Beginning tonight at 9:37 p.m. Eastern time, the Los Angeles Dodgers will take on the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodgers Stadium. Both teams are tremendously talented and lead their respective leagues in several categories.
Both the Dodgers and the Cardinals have strong pitching and stacked hitting lineups. The question is, who has the advantage at each position?
This slideshow breaks down the projected lineup each team will put out on the field during this NLDS. Of course, my lineups may not be completely accurate, but I am going by what they most likely will be. Feel free to chime in with your predictions and/or thoughts.
Both players are one of the best in the National League at what they do. Russell Martin has had a down year and is really struggling offensively. He has swung the bat better as of late and his power seems to be coming back slowly as well.
Molina, on the other hand, is mostly known for his great defense, but in 2009 his bat was also extremely efficient.
Defensively, the two are very close in regards to calling a game and saving wild pitches; however, Molina has a much better arm. Edge to Molina on that score.
Offensively, Martin has more power and is historically a better hitter. Slight edge to Martin (even in what has been a down year).
Advantage: Molina and the Cardinals. He is a little better defensively and nearly equal in hitting.
James Loney is no slouch at all, but let's be real here—this one isn't even close. Albert Pujols is a beast, and is arguably one of the best players ever.
Loney is way above-average and is very under-appreciated. He can hit for average, decent power, and he is an incredible first baseman who deserves a Gold Glove.
Pujols is the best hitter in the game, period. He has ridiculous power, but he also hits for average to all fields and he hardly ever strikes out. As Pujols goes, so do the Cards. Pujols is also solid defensively, which most people don't realize.
Defensively, the edge goes to Loney because he is arguably the best defensive first baseman in the league. But Pujols is also very good.
Offensively, it isn't even close. Loney is solid, but Pujols is the best.
Advantage: Pujols and the Cardinals.
Both the Dodgers and Cards have two solid options at second base.
For the Dodgers, Ronnie Belliard is the hotter hitter but Orlando Hudson is a Gold Glove second baseman.
The Cardinals have two stellar defensive second baseman, but Schumacher is the better hitter for average overall. Neither have much pop, but definitely contribute when they can.
Defensively, the edge goes to Orlando Hudson, who has crazy range and a quick double-play release.
Offensively, the edge goes to both Hudson and Belliard. Both have power and hit for decent averages. If L.A. does anything in the series, they need to hit well.
Advantage: Hudson/Belliard and the Dodgers.
Rafael Furcal and Brendan Ryan are typical shortstops—fast, gritty, and great overall ballplayers.
Furcal struggled for the first half of the season, but caught fire in the second half, and has truly ignited the Dodgers offense. When Furcal gets aboard, especially to start a game, the Dodgers typically score runs and win games.
Ryan is an incredible defensive shortstop. He has incredible range and a very accurate arm. His batting is solid, but he doesn't have much pop, or much of an ability to drive in a lot of runs.
Defensively, the edge goes to Ryan by a long shot. Furcal is still above average, and has the strongest throwing arm for a shortstop in the MLB, but he makes far too many errors, which Ryan doesn't.
Offensively, the edge goes to Furcal. Although his average is slightly lower, he has caught fire and has the ability to bunt and hit for power, a rare combination.
Advantage: Furcal and the Dodgers, but not by much. Furcal's experience and ability to lead his team, while putting up good numbers, is the slight difference.
I would take both of these third baseman on my teams any day! Both guys play very hard and are extremely popular around the clubhouse.
Casey Blake had, yet again, another consistent season where he drove in runs, hit for power and average, and made tremendous defensive plays. DeRosa's batting average was way down this year, but he hit for a ton of power and knocked in some key runs. He has been a big addition to this St. Louis team.
Defensively, the edge goes to Casey Blake. He is an incredible fielder that doesn't make too many mistakes.
Offensively, the edge goes to Blake as well. Although DeRosa has 23 home runs to Blake's 18, Blake's average is significantly better and he has driven in one more run.
Advantage: Casey Blake and the Dodgers.
I know Manny has been slumping, and hasn't been his typical self, but he still hit near .300 and he still hit 19 home runs after missing 50-plus games.
Matt Holliday is a flat-out stud and has historically been a Dodger killer. Both guys have huge power and can hit for average. Manny's numbers are more important than Holliday's, just because St. Louis has Pujols, but both guys are very crucial to their team's success.
Defensively, neither are very strong, but Manny is definitely worse than Holliday, so the edge goes to Holliday.
Offensively, even though Manny has struggled, the edge goes to him. Not only does he get on base a ton, but his postseason numbers are truly remarkable.
