Previewing the Dodgers/Cardinals NLCS

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Baseball fans are going to be treated with some excellence in the form of this League Championship Series.

We have the best two teams in the National League, each with it’s own storied past; and a roster dotted with star chess-pieces to go with it. This is as excited as I’ve been for a playoff series in a long time, and it’s a compliment to both teams because I think it’s going to make for some tremendous baseball over the next week-plus.

Both of these teams have one thing that jumps out at me – major thump in the middle of their lineup. Los Angeles has Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzlez, and Yasiel Puig with Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and Juan Uribe playing Robin to their Batman act. The Cardinals counter with a lineup containing Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, David Freese, Carlos Beltran and Matt Adams.

To me, that’s a coin flip in terms of lineup talent. I like the Dodgers big three better than I like any three of the Cardinals big three, but I probably like the Cardinals overall lineup talent more.

What that means is that the team who gets better starts from their rotation will probably have an edge on the series – and it doesn’t mean that they’ll win the series because a team is really only as good as their bullpen.

The Cardinals used Adam Wainwright to get to the series, so they’ll open up with Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha against Zach Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. From there it will be Wainwright in game three against Hyun Jin-Ryu presumably and that game three is a swing game that the Cardinals must find a way to take.

Overall, I like the Dodgers starting rotation more; but it’s extremely close. If the Cardinals can find a way to beat the Dodgers tomorrow night in game one with Joe Kelly on the bump, this series heavily swings in favor of the Cardinals. While Kelly is a fine arm talent, he’s a guy who should be handled by the Dodgers offense. It helps that the game is in St. Louis, but Greinke over Kelly is an immediate Dodgers edge.

In terms of managers I think Mike Matheny has the experience edge but I don’t necessarily think that he’s going to end up having a better managerial career than Don Mattingly. I always thought Mattingly – who reminds me of Bill Murray in a baseball uniform – would end up leaving a terrific legacy as a manager. Again, a lot of similarities in these two men and it would be considered a near “push” with a slight edge towards Matheny because he was in the NLCS last season.

It looks like the Cardinals are going to use Trevor Rosenthal as their closer, and I think that’s a good decision. Rosenthal has unstoppable stuff and if handed a lead the game is probably over. I feel just as strongly about Kenley Jansen, I think he’s the next big thing in baseball at the back of a bullpen. I trust the Cardinals bullpen more overall than I do that of the Dodgers, but neither is a weakness.

What makes this such an intriguing series is the fact you have two seemingly complete teams facing off. Both of these squads give the feeling that they were meant to be here, there was no sneaking in. The Dodgers have been on fire since July (ending the season with a 42-8 run), destroying everything in their path. For the Cardinals it was just another steady year.

Conclusion and Prediction: I like the Dodgers to win this series in a long series, we’ll say six games. The Cardinals are a formidable opponent who will test Los Angeles and even at times appear to be in control of the series, but at the end of the day the team with more mojo flowing is the team from the West Coast. I have had a feeling about the Dodgers since back in late June and early July, and since then I’ve seen nothing but a hot team that has the balls bouncing their way. Yasiel Puig is the most exciting player the league has seen in a number of years, and he seems to energize the Dodgers on a nightly basis. I also think the Dodgers have the advantage of being able to throw Greinke and Kershaw four times if they choose to; asking Wainwright to match them twice is fine, but asking Michael Wacha to do the same is asking an awful lot of a rookie that already had no-hit stuff once in the playoffs. I said the Dodgers would go to (and win) the World Series months ago, and I still think that will be the case.