Next Steps for the St. Louis Cardinals to Win the NLCS
The St. Louis Cardinals completed their comeback against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLDS, so it's time to see what they have to win the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
After finishing with the best record in baseball, the Cardinals have earned the right to have home-field advantage in the NLCS.
Los Angeles is loaded with stars, especially in the rotation. It's not going to be an easy task, even at home, but the Cardinals have the edge in experience. They have been through a lot over the years, and now they must use it to their advantage.
Here are the steps for the Cardinals in the NLCS.
*All stats are courtesy of MLB.com
Take Advantage of RISP
Hitting with runners in scoring position led St. Louis to the best record in the National League, but the Cardinals didn't do very well in this area in the NLDS.
St. Louis shattered the all-time record with a .330 average with runners in scoring position in the regular season. Against the Pirates, the Cardinals hit .185 in those situations.
Allen Craig led the team with a .454 average with runners in scoring position, but he isn't expected to play again this season. The other players in the lineup will need to step up.
Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina all hit above .370 in those situations. Those are promising numbers out of the top of the lineup, but those players must get back to hitting so well in clutch situations.
The Dodgers led the league with a 3.13 rotation ERA. Their staff was tied for fourth with a .240 average against with runners in scoring position.
St. Louis may not get many chances to score against Los Angeles, so the Cardinals must take advantage of when they have runners on base.
Strong Outings from Young Pitchers
The Cardinals are going to be relying on young pitchers early in the NLCS after Adam Wainwright pitched in Game 5 on Wednesday.
Not many teams are able to run out the young arms that the Cardinals have. Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha are all 26 or younger. Also, Shelby Miller is an option.
Lynn struggled at times this year, but he has won 34 games in the last two seasons. Kelly made a seamless transition into the rotation after struggling as a reliever earlier in 2013. The right-hander went 10-3 as a starter.
Wacha's recent outings have been incredible. After losing a no-hitter with only one out remaining in his final regular season start, the rookie went 7.1 innings in Pittsburgh before allowing a hit. If Wacha is on top of his game, the Dodgers are going to have a tough time getting runners on base.
Although Lynn got beat up in Game 2 of the NLDS, the Cardinals should have confidence in him. Both of their other young pitchers impressed against the Pirates.
Wainwright should be able to go in Game 3 on Monday. Los Angeles will likely send out Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in the first two games, so the young arms need to be ready to go.
Production out of Matt Adams
When Allen Craig went down, Matt Adams hit two home runs, including a game-winner, as the replacement. Now he will have to be a force in the middle of the lineup.
Adams hit .284 with 17 home runs this season. He also hit .329 with runners in scoring position, so he has fit right in with his teammates.
The first baseman hit .316 in the NLDS. After a strong regular season, Adams had only two extra-base hits against the Pirates. His first career postseason homer came in his final at-bat of the series to all but wrap it up.
With Craig out of the lineup, Adams has been hitting fourth behind Matt Holliday. That's a spot that is expected to be a power bat, but he hasn't been slugging lately.
As long as Adams continues to get hits, the Cardinals will take it. The bottom of the lineup has the ability to drive in runs. He doesn't have Craig's track record, but the Cardinals need Adams to hit the way he did in the regular season.
Scoring first in the postseason is important. No series proved that more than the 2013 NLDS between the Pirates and the Cardinals. The team that scored first won each game.
In all but one game, the winning team scored by the third inning. Grabbing the momentum early can be enough to carry a team through the rest of the game.
St. Louis can't afford to fall behind against Los Angeles. With Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw on the mound, falling behind could be devastating. Both of those pitchers have won a Cy Young award in their careers,and they have the ability to shut teams down.
Los Angeles won the season series 4-3, and the team that scored first won five of those games. In five of the games, the winning team scored five runs or fewer. The losing team averaged only two runs per game. When a team scored first, its pitching shut its opponent down.
Runs were at a premium in this series, so grabbing the early lead is huge.
Matt Carpenter hit .318, Carlos Beltran hit .296 and Matt Holliday hit .300. Those numbers make the Cardinals dangerous right from the start.
Check out how the Cardinals ranked among all teams in scoring per inning:
Los Angeles ranked ahead of St. Louis in the second, in the ninth and in extras. The Cardinals were one of the best in baseball in scoring early, so it will be one of the keys for them to beat the Dodgers.
This series will feature the top two rotations, in terms of ERA, in all of baseball. The Dodgers finished well above the Cardinals, but St. Louis has a formidable rotation. That just makes scoring first even more important.
Defend Busch Stadium
The Cardinals finished with the second-most home wins in baseball. The Dodgers finished tied with the most road wins. Something has to give in this series.
St. Louis has won nine of its last 10 at home.
Los Angeles led the NL with a 3.45 road ERA, so its pitchers know how to pitch away from home. On the other hand, the Cardinals led the NL in runs scored and finished second in average at Busch Stadium.
It will be a tough task for the Cardinals to defend their home field with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw on the mound in the first two games. The Dodgers came into St. Louis in August and took three of four from the Cardinals.
The Cardinals beat Kershaw in August but scored only two runs off the ace. St. Louis must get strong performances out of its young starters at home. Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha both had ERAs under 3.00 at Busch Stadium, and Joe Kelly finished with a 3.29 at home this year.
If this series goes the distance, St. Louis will play four games at home. Starting the series off 2-0 would take away the pressure of winning on the road.
Even if the Cardinals leave Los Angeles trailing 3-2, they will be able to head home with a chance to advance to the World Series. As we saw in the 2011 World Series, the Cardinals are a very dangerous team at home.
Defend Busch Stadium and the Cardinals will be in great position to win their second World Series in three seasons.