Friday, June 27, 2014

NLCS preview? Sure looked that way Thursday night

The Dodgers and Cardinals put on quite the show Thursday night in Dodger Stadium, and only needed one run to do so.  A pinch-hit RBI single by Justin Turner in the eighth was the difference in the Dodgers' 1-0 victory.

As I watched Josh Beckett and Adam Wainwright battle, there's one thought that kept going through my mind: both teams are primed for an NLCS rematch.

Neither team is leading their division right now, as the Dodgers are two back of the Giants, and the Cardinals 5 1/2 of the Brewers.  But that doesn't stop me from picking both of them to eventually take over the NL West and Central, respectively.  The old saying of "The cream always rises to the top" definitely applies here.

There's a lot to like about both teams.  I'll start with the Dodgers since they're obviously my favorite, as I've written about them on this blog for the past seven seasons.  They have four legit aces in their rotation.  Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are #1's anywhere, and Beckett and Hyun-Jin Ryu could be on many other teams.

They have a superstar in Yasiel Puig, who's the definition of a five-tool player.  They have a closer in Kenley Jansen who is as nasty as there is in the game, at least when his mechanics are on.  They also have tons of cash to go get who they want, when they want.

The Cardinals apply "The Cardinal Way" to win every year.  They have an ace in Wainwright to go along with young stud arms in Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, and Shelby Miller.  They have a flamethrowing closer with 23 saves in Trevor Rosenthal.  They have the best catcher in baseball, Yadier Molina.  They also have three good Matts in Holliday, Carpenter, and Adams.  Allen Craig is also pretty darn good.

So ya, both teams can play.  That's why I was extra thrilled to see the Dodgers make the big plays to beat them on Thursday.

The night before, the Dodgers were in Kansas City, winning a 5-4 nailbiter in which Scott Van Slyke's snared a liner and flipped to second for the game ending DP.  It would have been easy to come home and lay an egg against an excellent pitcher like Wainwright the next night.

Well, they were getting no-hit entering the sixth, so it's not like the offense did all sorts of damage.  It took until the eighth for them to score, as Juan Uribe's leadoff single eventually scored the winning run.

What the offense can do is thank Beckett for being so good yet again.  They can also thank their own defense for keeping the Cardinals off the board.

First, let's look at Beckett.  He was simply sensational in tossing seven shutout innings, giving up four hits, walking two, and striking out four.  His ERA is down to 2.11, tied with Masahiro Tanaka for third in baseball.  He's a shoe-in for the All-Star Game now, and is officially all the way back from last year's arm problems.  What a job he has done.

The defense did the job as well.  Miguel Rojas turned a double play in the first, erasing Carpenter's leadoff single.  Then Matt Kemp flashed back to a few years ago by gunning down Allen Craig at the plate for the third out in the seventh.  Not even a challenge by Mike Matheny could change the call, as Kemp and Drew Butera did a great job in keeping the game scoreless.

If the Dodgers keep making big plays like that, then they should feel very good about the next three games.  Let's not forget that even with Ryu, Greinke, and Kershaw all lined up to go, the Cardinals won't give anything away and will be tough to beat no matter what.

Whether you're a Dodger or Cardinal fan, or just a baseball fan in general, these next three games will be great to watch.  Sit back and enjoy, because they'll probably do it all over again in October.  Hopefully with LA getting the home field advantage this time, of course.

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