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Depth over Stars
Joe Sheehan
October 12, 2009
St. Louis has the game's best player and two Cy Young candidates, but top-to-bottom, L.A.'s the better team
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October 12, 2009

Depth Over Stars

St. Louis has the game's best player and two Cy Young candidates, but top-to-bottom, L.A.'s the better team

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The Cardinals pack as much wallop into just a few roster spots as any team in baseball. They have the game's premier player in Albert Pujols, two of the NL's three best starters this year in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, and three major contributors in Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and Joel Piñiero. Because postseason series tend to be about the top end of your roster, the Cardinals are dangerous.

The rest of the team, though, is unimpressive. Despite having Pujols and Holliday, St. Louis has an average offense overall. The Cards start too many low- to average-OBP guys to create long innings, which makes them reliant on the home run and, more specifically, on scoring in innings when Pujols bats. Once the starting pitchers leave the game, St. Louis is vulnerable. Closer Ryan Franklin is a pitch-to-contact guy in the Todd Jones mold, with an ERA (1.92) that runs well ahead of his skills. Manager Tony La Russa will match up heavily in front of Franklin. Southpaws Dennys Reyes and Trever Miller will be especially important pitchers against the Dodgers, who have enough hitters with wide platoon splits to warrant aggressive treatment in the late innings. Look for Andre Ethier (.960 OPS versus righties, .629 OPS versus lefthanders) to see plenty of lefties after the sixth inning.

Whereas the Cardinals might have the MVP and the Cy Young winner, the Dodgers have one player 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 the lineup, each with an above-average OBP. Manager Joe Torre has his best bench since 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, provide complete innings. While Los Angeles doesn't have Carpenter and Wainwright, it does 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 .200 batting average and a .282 slugging percentage. This is the type of team—a set lineup of veterans, a push-button bullpen—with which Torre had great success in New York.

Despite the difficulty the Dodgers had clinching the West—they lost seven of their last 11 games and were only four games over .500 after the All-Star break—they were the best team in the NL in the regular season and have the best statistical profile. Their edges on offense and in the bullpen will be the difference in the most evenly matched of the four Division Series. L.A. in five.

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