Coming into this series that starts tonight at 7:37 while I have the misfortune of being at work, I’m picking up a great deal of Dodger hype. No, I won’t start freaking out at the fans and media now like I did in my past post about the improved-but-still-not-ready-for-prime-time Pirates. The Dodgers actually are a very good team, one we picked to win the division (they did), and one who we acknowledge could very easily defeat the Cardinals in this NLCS–and soundly, at that. But the talent difference between these two teams certainly does not forecast the Dodgers as clear winners.
Everyone, and I do mean everyone, is quick to trumpet the fantastic Dodger starting rotation as the main reason the Cards won’t be able to handle their Hollywood opponent. This is well-founded, as no one in baseball throws baseballs quite like brilliant lefty phenom Clayton Kershaw. Zack Greinke, too, is a mighty fine pitcher, if a bit lacking in the social skills department. I also have considerable respect for Hyun-jin Ryu, a player who made a nice impression in his first season in the majors after spending several years in Korea. Oh, and Ricky Nolasco wouldn’t be the fourth pitcher mentioned on very many rotations, either. This rotation really is stacked. But is it that much better than the one featured by St. Louis?
Consider these statistics, courtesy of FanGraphs:
Team A: 13.9 WAR | 3.39 FIP | 7.73 K/9 | 2.52 BB/9
Team B: 13.6 WAR | 3.45 FIP | 7.37 K/9 | 2.77 BB/9
Okay, so Team A definitely gets the edge, and it is in fact the Dodgers, but that gap is hardly substantial, and this is the edge most critics point to the hardest when it comes to proclaiming why the Dodgers will wrap this best-of-seven series up in three games. Yes, the Dodger pitching is superior, but not by as much as one would think. Granted, since Mike Matheny is having some kind of behind-the-scenes torrid love affair with Joe Kelly, that pitching comparison becomes a little less valid, but the best four pitchers on each side are not terribly lopsided. As good as Adam Wainwright is, Kershaw is definitely a step up (compared to the nine steps up he is on most every other pitcher), and the Cardinals don’t boast a number two with the accomplishments of a Greinke, but Shelby Miller is definitely on his way up in the pitching world. Lance Lynn may not be more than a number three, but is Ryu? Michael Wacha has much left to prove and can’t possibly keep throwing near no-hitters every time he’s out there, but he has the ability to rival Ricky Nolasco at some point.
You get the idea. The best four Cardinal pitchers aren’t completely outclassed by the Dodgers. The problem is, the Cardinals won’t be using their best four starters in this series, and not only because Jaime Garcia‘s shoulder is a bastard. Kelly has no place in this team’s playoff run–in the rotation anyway–as Brian mentioned just yesterday. That alone gives Cardinal fans big reasons to worry, but if the right personnel were used here, I don’t believe the Dodgers to be a better team at all. Superior pitching? Sure, by a small margin. Superior offense? Certainly not, even with Hanley Ramirez raking and Yasiel Puig‘s exciting young bat. Someone does need to tell him to stop trying to steal bases, though (11/19).
I’m really not certain the Cardinals are going to make this the kind of series it should be, not at all. I fear the Dodger pitching will completely numb their usually capable bats and that this could all end very badly, leading anti-Cardinal types to suggest that our beloved team had no business squaring off against the Dodgers. This just isn’t the case. We don’t defend our team based on blind adoration; we generally feel like the organization as a whole is well-run and is well set up to be very good for a very long time. It’s not an accident the team won 97 games this year, and while the Dodgers may well be a very worthy opponent, they aren’t better–not even on paper. That said, with these pitching match-ups, a sweep wouldn’t be all that shocking.
I hope Joe Kelly throws a no-hitter.