Saturday night, the Texas Rangers and the Detroit Tigers kicked off one half of the LCS round, with the Rangers winning the first game 3-2. Sunday afternoon, the other half will get going, as the Milwaukee Brewers take on the division rival St. Louis Cardinals. Going in, it looks to be a most interesting series.
Why? Two reasons. For one, it's the National League Championship Series! The winner will advance to the World Series! That's amazing! How could you not be interested in this!
And for two, the Brewers and the Cardinals really do not like one another. It's kind of the main story surrounding the whole thing. The Rangers and the Tigers feel about each other the way two successful singer-songwriters might feel about each other - maybe a little competitiveness, but lots of mutual respect. The Brewers and the Cardinals feel about each other the way warring states feel about each other. They are warring.
Maybe that's a little exaggerated. Guys like Corey Hart and Chris Carpenter have downplayed any animosity, saying that the two sides respect one another, and that what happened in the past happened in the past. But the Brewers and Cardinals had a few heated moments during the year, and just Saturday Zack Greinke of all people referred to Carpenter as a "phony". If there isn't an active flame, there is kindling and conditions are dry.
So that's the situation. How do the teams match up in the series? What follows are the projected starting pitchers in each game:
|1||MIL||Zack Greinke||Jaime Garcia|
|2||MIL||Shaun Marcum||Edwin Jackson|
|3||STL||Yovani Gallardo||Chris Carpenter|
|4||STL||Randy Wolf||Kyle Lohse|
|5*||STL||Zack Greinke||Jaime Garcia|
|6*||MIL||Shaun Marcum||Edwin Jackson|
|7*||MIL||Yovani Gallardo||Chris Carpenter|
But oftentimes, people will focus on the starting pitcher matchups and neglect to consider everything else, like the respective offenses or bullpens. This is the trap people fell into with Game 5 of the Phillies/Cardinals NLDS, where Roy Halladay took on Chris Carpenter. Halladay vs. Carpenter is uneven on its own, but the Cardinals probably had advantages over the Phillies elsewhere, and starting pitching is only a part of the equation. So you might find this table more informative:
That's more like it. For four, five, six, or seven games, the Milwaukee Brewers will take on the St. Louis Cardinals. In each game, a few names will change, but most of the names will stay the same.
I don't know if we have to review the general pictures, since we all just watched these teams play in the first round, but we might as well give a quick look to the general pictures. The Brewers have a very good offense. Or at least, they had a very good offense during the regular season. It's hard not to have a good offense with names like Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun in the middle of it. The starting pitching is also good, although one feels it has the stuff to be better. Gallardo can be unhittable. Greinke can be unhittable. Marcum and Wolf can be a lot better than they looked against Arizona. The bullpen is at least four or five deep in quality arms. Finally, the defense is a lot better than its reputation. People rip on the Brewers for having a bad defense, but the numbers don't bear that out.
As for the Cardinals? The Cardinals have a very good offense. It was perhaps the only NL offense better than the Brewers' offense during the year. Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, and all that. The starting pitching lacks a strikeout ace in the Gallardo mold, but Carpenter and Garcia are terrific and, statistically, very similar, while Lohse and Jackson function as unsexy, unpredictable innings-eaters. The bullpen is deep, and you can bet that Tony La Russa will explore every inch of it. Finally, the defense is mediocre but not a weakness.
Now, a lot of attention is being paid to Matt Holliday's finger injury. Holliday has struggled with the injury for some time, and the Cardinals are weaker without Holliday at or near 100 percent. Additionally, Skip Schumaker might have to miss the series with an oblique injury suffered in Friday's Game 5. You could say that these issues put the Cardinals at a disadvantage. But then, it's not like the Brewers are free of their own question marks. Marcum has scuffled lately, and there's speculation that he might be hurt. Rickie Weeks hasn't looked like himself since returning from a severe ankle injury. These are problems, too, and they might balance out the problems that St. Louis is dealing with.
Okay, so I've written a lot of words. You might be looking for analysis. But, really? You want me to analyze what we're going to see in the coming 4-7 games? Here's what we could see in the coming 4-7 games:
These teams are just so closely matched. The Brewers finished the season with a run differential of +83, while the Cardinals finished at +70. Even more spooky, if you add together the Brewers' OPS+ and ERA+, you get 210. If you add together the Cardinals' OPS+ and ERA+, you get 210. They are very, very, very close in overall ability, which makes this series impossible to predict. Any series is impossible to predict, but this series is extra impossible.
If you want a prediction, I'll give a slight edge to the Brewers, just because they have the home-field advantage. I'll say Brewers in 7. But no matter what happens, I don't know if we'll be able to say the better team won, because I'm personally not sure there's a better team.