The Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals have maintained two of the most balanced lineups in the National League this season, so it's no wonder the two will face off for the National League pennant starting Friday night at 8:37 p.m. on FOX.
The Cardinals last won a World Series in 2011. The Dodgers last won one in 1988. St. Louis has been to the NLCS every year since 2010. The Dodgers haven't been to the NLCS since 2009.
While the postseason experience seems to be clearly in the Cardinals' corner, the positional breakdown makes the series look much closer between the Redbirds and the Blue Crew.
This is probably the closest of the four positional breakdowns solely based on the corner outfielders for both teams. If Andre Ethier can make his return to the lineup for Game 1, this might turn the needle even more in the Dodgers' direction.
Bill Plunkett from the Orange County Register reports Don Mattingly believes Ethier might be ready for Friday night:
Mattingly indicated Andre Ethier's workout today went well enough it could be a "game time decision" on putting him in lineup for Game 1— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) October 10, 2013
With corner outfielders Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford, who combined to hit .412 (14-for-34) with three homers and seven RBI against the Braves in the NLDS, the Dodgers have two hot stars that could carry them against the Cardinals.
The combination of Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday might be more consistent on a game-to-game basis than Crawford and Puig, but the speed and average at the top of the lineup that Puig offers sets the Dodgers' duo apart.
Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonalez have paced the Dodgers all season and haven't slowed down in the postseason.
Against Atlanta, Ramirez was clearly L.A.'s best hitter, finishing the series hitting .500 (8-for-16) with six extra-base hits, a home run and six RBIs. Not to mention, Ramirez is hitting homers like these:
A-Gone was not far behind Ramirez with a homer in the series opener, a .333 batting average (6-for-18) and four RBIs of his own. The duo has been spectacular, but the bat of Juan Uribe—and his lack of bunting skills—is the reason why the Dodgers are in the NLCS.
Starting Rotation: Dodgers
Not to make it seem like the Cardinals are insufficient in every category, because they're not, but the Dodgers have a one-two punch that is hard to contend with in the National League.
The tandem of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke is enough to get the Dodgers four wins if both pitchers have great outings. Kershaw is favored to win the National League Cy Young this year and Greinke has been stellar all season with a 15-4 record to go along with his 2.63 ERA and 148 strikeouts.
Adam Wainwright alone is a great pitcher and rookie Michael Wacha was lights out in his first postseason start against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but it's hard to not go with the experience and stuff of Kershaw and Greinke.
Bullpen: St. Louis Cardinals
This is a legitimately good bullpen, not just a blatant attempt to throw the Cardinals a bone in this breakdown. This has been a workmanlike bullpen all season, and it has only gotten better with Trevor Rosenthal emerging as the closer.
Rosenthal delivered on his one save opportunity in the NLDS and had 108 strikeouts in 74 appearances in the regular season. The 23-year-old leads a pen that includes Edward Mujica, Randy Choate, Seth Maness and journeyman John Axford.
While the starting rotation is questionable outside of Adam Wainwright, the bullpen should be able to keep the Cardinals in games during the NLCS.