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Breaking Down Each of the Los Angeles Dodgers' Potential NLDS Opponents

Chris StephensCorrespondent IISeptember 19, 2013

Breaking Down Each of the Los Angeles Dodgers' Potential NLDS Opponents

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Dodgers have clinched the NL West and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. 

    The Dodgers are celebrating in the Chase Field pool. Thoughts? pic.twitter.com/n204QKWmG7

    — FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) September 19, 2013

    After a poor start to the season, the Dodgers had a stretch where they won 42 of 50 games. During that stretch, they went from being 9.5 games down to 8.5 games up in NL West.

    Now that the division is officially taken care of, it's time for the Dodgers to focus on getting ready for the playoffs. But who will they face? Who would fans rather see them face?

    And of the four potential matchups in the NLDS, how would each turn out?

    Here's a look at how matchups against the Braves, Pirates, Cardinals or Reds would turn out, depending on the rest of the regular season and the one-game wild-card playoff.

Projected Starting Lineup/Starting Rotation

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Lineup:

    1. RF Yasiel Puig
    2. 2B Mark Ellis
    3. SS Hanley Ramirez
    4. 1B Adrian Gonzalez
    5. CF Matt Kemp/Andre Ethier
    6. LF Andre Ethier/Carl Crawford
    7. 3B Juan Uribe
    8. C A.J. Ellis

    Starting Rotation:

    1. LHP Clayton Kershaw
    2. RHP Zack Greinke
    3. LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu
    4. RHP Ricky Nolasco

     

    The biggest decision manager Don Mattingly is going to have to make is which three of his four outfielders to start. There's no question Puig will start in the leadoff spot and in right, but the starters in center and left field are not as certain.

    Kemp has struggled with injuries this year, and both Ethier and Crawford have shown good play throughout the year. In the end, that decision could be based on matchups.

    As far as the rotation goes, a four-man rotation will be used throughout most of the playoffs. I could see Mattingly going with Kershaw in a Game 4 situation if he's not sure about Nolasco. But once it gets to the NLCS and World Series, a four-man rotation will be the way to go.

Atlanta Braves

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    The Braves are limping into the playoffs, having lost nine of their last 14 games. But would the Dodgers want to face them in the first round? After all, the Braves are 4-2 against them this year.

    Atlanta has been without Jason Heyward since his jaw was broken by a pitch, but could get him back in time for the playoffs. From the leadoff position, Heyward is batting .341 this year and was a real spark at the top of the order before he went down.

    Then there's Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann, with only Freeman having had success against the Dodgers this year with a .346 average. You also have to consider how the Braves tend to strike out a lot (8.54 per game). That tends to favor pitchers like Greinke and Kershaw.

    However, the Braves have also hit 172 home runs this year (fourth best). And for those who think the Dodgers would easily beat the Braves, just look at the comparisons in this story I wrote earlier this month.

    Atlanta is second in baseball with 94 quality starts, while the Dodgers are seventh with 88. Opponents are hitting .242 against the Braves, while the Dodgers have a .246 average against them. So, the pitching stats don't make the Dodgers a clear winner (or a winner at all).

    Atlanta also has the best bullpen in baseball with a 2.42 ERA, while the Dodgers rank 20th with a 3.71 ERA. Let's also not forget that Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has a 10.80 ERA against the Braves this year in 3.1 innings. Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, on the other hand, gave up no runs in four innings this year against the Dodgers.

    Those few comparisons alone show the Braves have an advantage in that area. In the end, it's going to come down to who has the home-field advantage, which at this time is the Braves.

     

    Prediction: Braves in five

St. Louis Cardinals

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    David Welker/Getty Images

    With the Braves currently holding the No. 1 spot in the NL, the Dodgers and Cardinals could very well meet. The Cardinals are currently No. 2 in terms of record, while the Dodgers are No. 3. That means St. Louis would host Games 1, 2 and 5 (if necessary).

    St. Louis brings a very formidable lineup and good pitching staff to the table. In fact, if there were any staff in the NL that could stack up with the Dodgers in a playoff series, it would be the Cardinals.

    Imagine a Game 1 starting matchup between Adam Wainwright and Kershaw. Then you would have Greinke going against either Shelby Miller or Lance Lynn. Game 3 would then feature Ryu against either Miller or Lynn.

