The Wild Card games have been played. The NLDS have been decided. And after the dust has settled, the last two NL teams standing are the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
How they got here: Of the two, the Dodgers had arguably the easier path. As good a team as the Atlanta Braves can be till the end of September, they’ve been challenged for wins in October. They are baseball’s version of the Buffalo Bills-always in the mix, but just can’t get there (yes, I know the Braves did win a World Series, but considering how often they’ve had a shot, they should have had a few more trophies by now). The Cardinals fought off the young and surprising Pittsburgh Pirates-a team that got a taste of what they can do in October, and a team that I’d bet we see again next October.
How they were built: The Cardinals are, by and large, a home grown kind of club. The wealth of young pitching talent that they’ve developed is impressive to say the least. When they spend, they spend smart. People may have thought they were crazy to let Pujols walk not so long ago, but it was money they couldn’t afford to spend-and look at what Pujols has (or rather, hasn’t) done since he left. Shrewd front office moves along with player development is paying off big.
The Dodgers? They only were one of the trading partners in perhaps the biggest August trade in MLB waiver-deadline history last year. It was a move that drastically changed the direction of two franchises-interestingly enough, both franchises involved are in the League Championship Series. The pieces they acquired from Boston last August pushed for a playoff spot last year, but logic was it was a move for 2013 and beyond. And, one year later, they are but four wins away from the World Series. That’s not to say the Dodgers don’t have some home grown talent themselves-it’s hard to knock their ace Clayton Kershaw. And, wise gambles, such as Cuban import Yasiel Puig, have paid off in spades.
How it plays out: Offense wins games. Defense wins championships. Part of that equation is, of course, pitching. Kershaw may be the best pitcher in the National League again this year, but the Cardinals rotation is not to be overlooked. Both teams have been here before, and have veteran experience to balance out youth. On paper, this looks like it should be a very good League Championship Series. Both rotations are peaking at the right time, and both are getting the clutch hitting that keeps seasons alive. It is very easy to see this one going the full seven games.
Who I like: Right now, I feel like this is the Cardinals series to lose. There will be a ton of pressure on Adam Wainright and the rest of the staff, but I think this series looks to be very evenly matched, and in such a close matchup, the slightest edge-like, home-field advantage-can be enough. I like the Cardinals in seven.