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Much ado about Kershaw

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What is the best strategy for beating a team with Clayton Kershaw in a 5 game series?

Dilip Vishwanat

First off: Congrats to the Kansas City Royals on making the postseason for the first time since Don Denkinger gifted your club the World Series in 1985. Half of the players on the team weren't alive the last time the Royals made the playoffs. So, congrats, and good luck against Jon Lester in that one game playoff.  As a fan of a team that saw Jon Lester in the World Series twice last season, you're going to need all the luck you can get, believe me.

If the Cardinals are able to close out the division tonight (hopefully) or tomorrow (slightly more terrifying) or Monday (please, please, no) they face the prospect of getting Clayton Kershaw, the certain Cy Young winner and possible MVP, twice in a week's time in the division series.

What, if any, strategy should be employed to give the Cardinals the best chance at winning that series?

Getting a lay of the land:

  • The Dodgers have secured home field advantage, so Games 1, 2, and 5 will be played in Dodger Stadium.
  • L.A. has a .544 winning percentage at home this season (43-36) and a .605 winning percentage on the road (49-32).
  • St. Louis has a .481 winning percentage on the road (38-41, with two games yet to play) and a .630 winning percentage in the friendly confines of Busch Stadium (51-30).
  • The division series starts on Friday, October 3rd as currently scheduled, so all pitchers would be on full rest to start the series regardless of who pitches for the Cardinals on Sunday.
Convention says to pitch your best starting pitcher as many times as possible (on full rest, of course) during any playoff series, which is why teams always angle to throw their best start in Game 1 so that they can then bring their ace back again in Game 5. That would pit Adam Wainwright against Clayton Kershaw in both Game 1 and Game 5 on the road.

Given how bad the Dodgers bullpen has been for most of the season, this might be the way to go: Wainwright and Kershaw pitch an epic scoreless battle and the Cardinals chase Kershaw in the 8th due to pitch count and beat up the bullpen on the way to victory.Thing is, the Cardinal bullpen hasn't been all that great down the stretch either, so the inverse is also just as likely to take place.

Another option would be to hold Wainwright back for Game 2, let John Lackey or Lance Lynn pitch in Game 1 against Kershaw, angling for a split of the first two games in L.A. and then trying to put the series to bed at home behind Wacha/Miller and whoever doesn't pitch in Game 2. Given the NLDS schedule this would still allow Wainwright to come back for Game 5 in L.A. on full rest if needed.

I'm leaning towards option two, even though it kinda looks like you're running from a fight with the other team's best starter and one that basically has a second ace to pitch Game 2 anyway, Zack Greinke.  Perceptions are what they are: I just think that it's a smart strategic move. Greinke is really good, but he isn't Kershaw. Given that Ryu has been injured down the stretch of the season and Dan Haren has been awful on the road this year, the Cardinals would have a favored pitching matchup in both Game 3 and Game 4 at home where the team has been tough to beat all year.

What say you VEB?