Cardinals/Dodgers NLCS preview

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The four teams in the League Championship Series combine for 488 years of baseball history, with the Dodgers and Cardinals accounting for 262 of those years. When the Brooklyn Atlantics and St. Louis Browns played their first game, Ulysses S. Grant and Doc Holliday were still alive, and Charlie Comiskey was the first baseman for the Browns(who became the Cardinals)

So there's history in this NLCS. And in addition to them being old, storied franchises, they've had a history of success, both recent and ancient. Both teams have won 18 pennants. The Dodgers were in the NLCS in two straight years recently. The Cardinals have been in seven of the last 11 NLCS. The Cardinals are second in World Series championships; the Dodgers are sixth.

You want to punch both franchises right in the nose for different reasons. The Cardinals can't stop developing players who help them make the playoffs. The Dodgers loudly announced they were the NEW YANKEES after the ownership change, and by gum, they certainly weren't shy about spending. Both of those things are annoying unless you're a fan.

But they're good. Both teams are good. Probably not a surprise considering they're in the NLCS. Here's a look at how the two teams stack up.


Here's some symmetry:

Cardinals: 104
Dodgers: 104

Cardinals: .733
Dodgers: .722

Cardinals: .269/.332/.401
Dodgers: .264/.326/.396

Home runs
Cardinals: 125
Dodgers: 138

Well, well, well. Seems like these two teams are evenly matched. When you adjust for their respective ballparks, like OPS+ does, they're mirror images. The Dodgers have a little more power; the Cardinals have a tick more on-base-gettin'. But they're pretty evenly …

Runs scored
Cardinals: 783
Dodgers: 649

What in tarnation …

This is a function of the Cardinals' unfathomable success with runners in scoring position this season. They didn't just have the best performance on record -- they lapped the field.

Rk Split Year BA
1 STL RISP 2013 .330
2 BOS RISP 1950 .312
3 COL RISP 1996 .311
4 DET RISP 2007 .311
5 COL RISP 2000 .309
6 BOS RISP 1975 .308
7 CHW RISP 2006 .307
8 CLE RISP 1999 .306
9 KCR RISP 2000 .305
10 MIN RISP 2008 .305

Is it meaningful that a lot of those are recent teams? Probably. Maybe someone smart can explain it to the rest of us. Until then, goodness, Cardinals, what is in your spinach?

But I'm not buying it as a reason to think the Cardinals have the better offense in this specific series. I can't. Too many years of thinking clutch stats were unsustainable. Maybe a team will amble along that's legitimately better in the clutch than in normal situations, but we won't be able to tell the difference between them and a lucky team.

For example, let's take a look at the best clutch teams in baseball history one year later:

Rk Split Year BA
1 STL RISP 2014 ?
2 BOS RISP 1951 .272
3 COL RISP 1997 .295
4 DET RISP 2008 .268
5 COL RISP 2001 .291
6 BOS RISP 1976 .258
7 CHW RISP 2004 .243
8 CLE RISP 2000 .289
9 KCR RISP 2001 .282
10 MIN RISP 2009 .278

So if we're pretty sure they're going to be worse next year, why should we assume the Cardinals will keep this going for the next four-to-seven games? It doesn't make sense.

On the other hand, the Dodgers' totals were with a healthy Ethier and the occasional appearance from Matt Kemp. That's probably balanced by Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez being around full-time now. I'll go with Dodgers here, but it's probably as close as the OPS+ marks indicate. Just get out of here with the clutch stuff with the Cardinals.

Starting pitching

Do you like young pitchers? Or are you a veteranophile? One team has the youth, and the other team has the names. The raw stats:

Cardinals: 3.43
Dodgers: 3.25

Cardinals: 107
Dodgers: 110

Cardinals 7.7
Dodgers: 8.0

Runs allowed
Cardinals: 596
Dodgers: 582

Again, adjust for park, and they're pretty much the same thing. The difference is name-brand quality.

Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher alive. But Adam Wainwright is one of the few who are close. The difference between the two isn't like the difference between DVD and VHS. It's more like the imperceptible differences between smartphones of varying quality. You might notice. You might not.

Kershaw is the best. But Wainwright is a good 1a. There's no reason to pick one team over the other because of this.

After Kershaw, the Dodgers have Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, and possibly Ricky Nolasco. The Cardinals will counter with three from Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, and Shelby Miller. The Dodgers have the more impressive rotation, at least until you get to Nolasco. But all of those pitchers have been excellent for the Cardinals. Wacha likes to no-hit teams when he's bored. You can't say the same about Nolasco.

Still, I'll give another slight edge to the Dodgers. It's Joe Kelly against Zack Greinke in the opener. If you're convinced the Cards have the better pitching staff, you can make your case, but look at that match-up again. Do it for every permutation until you get to Nolasco, and the Dodgers look favorable, just slightly, every time.


Heck, I don't know. Bullpens are always tripping balls, syncing up Billy Wagner outings with Dark Side of the Moon, speaking in some kind of invented nonsense gibberish. Bullpens never make sense.

But according to FanGraphs, the Cardinals had 124 shutdowns and 62 meltdowns. The Dodgers had 131 shutdowns and 75 meltdowns. The WPAs and ERAs and such were all comparable. So, again, they're totally even. This series is going to the 18th inning of Game 7, and it will be decided by a blown call.

I'd trust Kenley Jansen just a tick over Trevor Rosenthal, but that's splitting hairs. Each team has a rival reclamation project (John Axford for the Cards, Brian Wilson for the Dodgers), and each team has an impressive young lefty (Kevin Siegrist for the Cards, Paco Rodriguez for the Dodgers). Can't do anything but even this one.

Shared history

Mark McGwire is beloved in both places, bringing his total number of adoring fan bases up to two.

Here's the list of the top-10 shared players between the two teams:

And the pitchers:

Looks like Pedro Guerrero is the clear winner for the split-down-the-middle award, though he's almost certainly more of a Dodger.

There's no real winner for a category like this, but I'll go with the Cardinals because I'm stick of picking the Dodgers based on incremental advantages.

Playoff history

The Cardinals and Dodgers have met three times before in the postseason. The first time was in 1985, and it was memorable.

And they met up again in 2004. This was less memorable. The late Jose Lima pitched a shutout for the Dodgers, but other than that, it was all Cardinals.

When this story was published, it didn't include the 2009 NLDS, in which Matt Holliday got hit in the ol' Irish toothache. That was a mistake.

Man, even though that benefitted the Dodgers, I could watch that for hours. Not sure how I forgot about it.

So it's the Cardinals with the historical advantage, which means about as much as player anagrams. But it's fun to think about.

The good news is that none of this means ANYTHING. Pete Kozma is going to get a bases-loaded hit or strikeout against J.P. Howell, or something, and that's going to be the difference. Silly, silly playoff previews.

But I don't remember teams this evenly matched in the playoffs before, at least statistically. Both teams can hit a bit. Both teams can pitch. The Cardinals even had a .691 defensive efficiency to the Dodgers' .692. Even, even, even.

Even if you want to hit several players on either team in the face with a pie, as I do, at least take consolation in the fact that this should be a good, evenly matched series. The playoffs laugh at things like that, but it's all we have until the games start.

For more on the Cardinals, please visit Viva El Birdos

For more on the Dodgers, please visit True Blue LA.

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