MLB Postseason Preview: Cardinals vs. Dodgers

St. Louis Cardinals (91-71) at

Los Angeles Dodgers (95-67)

OVERVIEW

About four months ago, when LA held about a 15-game lead in the NL West, my only Dodgers’ fan friend asked me to assess their playoff chances. My response? “Who’s your Game 1 starter? Exactly. What you did to the Cubs last year will happen to you.” The Dodgers are built for the regular season with a deep lineup and egalitarian rotation. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have played tremendously since acquiring Matt Holliday in July, have the league’s two best pitchers in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, and the best hitter of the last four decades in Albert Pujols. St. Louis has been better than Los Angeles for some time, and that will be borne out rather quickly, I think, in this series.

THE LINEUPS

The Dodgers’ lineup, like their pitching staff, is deep but not highlighted by any one star. And that includes Manny Ramirez, who has hit .290 with a pedestrian 19 home runs. Guys like Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Matt Kemp are dangerous but unproven, and I wouldn’t feel particularly comfortable counting on them. Russell Martin has had, by all accounts, a horrendous season. There’s very little difference between the Dodgers’ fifth hitter and their eighth hitter, which is both a good and bad thing.

The Cardinals have Albert Pujols. (Fine, some more: Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa give the lineup more depth than it had when Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, and Colby Rasmus were protecting Pujols. Obvs. And Tony LaRussa stopped batting his pitcher eighth in late July. Sigh.)

THE ROTATIONS

The answer to my June question about LA’s Game 1 starter: Fresh off the free agent scrap heap, Randy Wolf! To be fair, Wolf has had a nice season. Not great, but nice. Clayton Kershaw is their best pitcher, but again, he has to show me something in the postseason. Chad Billingsley is 3-7 with a 5.20 ERA since the All-Star Break, and with Hiroki Kuroda out, the Dodgers are starting Vicente Padilla in Game 3. You read that right.

The Cardinals have Chris Carpenter. (Fine: They also have Adam Wainwright, who unlike pretty much every other pitcher who came up as a good reliever, has actually made the transition to starter, and done so successfully. Joel Pineiro, meanwhile, has regained his first-year-or-so-in-Seattle form, although he did labor through September.)

LINGERING QUESTIONS

JOHN: Why do you only have one Dodger fan friend? Is it because of your East Coast bias?

TIM: Maybe it’s because I take the word “fan” seriously and don’t count most people who claim such status for the Dodgers.

JOHN: How can you call yourself a Johan Santana fan and call Adam Wainwright the only successful bullpen-to-rotation guy? Unforgivable.

TIM: Santana was a long man out of the pen, which is where a lot of young guys come up. Wainwright was the closer on a championship team; he’s basically done what Jonathan Papelbon and Joba Chamberlain were supposed to do.

JOHN: Can’t you see Randy Wolf pulling a Kenny Rogers in 2006 performance out this year?

TIM: If he starts taking amphetamines and coating the ball with a mysterious substance, sure, why not?

JOHN: Are people still calling Rick Ankiel a “success story”?

TIM: Even though Ankiel has struggled this year—and Ankiel has really struggled for a lot of this year—it’s pretty remarkable for a guy to rebound from a postseason performance that included nine wild pitches in four innings (and remember, wild pitches don’t include ones when nobody is on base). If Rick Ankiel were back now as a situational left-handed reliever, it would be a success story. The fact that he’s a starting center fielder on a playoff team is nothing short of incredible.

JOHN: Don’t you think Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and James Loney would make a pretty good boy band, especially if you threw Martin in as the token oldish/ugly one?

TIM: What do you mean “would”? They’re the remaining members of B2K after O-Marion left.

JOHN: Aren’t you kind of glad the Dodgers petered out down the stretch, since it was inevitable they’d lose in the first round anyway, and now it’s less of an upset?

TIM: No, because I called it in June and would have sounded smarter had LA been, you know, like 108-54.

JOHN: Why is Padilla starting Game 3 over Billigsley? Has Chadwick been that bad?

TIM: I cited the stats for you: Does 3-7 with a 5.20 ERA over three months sound good? Plus, you either forgot or never realized—and I fall in the latter camp—just how atrocious Mr. Billingsley was in last year’s NLCS: 10 ER in five innings (that’s two starts). Padilla is 4-0 since joining the Dodgers, but he’s more of a five-inning, three- or four-run kind of guy. Still, three or four runs is better than 10.

JOHN: Can the Dodgers make this a series?

TIM: Well, by definition it already is a series. Seriously, though, LA’s best chance is for Kershaw to throw a gem in Game 2 and beat Wainwright, steal one in St. Louis, then bring Kershaw back (on regular rest) for Game 5. But I doubt any of those things happen, the Cardinals probably sweep, and Tony LaRussa officially overtakes Joe Torre as the World’s Greatest Manager.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John S on October 7, 2009 at 11:31 PM

    Santana wasn’t really a “long man.” He usually went more than one inning, but only rarely more than two. He was basically a set-up man, which was the same role Joba had, for a team that didn’t win that much. You’re just embarrassed you forgot him.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Tim on October 7, 2009 at 11:44 PM

    Like the great Apu, I don’t know which part of your sentence to correct first: the idea that Santana was a set-up man, or that he was one for a team that didn’t win much.

    To refute the set-up man claim: Johan Santana has 77 career relief appearances made from 2000-2003. In those 77 games, he has eight holds — holds being the primary statistic of the set-up man. Joba Chamberlain earned eight holds in the 19 appearances he made in the last two months of the 2007 season. Furthermore, a look at Santana’s career game log reveals that the vast majority of his relief appearances come before the eighth inning and/or with the Twins losing. These are not instances in which you use your “set-up man.” (The Twins, incidentally, had a very good left-handed set-up man in those years named J.C. Romero, who amassed 55 holds in 2002-03 alone.)

    To refute the “team didn’t win much”: After finishing in last in 2000, the Twins won 85, 94, and 90 games the next three seasons with Santana primarily working from the bullpen, advancing to the 2002 ALCS. By those standards, another team that hasn’t won “much” recently is the Yankees.

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  3. Posted by John S on October 7, 2009 at 11:58 PM

    Look, this is a semantic difference (that came up in our original Joba debate). Santana/Romero/Guardado were the back of the Twins bullpen in the early 00s, in that order. Guardado in the 9th, Romero in the 8th, Santana in the 6th/7th. Does that make him a set-up man? I don’t know, I guess that depends on your definition of “set-up” man, but he had a “clearly defined role” which was your standard a few months ago. He didn’t just pitch when they were ahead, but he pitched in close games as a bridge to Romero and Everyday Eddie. That certainly doesn’t sound like a “long man” to me.

    As for the “didn’t win much” sentence, Well, I’ll admit I phrased it wrong, but I meant that the Twins didn’t have a run like Wainwright’s Cardinals had in 06, so Santana doesn’t have a defining big-time relief appearance like Wainwright’s save in the WS or (ugh) Joba’s performance in the bug game.

    Reply

  4. […] ARE SUCH A DODGER HATER: They’re a regular season team. Without a top-line starter, they can’t get past the Phillies or […]

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