Of course, as everyone is aware by now, the Cardinals defeated the Dodgers in six games in the NLCS. The series didn't even really feel all that close. When Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw dropped the first two games in St. Louis, the rest of the series sort of felt like a foregone conclusion. But in actuality, only the final game of the series was a blowout. The other three Dodgers losses were decided by one run, one run and two runs. And the games were even closer than that would suggest.
Why? Because this series, more than any other in recent memory, featured missed opportunity after missed opportunity for the Dodgers, compounded by bad luck on top of bad luck. And just for fun, some of the worst managerial decisions I've seen in a baseball game, much less a playoff game. But we'll try to keep Don Mattingly's Mr. Magoo-level bungling to a minimum here and focus on all of the things that went wrong or could have swung the first three Dodgers losses the other way.
The Dodgers took a two-run lead in the third inning on a two-out, single by Juan Uribe. The Cardinals evened the score in the bottom of the inning on a two-run Carlos Beltran double and won in 13 innings on another RBI hit by Beltran.
1. But the Cardinals might not have scored at all in the third inning, which means the Dodgers very well could have won 2-0. Do you know how close that Beltran double came to being a long out?
Andre Ethier was playing center field and was essentially playing on a broken foot. Skip Schumaker -- who was at 100% -- very easily could have been starting in center field for the Dodgers in Game 1. If Schumaker starts ... or even if Ethier gets a half-step better jump on the ball, that ball is caught and the Dodgers win without having to tax their bullpen or go to extra innings.
But of course the Dodgers had ample opportunity to take the lead even after the game was tied.
2. Juan Uribe leads off the sixth inning with a single. The next three Dodgers are retired in order.
3. Adrian Gonzalez leads off the eighth inning with a walk. He was (in)famously lifted for pinch-runner Dee Gordon, who was unable to attempt a steal OR advance, as Yasiel Puig grounded into a force out, then Uribe grounded into a double play.
4. In the top of the 10th, Mark Ellis hit a one-out triple. Hanley Ramirez was intentionally walked and Michael Young -- hitting in Gonzalez's spot in the lineup -- hit a fly ball into medium right field. Ellis was thrown out at the plate by several feet on a perfect throw by Beltran. If Young hits that ball 10 feet deeper -- or if he hits the ball to left or center field -- Ellis likely would have scored the go-ahead run. He didn't.
5. Carl Crawford leads off the twelfth inning with a single. Mark Ellis -- who had singled and tripled in the game -- was asked to lay down a bunt. Putting aside for a moment how ridiculously stupid bunts are in general, the next batter was Ramirez ... who had already been walked two innings prior so the Cardinals could pitch to Michael Young, who -- again -- was batting in Gonzalez's spot in the lineup. Ellis bunted Crawford to second. The Cardinals walked Ramirez to pitch to Young. Young grounded into a double play.
The Dodgers had no fewer than five opportunities to win Game 1. This doesn't include them having two runners on with two outs in the 11th inning. (Nick Punto struck out on a foul tip.)
The Dodgers allowed two hits and two walks, got five hits and a walk, yet lost this game 1-0.
1. Clayton Kershaw leads off the inning with a single. Carl Crawford follows with a single. Matt Carpenter throws the ball away, allowing the runners to go to second and third. The Cardinals lead 1-0 at this point, but the Dodgers have two men on, no outs and the heart of their order coming up. Mark Ellis pops out to second base. Adrian Gonzalez is intentionally walked to load the bases with one out. This could have failed spectacularly for the Cardinals, particularly in a one-run game. All it would take would be a fly ball to tie it. Instead, Puig and Uribe strike out swinging.
Ricky Nolasco started this game for the Dodgers, while everyone poo-poohed the decision. Grienke or Kershaw could have started on short rest. They didn't. Nolasco had a rough second inning. He was pulled after the fourth despite retiring the side in the third. The Dodgers lost the game 4-2.
1. With two outs and a run in, Nolasco gave up a two-run homer to Matt Holliday in the top of the third. Holliday hit the first pitch he saw into the Dodgers bullpen. Nolasco made one bad pitch. If Holliday is retired -- in any number of ways -- the Dodgers could have won this game.
2. The Dodgers put two runs on the board in the fourth inning to bring the game to 3-2. If Holliday doesn't hit the home run, it would have been 2-1 Dodgers. With two men on and one out, Mattingly makes the call to replace Nolasco with pinch-hitter Schumaker. Schumaker grounds into a double play on the second pitch.
3. The Dodgers put runners on in the fifth and sixth innings. The sixth inning ends on a double play.
4. With another run in for the Cardinals on a Shane Robinson home run -- one of the unlikelier home runs in postseason history -- Nick Punto doubles with one out and the top of the order coming up. He is picked off at second base immediately.
5. Andre Ethier leads off the bottom of the ninth inning with a single. Yasiel Puig grounds into a double play and Juan Uribe strikes out swinging.
And this is all without even mentioning that Hanley Ramirez -- the Dodgers' hottest hitter entering the NLCS -- was hit in the ribs by a pitch in his first plate appearance of the series. His rib was broken and he played hurt for the next five games. If he's at full strength, it's a different series. Heck, if a 100% Nick Punto starts at shortstop over a 40% Ramirez, it's a different series. But we can only quantify what we saw. And it's clear the Dodgers were snakebit, mismanaged and BABIPed all the way home. The Cardinals outplayed them, certainly, but looking back on the series it seems it's a lot closer than we realized at the time.