Advantage: Manny Ramirez, based on how well he does in the playoffs and his overall potential to carry a team. Holliday is right there, though.
Whether the Cardinals start Rasmus or Ankiel, the Dodgers will have an advantage in center.
Matt Kemp is the superstar nobody outside of California has heard much about. He has sick power, hits for average, runs with insane speed, covers a lot of ground in the outfield, and he has a great glove.
Rasmus is most likely going to get more starts than Ankiel, which he should, but he needs to pick up his average in the playoffs to help his team. He is very talented defensively, and can also cover a ton of ground.
Defensively, the edge goes to Matt Kemp. He has a better glove and and more range than both Rasmus and Ankiel.
Offensively, the edge goes to Kemp as well. He has more power, a better average, and steals more bases.
Advantage: Matt Kemp and the Dodgers.
Again, I would love to have either one of these guys on my team. They play the game hard and have a ton of upside.
Ethier has had an incredible year. He hit 31 homers and drove in 106 runs. His average was also above average, as well as his on-base percentage. He also played solid defense and has a cannon for an arm.
Ludwick is a very similar player to Ethier. He has power, a great arm, and is a great teammate. His average wasn't quite what Ethier's was, but he did drive in 98 runs.
Defensively, the edge goes to Ethier. He has an equal or better arm than Ludwick, and he definitely has a better glove.
Offensively, the edge goes to Ethier as well. He was better in every major category, and led the MLB with over six walk-off hits.
Advantage: Ethier and the Dodgers.
Randy Wolf (LA) vs. Chris Carpenter (STL)—Advantage: Carpenter and the Cards.
Clayton Kershaw (LA) vs. Adam Wainwright (STL)—Advantage: Wainwright and the Cards (but Kershaw is getting close).
Vincente Padilla (LA) vs. Joel Pineiro (STL)—Advantage: Draw. Mostly because Padilla has been awesome lately, and Pineiro has looked terrible.
Chad Billingsley (LA) vs. John Smoltz (STL)—Advantage: Billingsley and the Dodgers. Smoltz has struggled as of late, and probably won't be able to go past the fifth or sixth inning.
The bullpens of these two teams are very similar and both clubs have great closers.
L.A.'s closer, Jonathan Broxton, seemingly got stronger as the season progressed, while the Cardinals closer, Ryan Franklin, struggled a bit down the stretch.
The Dodgers bullpen has a better ERA and record, so they have the advantage when it comes to the bullpen. Luckily for St. Louis, they may not need much of their bullpen with two great starters going in Games One and Two.
Both managers, Torre and LaRussa, are great at what they do. They have wonderful relationships with their players, and players love to play for them.
I think the Dodger's have a slight advantage because of all their great bench coaches to go along with Joe Torre. Don Mattingly, Rick Honeycutt, and Larry Bowa are as good as it gets.
Lineups: Two Cardinal Advantages, six Dodger advantages.
Starting Pitching: Two-and-a-half for the Cards, one-and-a-half for L.A.
Bullpen: Dodgers advantage.
Coaching: Dodgers advantage.
Overall, from my breakdown, it seems apparent that the Dodgers have more advantages coming into this series, including homefield. This should come as no surprise, though, even to Cards fans, because L.A. has the best record in the NL and has a very complete team.
Nevertheless, pitching wins championships and the Cardinals staff is very good. So, although the Dodgers may have more advantages, the pitching can easily neutralize them.
X-factor offensively for the Dodgers: Rafael Furcal (needs to get on base and force the Cards pitchers to throw strikes to Ethier, Kemp, and Manny.)
X-factor offensively for the Cardinals: Albert Pujols (may seem obvious, but when he has struggled, so have the Cards for the most part. If he gets on base at all, it will cause problems.)
X-factor for Dodger's pitchers: Keep Pujols off the bases. May be easier said than done, but walking Pujols to get to Holliday isn't the greatest idea. When men are on base, maybe, but if the bases are clear, the pitchers need to go after him and not give him a free pass.
X-factor for Cardinals pitchers: Keep Furcal off the bases. When he gets an inning going, the Dodgers tend to follow. Also, they need to hold runners on effectively.
One thing that WILL happen in Game One or Two for L.A.: Manny Ramirez will go deep.
One thing that WILL happen in Game One or Two for St. Louis: Pujols will have an RBI.
Most important game: Game One. If the Dodgers win Game One over Carpenter, I think they will win the series in four games. If the Dodgers lose, then I think the Cardinals win it in four.
FINAL PREDICTION: St. Louis in four games (pains me to say it as a Dodger's fan). Game One, in my opinion, will decide the winner.