The Cardinals packas much wallop into just a few roster spots as any team in baseball. They havethe game's premier player in Albert Pujols, two of the NL's three best startersthis year in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, and three major contributorsin Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and Joel Pi√±iero. Because postseason seriestend to be about the top end of your roster, the Cardinals are dangerous.
The rest of theteam, though, is unimpressive. Despite having Pujols and Holliday, St. Louishas an average offense overall. The Cards start too many low- to average-OBPguys to create long innings, which makes them reliant on the home run and, morespecifically, on scoring in innings when Pujols bats. Once the startingpitchers leave the game, St. Louis is vulnerable. Closer Ryan Franklin is apitch-to-contact guy in the Todd Jones mold, with an ERA (1.92) that runs wellahead of his skills. Manager Tony La Russa will match up heavily in front ofFranklin. Southpaws Dennys Reyes and Trever Miller will be especially importantpitchers against the Dodgers, who have enough hitters with wide platoon splitsto warrant aggressive treatment in the late innings. Look for Andre Ethier(.960 OPS versus righties, .629 OPS versus lefthanders) to see plenty oflefties after the sixth inning.
Whereas theCardinals might have the MVP and the Cy Young winner, the Dodgers have oneplayer who could get a few top five MVP votes (Matt Kemp) and no Cy candidates.What they do have, though, is depth, including eight productive hitters in thelineup, each with an above-average OBP. Manager Joe Torre has his best benchsince 1998, when his Yankees won 125 games and the World Series, and a deep,high-strikeout bullpen that can, in contrast to the St. Louis pen, providecomplete innings. While Los Angeles doesn't have Carpenter and Wainwright, itdoes have Clayton Kershaw, who could be the Cole Hamels of the '09 postseason.The 21-year-old lefty has been almost unhittable this season, allowing a .200batting average and a .282 slugging percentage. This is the type of team—a setlineup of veterans, a push-button bullpen—with which Torre had great success inNew York.
Despite thedifficulty the Dodgers had clinching the West—they lost seven of their last 11games and were only four games over .500 after the All-Star break—they were thebest team in the NL in the regular season and have the best statisticalprofile. Their edges on offense and in the bullpen will be the difference inthe most evenly matched of the four Division Series. L.A. in five.
PETER READ MILLER
LOADED L.A.'s so deep that its most productive player, Kemp, batted as low as eighth at times.