Old Rivals to Meet Again in NLDS

Neither St. Louis nor Los Angeles finished the season in a blaze of glory and both were probably looking forward to the post-season instead of taking care of business, so that part of the equation should be discounted. Both won their divisions and now they meet in the best-of-five National League Division Series.

Although the two clubs will meet in the post-season for only the third time, the Cardinals and Dodgers have been battling since the early 1940's when there was only one winner in each league that headed right into the World Series.

The two most successful franchises in the Senior Circuit are under the guidance of two of the winningest managers in big league history, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre.

The Cardinals have 21 pennants, 10 World Series championships and La Russa has managed more games than anyone except Connie Mack, ranking third in all-time managerial wins. The Dodgers have 22 pennants, six World Series titles and Torre is sixth in games and fifth in wins on the all-time lists for skippers.

Torre has the edge in world titles with four, all while with the Yankees, while two-time champ La Russa has something Torre now wants, World Series wins in each league. La Russa is 6-1 in first-round playoff matches with the Cardinals while this is Torre's first post-season with LA.

In that respect, it seems as if the tradition and the field staff come out dead even.

St. Louis slapped the Dodgers down five times in their regular season meetings, outscoring Los Angeles 31-19 and holding the Dodgers to a a total of six runs in 38 innings off their top three starters, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Joel Pineiro.

Make no mistake: The Cardinals are armed. And in a best of five series, if you must bet, mortgage the farm and put your money on the pitchers.

That's not to say Los Angeles cannot win. After leading the National League in runs scored and batting average most of the summer, they have the capability to shoulder their way into the National League Championship Series against either Philadelphia or Colorado.

So on the surface it looks like an outstanding pitching staff will face an outstanding batting attack. But it just isn't that simple, so let's look a bit deeper into the matchups.

The Cardinals collected 160 home runs and scored 730 runs, while Los Angeles hit 145 out of the park and scored 780 times. The two teams were also close in the slugging department with the Cardinals leading .417 to .412.

The St. Louis attack is led by Albert Pujols, a worthy descendent of the Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial and Mark McGwire line of sluggers. Pujols, the star on the crown and consensus MVP of the National League (again), hit .327 with 47 home runs and drove in 135.

He is ably backed by Matt Holliday who hit even better (.353) and knocked in 55 runs in only 63 games after being picked up in a trade with Oakland. Ryan Ludwick hit 17 homers and knocked in 97 teammates while leadoff man Skip Schumaker hit a neat .303.

The Dodgers opened the season with most of their eggs in the Manny Ramirez basket and when he was suspended on an illegal drug rap, were surprised by Andre Ethier who banged out 31 homers and knocked in 105. Matt Kemp came up two percentage points short of becoming the first Dodger in history to hit .300, hit 25+ home runs, knock in 100+ runs and steal 30+ bases.

Ramirez, however, returned after his enforced 50-game vacation and was a changed man. His average dipped from .348 to .290.

Advantage St. Louis in power, the Dodgers in average.

Los Angeles led the National League with a 3.41 earned run average; St. Louis finished fourth at 3.66 and the Dodgers as a team held a 192-strikeout advantage as the Cardinals stress getting ground outs.

Starter Chad Billingsley started strong, crafting a 9-3, 2.72 record by June 15 but finished 12-11, 4.03 and will probably be used out of he bullpen if he makes the final roster.

Randy Wolf became the Dodgers bellwether although he managed only 11 wins in 34 starts, losing perhaps eight wins from poor bullpen support. Twenty-one-year old Clayton Kershaw, also a left-hander, came on strong to finish 8-8 with a 2.79 earned run average. They will start the first two games of the postseason.

Jonathan Broxton, with a 2.61 ERA leads a strong bullpen with 36 saves. Usually invincible, he did take one loss and one blown save along with picking up two saves in five appearances against St. Louis this season.

Vicente Padilla made a bid for the third starter's spot with a 10-strikeout performance in the final game of the season. Hiroki Kuroda, who pitched brilliantly in the 2008 postseason, is out with a sore neck and will miss the NLDS entirely.

St. Louis will counter with their dazzling 1-2 punch of NL ERA champ Carpenter (17-4, 2.24) and the top MLB winner in Wainwright (19-8, 2.63) who held Cardinal opponents to a three-run average in 50 of their combined 66 starts. And Los Angeles is 18-44 in games in which they score fewer than four runs.

Joel Pineiro has flown under the radar all season long but faded late, finishing 15-12, 3.49 as the third starter. Kyle Lohse (6-10, 4.74) and late-season pick up John Smoltz (1-3, 4.26 with St. Louis) are the other two members of the all-right-handed rotation but at most one will make a start in the five-game series.

Ryan Franklin, with a 2.91 ERA and 38 saves, closes for the Cardinals. Like Broxton, he was a first-time all-star in 2009, but remains an October question mark after blowing three of six save opportunities in September.

Advantage: Overall an edge to the Dodgers but that is mostly cancelled out by the two outstanding starters the Cardinals may be able to use twice each.

The two teams match up in the fielding department with St. Louis holding an advantage in double plays. The Dodgers steal more bases than the Cardinals (116-75), but because of Yadier Molina's bionic arm, have allowed only 44 steals in 72 attempts.

The Cardinals are 24-21 in one-run games, the Dodgers are 28-22, led by Ethier's remarkable walkoff performances.

To sum up: If the post-season goes like the regular season, St. Louis holds a solid edge because of Carpenter and Wainwright who have dropped back-to-back games only once. With the high-visibility mid-season additions of Holliday and Mark DeRosa, the pressure is on the Cardinals to deliver.

The Dodgers hope their starters get the game to the bullpen within striking distance.

And as a National League scout pointed out just days ago, if Manny Ramirez does not carry his weight, or a bit more, the Dodgers have two chances, and neither of them look good to Dodgers fans.

No matter what, the post-season is another world all together and remarkable things can happen and often do.