6:37 PM EST, FSN – Line: Los Angeles -200
A matchup that should be a certified pitching gem highlights a rematch of last year’s NLCS, as the Los Angeles Dodgers host the St. Louis Cardinals in Game One of the National League Division Series. In 2013, the Cardinals disposed of the Dodgers in Six games, en route to finally bowing out against the Red Sox in the World Series. Mike Matheny has picked things up where former Manager Tony La Russa left off, maintains the standard of success that the franchise has enjoyed over the past decade. This season, St. Louis (90-72) got off to a slow start but gradually chipped away at the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers before ultimately clinching the division with games to spare. Injuries tested their resilience, particularly in the pitching staff, forcing them to build quality depth which should no doubt come in handy once again this postseason.
Indeed the Cardinals closed the Regular Season out strong, winners of ten of their final fifteen outings, and were 33-22 over the final two months of the campaign. Far from the most prolific of offensive teams (NL-worst 105 HR ), St. Louis has had to rely on their solid rotation, which heading into the Playoffs looks to be one of, if not the deepest, left in the Dance. Matheny’s staff ranked first in the National League in Complete Games (8) and Shutouts (5), while finishing fourth in Runs Allowed (603) and Hits Allowed (1,321), along with a league-high 55 Saves. Due to the outbreak of injuries, they saw as many as eight different arms feature prominently in the rotation. Chief among them is tonight’s starter Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38 ERA), the two-time wins leader and undisputed ace of the staff. This season, Wainwright was once again stellar, leading the Cardinals in Wins (20), Complete Games (5), Shutouts (3), and Innings Pitched (227.0). The right-hander faced the Dodgers once this season, and turned in a valiant outing in a losing effort; in eight innings, Wainwright permitted just one run on five hits, striking out seven batters and walking just one. Lifetime against Los Angeles he is 4-5 with a 2.90 ERA, in fourteen appearances racking up 55 strikeouts opposed to 23 walks, including a pair of complete games. In last year’s NLCS, he pitched seven srong innings against the Dodgers, but earned a no-decision after allowing two runs on six hits, striking out five batters and issuing no walks.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers (94-68) too overcame a sizable deficit in their own division, the NL West, as the San Francisco Giants raced out to a double-digit lead by the end of May. However, as the campaign progressed, Don Mattingly’s club grinded away at that lead, eventually overtaking their rivals by midseason. For months, tremendous pitching compensated for inconsistent offense until even that weakness became a strength in September; Los Angeles averaged a healthy 6.24 runs per game during the final month of the season, tops in the National League. Over that stretch they managed to finish the campaign on torrid 17-8 run, clinching their second consecutive division crown at six games. And their reward for doing so is the St. Louis, the very same team that eliminated them from the Playoffs in six games. The Dodgers have faced the cardinals seven times this season, owning a 4-3 record, outscoring them by 25-14 run differential.
One player in particular who will be looking for retribution tonight is Clayton Kershaw (21-3, 1.77 ERA), the flame-throwing left-hander who is all but a shoe-in for his third National League Cy Young award. After the last two seasons, it may be hard to believe that he has gotten better, but he indeed has; Kershaw led the Majors in Wins (21), ERA (1.77), Complete Games (6), WHIP (0.857), Strikeouts per Nine Innings (10.8), and Strikeout/Walk Ratio (7.71). However, he will be looking to write the wrong that was his final performance of the 2013 campaign, in which he took the loss the night the Dodgers were eliminated in last year’s NLCS. In the 9-0 defeat, the lefty was battered for seven runs on ten hits over just four innings before making his exit, marking his second loss tot he Cardinals in that series in as many tries. This season he has faced them twice, earning a 1-0 record with a 1.93 ERA, allowing just three runs on eleven hits over 14.0 innings of work, with 21 strikeouts opposed to a mere three walks. He should find some welcome help from his lineup, which has become much more consistent over the course of the season; Mattingly’s Batting Order ranked second in the National League in Hits (1,476), Runs (718), Doubles (302), Walks (519), Batting Average (.265), Slugging Percentage (.406), and OPS (.738), while ranking first in both Stolen Bases (138) and On-Base Percentage (.333). First Baseman Adrian Gonzalez led the team with 27 home runs and 117 RBIs, while Rightfielder Yasiel Puig followed up on a breakout rookie campaign with 37 doubles, 16 homers, and 69 RBIs, while batting .296. The return of a healthy Matt Kemp has made a huge impact as well, for the veteran Centerfielder has batted a blistering .314 with 27 hits, seven doubles, eight home runs, and 23 RBIs in the month of September. With that said, in seven games against the Cardinals this season, the Dodgers have batted just .261 with one home run to their credit.