The 2013 MLB playoffs are in full swing, with four teams punching their tickets to the league championship series. In the National League, the star-studded Los Angeles Dodgers will take on the playoff-tested St. Louis Cardinals.
What can you expect to transpire, and how can you watch it? Let's find out.
The story of this series will be pitching, as both the Cardinals and Dodgers have rotations that other teams dream of possessing. There's a Cy Young Award front-runner on each team, and there's depth throughout each rotation and bullpen.
If you love pitchers' duels, you'll love this series.
The Dodgers boast a crop of starters that includes Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke and Hyun Jin-Ryu, who all posted a regular-season ERA of 3.00 or lower. Closer Kenley Jansen had a 1.88 ERA with 28 saves, 16 holds and just four blown saves.
The Cardinals aren't too far behind in pitching.
St. Louis has Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, who both starred during the NLDS, and Edward Mujica, who had 37 saves in 41 regular-season opportunities. Trevor Rosenthal took Mujica's closer job late in the season, and it's easy to why. Rosenthal had 108 strikeouts in 75.1 innings in the regular season.
In Game 1, rookie Joe Kelly will be starting for the Cardinals ahead of Wainwright and Wacha, but the youngster told ESPN that he isn't nervous:
"You could be laid off for eight days and come out and play absolutely the best baseball you've ever done," Kelly said. "You could come out and play the next day and not have a good game. This is all about execution."
As a youth, Kelly was a budding skateboard star with a sponsor. Like other Cardinals youngsters, he's seemed oblivious to the pressure.
"It's Game 1 of the NLCS, but me being me, I'm going to go out there and just pitch like it's another game."
The series could come down to which ace is more effective: Kershaw or Wainwright.
Kershaw finished the regular season at 16-9 with an ERA of 1.83, a WHIP of 0.92 and 232 strikeouts—those final three numbers were the best in the National League. The 2011 Cy Young Award winner has already made two starts during the postseason, throwing 13.0 innings and allowing just one earned run.
Wainwright was 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA, a WHIP of 1.07 and 219 strikeouts during the regular season. He too has made two postseason starts in 2013, going 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA and a complete-game victory to clinch the NLDS.
If the baseball gods love fans enough, we may just see Kershaw and Wainwright square off before the series is over.
High Profile vs. Highly Decorated
The Dodgers have a crop of hitters who are somewhere between star-caliber athletes and household names. The Cardinals have high-quality, but not necessarily high-profile, hitters who have managed to step up and produce in a major way on a daily basis.
St. Louis finished the regular season ranked No. 3 in runs scored and on-base percentage and No. 4 in batting average. The team's leader in RBI, Allen Craig, is still out due to a foot injury, but the Cardinals managed to average 4.2 runs per game against Pittsburgh.
Veterans Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina are picking up the slack from Craig's absence.
The Dodgers ranked No. 6 in batting average and No. 9 in on-base percentage, and they have the personnel to tear into any team. Star hitters include Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez.
When the Cardinals defeated the Pirates, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal had this to say about the NLCS:
Deciding Factor: Scoring Early
In this series, the key for both teams will be finding a way to get on the board first. Runs will be at a premium, so the team that strikes first more consistently will have the edge.
If these teams are ever going to score runs against the likes of Greinke, Kershaw, Wacha and Wainwright, it'll need to be before those pitchers settle in.
During the 2013 MLB postseason, the Dodgers are averaging 4.5 runs per game before the fifth inning. That's been the key so far, as Los Angeles was able to get after a very strong Atlanta Braves rotation before the starters could develop a rhythm.
L.A. will need to find similar success to take down a Cardinals team that features deep pitching.
Thirteen of the 21 runs the Cardinals scored against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the NLDS came before the fifth inning. Against Kershaw and Co., that's the best hope St. Louis has of striking gold, as L.A. has the shutdown bullpen to complement its dominant starters.
The NLCS has all the makings of being a closely contested battle.