    Would that not be a great three games to watch just from a pitching standpoint?

    Then you have the Cardinals offense. They rank third in average (.268) and runs scored (732), and fourth in on-base percentage (.330). Simply put, they know how to get the job done.

    Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina and Allen Craig are all batting above .300 with Carlos Beltran not far behind at .297. Add in the fact that seven starters have at least 55 RBI, and you have a pretty formidable opponent.

    The Dodgers did take four of seven from the Cardinals this year, but the Cardinals did see Kershaw twice, while the Dodgers only saw Wainwright once. In those games, Kershaw gave up six runs in 13 innings, only struck out 10 and picked up two losses in those starts.

    As for Wainwright, he gave up three runs in seven innings against the Dodgers but ultimately lost the game, 3-2. In the end, it's going to come down to who wins Game 1 between Wainwright and Kershaw. If the Cardinals are at home, I like their chances.

     

    Prediction: Cardinals in five

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The Pirates are having their first winning season since 1993 and are looking to make a little noise in the playoffs.

    Pittsburgh is currently positioned in the first wild-card spot, so the Pirates would have to win the play-in game to even get to the Dodgers if the standings hold up.

    While I like what the Pirates have done in terms of adding guys like Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau, the pitching staff is largely inexperienced when it comes to these types of situations. Francisco Liriano has only pitched in two postseason games and has a 5.87 ERA, and he would be the one I'd be most confident in.

    At the plate, the Pirates have a bevy of talent, including Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, Byrd and Morneau. However, they're 2-4 against the Dodgers this year, batting .185 as a team with four home runs and 14 RBI. The only team they have a worse average against is the Padres at .162.

    If I were to look at potential pitching matchups, I would see Liriano against Kershaw in Game 1, A.J. Burnett against Greinke in Game 2 and Jeff Locke or Gerrit Cole against Ryu in Game 3. When looking at those matchups, I just don't see how the Pirates could make it out of the NLDS. They would have a better chance against one of the other teams in the NL.

    Kershaw has a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings against Pittsburgh, while Greinke is at a more manageable 3.97 ERA.

    Now, if the Pirates could keep the games close and turn them over to the bullpen, then I would have a little more confidence. As a group, Pittsburgh's bullpen has a 2.89 ERA and has only 13 blown saves. Compare that to L.A., which has a 3.71 ERA and 19 blown saves. So the Pirates could have an opening there, but not much.

     

     

    Prediction: Dodgers in three

Cincinnati Reds

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    The Reds look like they are going to lock up the other wild card and will probably have to win the play-in game with Pittsburgh to advance to the divisional series.

    Cincinnati is 4-3 against L.A. this year, with the Reds pulling off a three-game sweep of the Dodgers earlier this month. All of those games got to the bullpens and were decided late, which could take the starting pitchers out of the equation.

    The biggest weapon the Reds have is Billy Hamilton, especially in late-inning situations. As we saw in the Sept. 7 game when Hamilton was pinch-running in the bottom of the 10th, his speed can help him score on a single from second, even with an arm like Yasiel Puig's in right field.

    Hamilton showed off his speed then and has continued to do so, racking up nine stolen bases in eight games. That includes four steals in one game against the Astros, in which he twice stole on pitch-outs. Simply put, Hamilton's speed is a game-changer.

    The Reds also have Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce in the middle of their lineup. The trio has combined for 71 home runs and 274 RBI. Throw in Shin-Soo Choo's 21 home runs at the top of the lineup, and you have a lot of power.

    Pitching-wise, the Reds would likely send Mat Latos (14-6, 3.14 ERA) in Game 1 to face Kershaw, while the rest of the rotation would be up in the air. Homer Bailey (11-10, 3.40 ERA), Bronson Arroyo (13-11, 3.56 ERA) and Mike Leake (14-6, 3.21 ERA) have been equal for most of the year. So, Dusty Baker's decision there could come in based on matchups.

    Any way you look at it, this series would be an exciting one that would catch a lot of people's attention. In the end, I have to go with the better starting staff to get the job done.

     

    Prediction: Dodgers in five

     

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