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Cardinals and Dodgers battle for NL pennant
National League Championship Series – Game 1
Los Angeles at St. Louis
8:30 ET TBS
Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63) vs. Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69)
The Cardinals won a hard-fought battle with NL Central rival Pittsburgh to advance to the NLCS for the third consecutive year. The Dodgers didn’t exactly breeze by the Braves, but there was less resistance from Atlanta than expected. With Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw pitching the first two games in St. Louis, the Dodgers have an excellent opportunity to steal a road game. However, with Adam Wainwright scheduled to pitch Game 3 in Los Angeles, the Cardinals can easily return the favor. This series certainly shapes up for St. Louis to have Wainwright on the hill for game 7.
Keys for Los Angeles
The Dodgers need to get to Game 1 starter Joe Kelly early and not allow him to settle in. That can be said for most starting pitchers, but forcing Mike Matheny’s hand going to the bullpen early is not a good sign for St. Louis. The Cardinals, with Yadier Molina behind the plate, are not friendly toward an offense built around stolen bases. But the Dodgers can take extra bases on the St. Louis outfield. Of course, if they continue to get extra-base hits at a torrid pace, scoring runs will not be a problem.
Keys for St. Louis
Some good news from the NLDS with Pittsburgh is that Cardinals pitchers held the Pirates to a .201 batting average. The bad news? St. Louis hit just .209. Pittsburgh hitters’ primary problems were Wainwright and Michael Wacha. The Cardinals must hit better than .209 in order to win when those two don’t pitch. The Cardinals rolled to 97 wins during the regular season due to their uncanny hitting with runners in scoring position. The .330 average in those situations blew away previous records for any team. But St. Louis hit just .192 (5-for-26) against the Pirates in those situations, which made the Redbirds’ work much more difficult. Without their leading man in that role, Allen Craig, the Cardinals need to find that regular-season magic.
Dodgers to Watch
The Dodgers were wearing their hitting shoes in the series against Atlanta and jumping on Kelly early would set a nice tone for the series for the men in blue. Carl Crawford and Hanley Ramirez trigger the Dodgers’ offense. The Cardinals will probably find a way to hold Yasiel Puig in check, but getting Crawford on base and Ramirez hitting with runners in scoring position is a nice formula for the Dodgers. Skip Schumaker is a name to remember. The former Cardinal, very popular in St. Louis with many friends on the team, will be in position to haunt the Redbirds. He’ll likely be up to the task.
Cardinals to Watch
Matt Carpenter, who sparked the Cardinals’ offense all season, must be the happiest player in the big leagues right now to see Pittsburgh pitchers leave town. The Pirates kept the NL hits and runs leader off base and made him a non-factor. The Cardinals expect Carlos Beltran and David Freese to come up big this time of year, but producing runs becomes so much easier with Carpenter leading the way.
Greinke has more career wins (8) against the Cardinals than any team other than the Tigers (13)…In two starts vs. St. Louis in the 2011 NLCS while with Milwaukee, Greinke gave up 15 hits and eight earned runs in 11.2 innings…Freese, Matt Holliday and Molina are batting a combined .333 against Greinke with 10 RBIs in 66 at-bats…Six of the Dodgers’ regular eight position players hit .333 or better in the NLDS against Atlanta…The Dodgers had 18 extra-base hits, including seven home runs in the four games…This is the Cardinals’ eighth appearance in the NLCS in the 2000s, more than twice as many as any other National League team. St. Louis has played in 43 NLCS games since 2000, winning 19…This is the Dodgers’ third NLCS appearance since 2008…Los Angeles won just two of eight games vs. the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008-09…The anticipated starting eight for L.A. is batting .278 against Kelly, albeit from a small sample. If Mattingly decides to play Nick Punto, a former Cardinal, at second base rather than Mark Ellis, the average goes up to .418.
Series Prediction: St. Louis in 7