Why the Dodgers will beat the Cardinalsby Bryan Donovan
October 07, 2009
The Dodgers season has been all about great starts. They started the season 40-20, and never looked back in the NL West, though it did get a little too close for comfort at the end. They scored 121 runs in the first inning, the best total in baseball. However, for the Dodgers in the postseason, they’ll win because of how they finish.
The Dodgers starting pitchers may not be as good as Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright, but they are no slouches either. Randy Wolf has been a horse all season, setting career highs in starts and innings in his age-32 season. Wolf threw six innings or more in all but five starts, and was fourth in the NL with 24 quality starts on the season.
Game Two starter Clayton Kershaw really came into his own this season. Struggling after an 0-2 record with a 7.29 ERA in April, Kershaw flipped a switch and became the best pitcher on the team. Since the beginning of May, Kershaw is 8-6 with a 2.16 ERA. Kershaw led baseball with nine starts giving up zero runs, yet he got only three wins in those starts. Over the last two and a half months, Kershaw had a 2.52 ERA and a 2.44 FIP ERA over 12 games, yet he was 0-3. The next time someone tells you pitcher wins are a relevant statistic, just walk away.
Kershaw struck out 10 Rockies over six scoreless innings in the division clincher last Saturday, and has allowed just 20 runs in 16 home starts this season, where he will start Game Two against Wainwright. If there is anyone this postseason who can become this year’s Cole Hamels or Josh Beckett, it is Clayton Kershaw.
Pitcher OPS Against Broxton .479 Belisario .580 Sherrill .588 Kuo .599
The Dodgers’ biggest strength is their dominant bullpen. The return of Hong-Chih Kuo from the disabled list on July 27, coupled with the arrival of George Sherrill from Baltimore three days later, transformed the Dodgers bullpen into a weapon of mass destruction. Over the last two months of the season, the fearsome foursome of Jonathan Broxton, Sherrill, Kuo, and Ronald Belisario had a combined 1.63 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 99.1 innings. The general plan is for Joe Torre to use Belisario in the sixth, Kuo in the seventh, Sherrill in the eighth, and Broxton in the ninth, though Torre may mix it up depending on the match-ups.
The Dodgers offense has been powered by the outfield all season long. Matt Kemp is the best of the bunch, and has been the Dodgers’ most valuable player this season. The Bison has given the club power (26 home runs), speed (34 steals, and a +29 bases in net gain per Bill James Online), and defense (+4.4 UZR, plus a league-leading 14 assists from center). Andre Ethier became the fourth Dodger ever with 40 doubles and 30 home runs in the same season, and his six walk-off hits were the most in baseball since at least 1974. There is also the matter of that Manny Ramirez guy, who struggled down the stretch, hitting .255/.380/.448 after getting hit in the hand by a pitch on July 21. The Dodgers need Manny to be Manny for their offense to shift from good to dynamic.
Ronnie Belliard was acquired at the waiver deadline to bolster the bench. However, all Belliard did was go all Marlon Anderson on the league, hitting .351/.398/.636 as a Dodger, with five home runs and 17 RBIs in 24 games. He took substantial playing time away from Orlando Hudson at second base in September, and is even starting Game One. Torre is banking on the increased pop in Belliard’s bat providing and extra edge.
The Dodgers lineup gets on base, leading the National League with a .346 on-base percentage. They became just the third NL team in history to have eight players with 50 or more walks, joining the 1956 Dodgers and 2000 Giants.
Here are things that should worry the Dodgers:
- Matt Kemp had a .293 on-base percentage over the final 54 games of the season, partially due to a decrease in walks from 9.0 percent to 5.4 percent of his plate appearances.
- Albert Pujols is homerless in his last 95 plate appearances, yet he’s hitting .304/.389/.405 during that span. Even when he sucks, he doesn’t suck.
- Hiroki Kuroda, the likely would-be Game Three starter, is out for this series with a small herniation of his cervical spine. Vicente Padilla, a pitcher picked up off the scrap heap in August, will take his place. Padilla has pitched well as a Dodger (3.40 xFIP), but I can’t help but worry when, his former Rangers teammates openly applauded and went out of their way to shake the hand of GM Jon Daniels after he was released.
- Whither Chad Billingsley? Billingsley, the undisputed ace of the staff in the first half of the season, has struggled down the stretch, posting a 3-7 record with a 5.20 ERA and 4.20 FIP since the all-star break. He is slated to start Game Four on Sunday in St. Louis.
The Dodgers do have a lot of things in their favor, however.
- The best record in the National League, at 95-67
- The best run-differential in baseball, at +169 runs
- The best ERA in baseball, at 3.41
- The best bullpen ERA in baseball, at 3.14
- The best OBP in the National League, at .346
- Scored 50 more runs than the Cardinals
- Allowed 29 fewer runs than the Cardinals
- 12 walk-off wins on the season, second only to the Yankees
- Home field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs
- The Cardinals have the worst OPS in baseball against left-handed pitching, hitting .233/.312/.362 against southpaws this season. I expect Wolf, Kershaw, Kuo, and Sherrill to pitch about half the innings this series, shutting down the Redbird offense and keeping the Dodgers in the game.
The series will be close, but look for the Dodgers to avenge 1946, 1985, and 2004, winning this series in four games.