NLCS Game 1: Clash of National League Titans

Dodgers and Cardinals battle for the pennant
While sports will always remain unpredictable, this year’s National League features the two most predictable contestants: the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers. While LA took care of business quickly against Atlanta in only four games, the Cardinals had to fight hard and lean heavily on their ace Adam Wainwright to beat the surprisingly strong Pittsburgh Pirates.

These two teams are evidently the best the National League has to offer. They are certainly the most complete teams, looking at pitching, hitting and defense. While the Dodgers have stars like Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez, the Cardinals counter with Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran.

Star power
If we are purely grading these teams on their stars, the Dodgers have more star power. Almost every position in LA is guarded by a superstar player, but the Cardinals always seem to be playing their best baseball in October. They are the second most successful franchise in the history of the sport, behind the Yankees. And since the turn of the century the Cardinals are tied with the most World Series titles with the Yankees, Red Sox and Giants.

Somehow they will find a way to beat you, especially in elimination games. The Cardinals are now 8-1 in games with their season on the line. David Freese might be the best example of this ‘clutchness’. He was the hero of the 2011 World Series after hitting a game tying triple in the bottom of the ninth and a walk off home run in the bottom of the eleventh to send the series to a deciding Game 7. His game-tying two-run double in that game gave him the record for most RBI in a single postseason. It also earned him the World Series MVP after already having won the NLCS MVP.

In Game 5 of this year’s NLDS he again led the way for the Cards, hitting a two-run bomb off Gerrit Cole to give the Cards a lead they would keep for the rest of the game. Freese is now hitting .360 with 12 RBI in seven games in which the Cardinals faced postseason elimination. The Dodgers better have a big lead by the time the Cards are playing another elimination game, because that seems to be when they are at their best.

Great pitching beats great hitting
The Dodgers will hope to gain that big lead in the early stages of the best of seven series. Their Game 1 and 2 starters are aces Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, both starting on regular rest. Both starters will pitch at least one more time in the series and maybe even more. In 2009 for instance, the Yankees decided to go with a three man rotation in both the ALCS and World Series. Game 1 starter C.C. Sabathia went on to pitch Game 4 on short rest and would have gone again in Game 7 if necessary. The Dodgers could do this too and manager Don Mattingly has shown before not to be afraid to start his pitchers on short rest, starting Clayton Kershaw in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Braves. On the other hand Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright pitched Game 5 of the NLDS against the Pirates just last Wednesday and won’t be available until Game 3 on Monday. He then would be the starter again in Game 7, if the series get to that point.

Both teams are missing one of their best hitters and a good pitcher. LA will have to do without Matt Kemp and Josh Beckett, whilst Allen Craig and Chris Carpenter will not be active for the Cardinals. The Cardinals will be affected most by the loss of these players, since it’s questionable Beckett would be part of the postseason starting rotation.

Game 1 pitching matchup
Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69 ERA) vs. Zack Greinke (15-3, 2.67 ERA).

You can tell from the stats that both pitchers are very close. Greinke, however, is by far the most experienced of the two and has a Cy Young Award on his belt. He has shown more than once that he can handle the pressure and even against the Braves, even though he took the loss, he was good. He gave up only two runs in six innings on just four hits, while striking out three. He won his only start against the Cardinals this year.

Kelly is 0-1 this postseason taking the loss after a 5.1 inning outing in which he allowed two earned runs on five hits and four walks, while striking out 5. The 25-year old clearly is not used to the stress playoff games bring along with them. The Cardinals are hoping he has learned from his first postseason start and he will bounce back. In two games against the Dodgers he was 1-0 and gave up 3 runs in 8.1 innings.

Money Line
The Dodgers won the season series 4-3 and are probably the most complete team. They have their pitching lined up favorably and cruised throught the Division Series. Still, it remains hard to bet against the Cardinals in October.

For the series LA are favorites at -140, while the Cards are listed at +120. For tonight’s game, quite possibly the key game in the series, the bookies think the teams are a little closer. The Dodgers are still on top (-116), but the Cards have a legitimate shot (+106). If the Dodgers win this one, they will have Kershaw on the mound in Game 2 and a good chance of returning to LA with a 2-0 lead. A crucial game for the Cardinals, let’s see what they can do!

Seb Visser

Seb Visser is a former Dutch Major League Baseball player turned baseball writer. He tries to use the insights he gained in his playing days to increase the quality of his articles and help bettors better understand the game of baseball and increase their chance to win their bets.

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