(SportsNetwork.com) - It's a matchup of baseball royalty in this year's
National League Championship Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers have accounted for 18 World
Series titles and a combined 36 appearances between the two teams. One of them
will add to that resume beginning on Friday when the best-of-seven NLCS starts
at Busch Stadium.
These teams are certainly no stranger to one another in the postseason, as the
Cardinals beat Los Angeles in a 2004 Division Series and the 1985 NL
Championship Series, both en route to World Series defeats.
The Dodgers, though, got the best of the Cardinals the last time these teams
met in October, sweeping them in the 2009 NLDS.
St. Louis finds itself back in the NLCS for the third straight year after a
terrific regular season campaign that saw it win an NL-best 97 games. The
Cardinals, though, needed all five games to get past the upstart Pittsburgh
Pirates in the NLDS.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, is back in the NLCS for the first time since 2009, as
the NL West champs took care of Atlanta in four games to advance.
The Dodgers were 4-3 against the Cardinals this season, including three wins
in four games in St. Louis.
Not having home-field advantage for this series may not matter, as Los Angeles
was tied with Texas for the best road record in the majors in 2013, at 45-36.
As an introduction to this NLCS matchup, let's take a look at the keys to
winning the series for both clubs:
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
1. THE CARLOS BELTRAN EFFECT
At this point it's still somewhat surprising that Carlos Beltran gets anything
to hit in the postseason.
Despite hitting just .222 in the NLDS, Beltran made his presence felt with a
pair of home runs and six RBI in the five-game series with the Pittsburgh
Pirates. His .944 OPS in that series was actually his second lowest in a
Still, Beltran is one of the best postseason hitters of his generation and hit
his 16th postseason home run in Game 3 to move past Babe Ruth for the eighth-
most in baseball history.
Beltran's 1.247 OPS in the postseason is the highest in any player's career.
Pittsburgh walked Beltran twice to lead off an inning in the series and the
second time the Cards made the Pirates pay, as Matt Holliday's two-run home
run was the difference in St. Louis' Game 4 win and maybe the biggest hit of
Another player to watch could be NLDS Game 5 hero David Freese, who now ranks
third in franchise history in postseason home runs (seven), RBI (29) and
multihit games (10).
2. YOUNG ARMS
The Cardinals received an MLB-best 36 victories from rookie hurlers en
route to the NL Central title. With Adam Wainwright unavailable until Game 3,
St. Louis is again going to have to lean on their young hurlers against the
The bulk of those young arms are in the bullpen, but 2012 first-round draft
pick Michael Wacha will go in Game 2 of this series after his near no-hitter
in Game 4 versus the Pirates.
Wacha saved the Cardinals season in Game 4 of the NLDS in Pittsburgh, as he
took a no-hitter into the eighth in a stellar 7 1/3-inning, nine-strikeout
performance. He had come within an out of no-hitting Washington in his final
regular season start.
Trevor Rosenthal has supplanted the struggling Edward Mujica as the team's
closer and is set up by neophyte right-handers Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist.
Other than them all being under 24, the other thing they have in common is
that they all throw in the high 90s.
Another rookie could play a prominent role as well.
Matheny has yet to name a Game 1 starter, but righty Shelby Miller may be an
option after winning 15 games this season. Miller didn't get a start in the
NLDS, but could be a better choice than Lance Lynn or Joe Kelly.
3. ADAM WAINWRIGHT
The only downside to the Game 5 win over the Pirates was the fact that
Wainwright won't be available until the third game. But then again, you'd
probably rather have a battle-tested pitcher like Wainwright going on the road
in that one rather than anyone else on the staff.
And to boot the Dodgers won't be throwing either Zack Greinke or Clayton
Kershaw in that one either.
But, given how good Wainwright was against the Pirates, Game 3 could be played
in Don Mattingly's backyard and the Cards would still be favored.
If Beltran is the best postseason hitter of this generation, well Wainwright
is starting to get into the pitching conversation. With the season on the line
Wainwright went the distance to beat the Pirates in Game 5. He won both of his
NLDS starts and allowed just two runs in 16 innings.
Dating back to his final postseason effort in 2012 (Game 4 of the NLCS),
Wainwright has pitched at least seven innings and surrendered no more than one
run in each of his past three playoff starts.
Oh and in case you were wondering Wainwright would be on full rest should he
be needed for a Game 7 against the Dodgers.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
1. DYNAMIC DUO
Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly left himself open to some criticism in that
final game with the Braves, as he opted to go back to left-hander Clayton
Kershaw on short rest. But, Mattingly's decision wasn't as off the wall as you
may think considering he had another Cy Young Award winner waiting in the
wings in Zack Greinke.
While Kershaw is probably headed towards another NL Cy Young Award after a
remarkable regular season that saw him go 16-9 and lead the major leagues with
a minuscule 1.83 ERA and an NL-best 232 strikeouts, Greinke is certainly no
An AL Cy Young Award winner in 2009, Greinke was 15-4 this season and pitched
to a 1.58 ERA over his final 12 regular season starts. He also won 12 of his
final 14 decisions and was 7-0 with a 1.95 ERA over his last 10 starts on the
The bottom line is Greinke would be a No. 1 starter on most teams.
One thing to watch here is where Mattingly goes for Game 4. It's expected that
the rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu will get the Game 3 start, but Mattingly could opt for
lefty Chris Capuano in Game 4 given St. Louis' left-handed bats.
2. ANDRE ETHIER'S HEALTH
The Dodgers hit .333 as a team in the NLDS and that lineup could get a boost
should outfielder Andre Ethier be ready to go. Ethier has not played the field
since Sept. 13 because of a condition similar to shin splints above his left
ankle and was relegated to pinch-hitting duty against the Braves.
But, if it isn't broke, then why fix it?
As well as the Dodgers hit in the first round, Ethier's replacement Skip
Schumaker, managed just a .231 average, the lowest of any of the Dodgers'
starting position player in the NLDS.
Plus, having Ethier's left-handed bat in the middle of the order could be
critical, since St. Louis' starting pitchers all are right-handed.
3. YASIEL PUIG
We all wondered whether or not Yasiel Puig's aggressiveness would cost the
Dodgers at some point in the postseason.
Well, the exact opposite happened and it took all of one game for the Cuban
phenom to make his presence felt. After a second-inning single, Puig went
first to third on hard hit single by Juan Uribe, flashing some of that raw
talent that helped trigger the Dodgers' turnaround.
Puig had six hits, all singles, in his first 13 at-bats of the playoffs and
scored four runs in Games 1 through 3.
Criticized at times for his ill-advised attempts at taking an extra base or
missing the cutoff man, Puig has been more disciplined on the base paths and
seems more concerned with winning than using every game as a showcase for his
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