Finally, all of SoCal can watch the Dodgers on TV again. The team begins the Divisional Series against the Cardinals Friday at 3:30 p.m. on TBS. Dodgers On Deck writer Mark Fabrick shares his thoughts on how the Boys in Blue will fare in a rematch of last year’s NLCS.
By Mark FABRICK
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ six-month journey through the regular season is finally complete. After 162 games the Dodgers have earned their second consecutive National League West title. They will open up postseason play Friday at Dodger Stadium against the NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals, a rematch of last year’s National League Championship Series.
The Dodgers will be favored over the Cardinals, and for good reason. The team was without Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez in last year’s edition, and the Cardinals are no longer the machine they were last year with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals as a team hit an unfathomable .330 with RISP last year, a historic number and one that certainly wouldn’t carry over. This year St. Louis is hitting a much more pedestrian .255 with RISP. The Dodgers actually led the majors in that category this year hitting .285 as a team with RISP.
Here’s a look at the teams’ strengths and weaknesses.
Dodgers: 3.20 ERA, .244 Batting Avg. Allowed, 909 Ks
Cardinals: 3.44 ERA, .243 Batting Avg. Allowed, 794 Ks
The Cardinals lack the amazing pitching depth they had last year. Adam Wainwright remains among the league’s elite pitchers, and Lance Lynn firmly established himself as the team’s number two this year. But instead of young, hard-throwers Michael Wacha and Joe Kelly, the Cardinals will have veteran John Lackey and inconsistent youngster Shelby Miller.
The Dodgers have arguably the best 1-2 punch in the league with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Kershaw’s 1.77 ERA led the league; he is the first pitcher in major league history to lead the league in ERA four straight years (absorb that for a minute). It’s the lowest ERA since Greg Maddux posted a 1.63 ERA in 1995. Kershaw’s third Cy Young Award seems inevitable. Kershaw’s season was so dominant that he might even be the front-runner for NL MVP. A pitcher hasn’t won the award for the senior circuit since Bob Gibson in 1968.
But the Dodgers’ pitching depth hinges on the return of Hyun-Jin Ryu from a shoulder injury. He appears on track to be ready for the playoffs. If so, the Dodgers have a deep foursome of pitchers to throw at opposing teams without worrying about overworking Kershaw and Greinke. Without Ryu, Dan Haren becomes the number three starter and the options for number four are grim.
Dodgers .265/.332/.404 team batting; 4.43 runs per game; 134 homeruns
Cardinals .253/.321/.370 team batting; 3.82 runs per game; 105 homeruns
With the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig holding down the middle of the Dodgers lineup, there are no easy outs. Juan Uribe and Carl Crawford each had big seasons. Crawford hit .300 for the first time since 2010 when he was a superstar with Tampa Bay. Uribe, a 13-year veteran, batted a career high .311 this year. Gonzalez led the majors with 116 RBIs. Even Kershaw and Greinke can handle the bat.
The Cardinals offense is led by Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta and Matt Adams. Peralta led the team with 21 homeruns, Holliday led St. Louis with 90 RBIs. Cardinals’ hitters put the ball in play – they struck out the fewest times of any NL team. But outside of Holliday and Peralta, they have no real reliable power source. Those 105 homeruns were also the fewest of any NL team.
This is one area where the Dodgers struggle. The Dodgers committed the second most errors on defense in the National League, behind only the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Pirates employ defensive shifts more than just about anybody. A.J. Ellis, Adrian Gonzalez and Juan Uribe all provide gold-glove caliber offense. Dee Gordon has been a revelation at second base, but he’s still only in his first full year as a regular player.
And then there’s Hanley Ramirez. Only Washington’s Ian Desmond and San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford committed more errors at shortstop than Ramirez. And they each played 30 and 40 more games respectively than Ramirez. Although defensive metrics are not an exact science by any measure, Ramirez is the worst defensive shortstop in the NL.
The outfield is solid, Carl Crawford still has outstanding speed and range, but he possesses a weak throwing arm. Yasiel Puig has all the speed and range in the world and arguably the most lethal outfield arm in the game. Matt Kemp has looked good since moving to right field earlier in the season and he also appears to be regaining some arm strength.
The Cardinals have the best defensive catcher in the game in Yadier Molina. The Red Birds are solid all around the field. Peralta led the team in DWAR and has very quietly been one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. Matt Holliday is the only minus defender out in left field, and that’s only because of limited range.
Dodgers: 3.80 ERA, .239 Batting Avg. Allowed, 464 K’s
Cardinals: 3.62 ERA, .240 Batting Avg. Allowed, 427 K’s
The Dodgers’ best relievers all year were Kenley Jansen and J.P. Howell. Brian Wilson and Chris Perez struggled all year. Kevin Corriea should not be allowed to pitch in playoff games. However, the team got reinforcements with the returns of Paco Rodriguez and Scott Elbert, and the surprising Pedro Baez. The Cardinals still have some great young arms, but they did not maintain the pace they did last year, and guys like Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and Kevin Seigrist are no longer a secret. The Cardinals rely more on situational guys like Randy Choate and Pat Neshek now.
Prediction: Dodgers in five
Mark Fabrick writes for Dodgers On Deck, dodgersod.com, and you can follow him on Twitter, @MarkFabrick.