers, though that might be challenging against the Cardinals. Doesn't strike out many.

The Bullpen:
All in all, this is one great reliever, a couple that are good, and then nothing special. They can be hit. They also might throw like 15 shutout innings in the series, because, once again, postseason.
  • Kenley Jansen in magnificent and throws the best reliever's cutter this side of Mariano Rivera. Nearly unhittable.
  • J.P. Howell has slid a bit this year from outstanding lefty reliever to very good lefty reliever. Lefties are helpless against him, and he's not bad against righties. Looks like the best reliever in the pen after Jansen to me.
  • Brandon League rebounded to have good results this year after a disastrous 2013. He walks too many (9.9%) and doesn't strike out many (13.9%), but gets a ton of groundballs (67.5%) with his sinker, which he throws 75% of the time.
  • Brian Wilson has an ERA, FIP, and xFIP all firmly in the 4's and is looking more like Brian Wilson than ever. Still has good strikeout numbers, but walks too many and gives up dingers.
  • Jamey Wright is an old vet who will be emergency long-man.
  • Paco Rodriguez is a solid looking young lefty.
  • Pedro Baez is a rookie righty who has thrown 24 good innings, but he gives up a lot of fly balls and doesn't appear to be anything special. The new K-Rod, he's not.
And there you have it. They're a really good team. They can be beat.

Go Cards.


Editor's Note: Oh, hi there. It's me, Aaron Finkel. I'm here today to tell you about an exciting new opportunity offered by FANDUEL. SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day Fantasy Baseball league for tonight's Post-Season games. It's $2 to join and first prize is $1,000. Jump in now. Here's the FanDuel link for today's games.Try FANDUEL today!