By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
About the St. Louis Cardinals
The NL Central Champions return to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, when they won the World Series.
Behind the bat of possible NL MVP Albert Pujols (.327, 45 HRs, 135 RBI), the Cardinals were already powerful. This season, they added Matt Holliday (.353, 13 HRs, 55 RBI since joining St. Louis), to complement him. This will help in preventing the Dodgers' pitching staff from walking Pujols during the NLDS.
The Cardinals also have arguably the best 1-2 punch in their pitching rotation with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. The two combined to only give up three runs in 21 innings against Los Angeles. Carpenter alone is 5-0 with a 2.20 ERA for his career against the Dodgers.
Closer Ryan Franklin holds down the back end of the bullpen, earning 43 saves, but this is his first postseason appearance, so it remains to be seen how he will perform.
About the Los Angeles Dodgers
The NL West winner, who also clinched the top NL record at 95-67, are hungry after losing in the NLCS to the eventual World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies and would love a rematch. First, though, they need to get past the top pitching of St. Louis.
They’ll do that in part thanks to Manny Ramirez (.290, 19 HRs, 63 RBI), as well as with contributions from Andre Ethier (.272, 31 HRs, 106 RBI), and Matt Kemp (.297, 26 HRs, 101 RBI). This three-headed machine is a big reason why the Dodgers ranked third in runs scored in the NL this season.
The pitching staff has a bunch of quality starters all fighting for a rotation spot. The Game One start will go to Randy Wolf (11-7. 3.23 ERA), and Game Two will go to Clayton Kershaw (8-8, 2.79 ERA).
The bullpen has two strong closers in George Sherrill and Jonathon Broxton, and having a deep bullpen will be key if St. Louis tees off offensively.
The Cardinals won the season series 5-2, and the offensively minded Dodgers struggled mightily, scoring a mere 19 runs in the seven games.
The Dodgers also could be limited by health concerns to Wolf, Kershaw, and other members of the rotation, which could affect their deep pen. However, if they can get around Pujols and Holliday, the rest of the Cardinals lineup is beatable.
For the Dodgers, Ramirez hasn’t been his old self since returning from the suspension, but he is a monster in the playoffs, and L.A. could use the postseason Manny to play up to his skills.
Franklin blew three saves for the Cardinals in September, so he will need to get those out of his head quickly and shut down Los Angeles in the late innings.
This is a series of history, dating back to Stan Musial and Duke Snider. They meet for the first time in the playoffs since 2004, when St. Louis won in the NLDS. Look for St. Louis to repeat history and take down Los Angeles in four games.