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National League Playoff Preview: Cardinals vs. Dodgers

Posted on October 07, 2009 by Dean Hybl
Milwaukee Brewers vs St. Louis Cardinals

Albert Pujols will look to power the Cardinals past the Dodgers.

For much of the 2009 season the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals appeared to be the two best teams in the National League. However, a late slide by the Cardinals suddenly pits these two traditional contenders against each other in the opening round of the National League playoffs.

In Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez, this series features two of the best known players in the game. However, while Pujols is at the peak of his game, Ramirez has struggled to regain top form since missing 50 games due to a positive drug test.

The Cardinals do actually have other players manning the other eight positions on the field, but their success is generally based around their workman-like superstar. Pujols produced another MVP caliber season in 2009 with a .327 batting average, 47 home runs, 124 runs scored and 135 runs driven in. He has a discerning batting eye and walked 115 times while striking out only 64.

When the Cardinals acquired Matt Holliday in July, they knew he was good, but his production while with the Cardinals has been phenomenal and taken some of the pressure off Pujols. In 63 games, Holliday hit .353 with 13 home runs and 55 RBI.

Rightfielder Ryan Ludwick has also emerged as an offensive producer for the Cardinals with 22 home runs and 97 RBI this season. Catcher Yadier Molina has enjoyed a surprisingly strong season at the plate with a .293 average, six home runs and 54 RBI.

While Manny Ramirez tends to get a bulk of the attention in Los Angeles, the reality is that he has not been among their top players since returning from his 50-game suspension in early July. Hitting .348 at the time of his suspension, Ramirez hit only .269 after his return with 13 home runs and 43 RBI. He has especially struggled over the last month hitting .218 since September 1.

Unless you are a loyal follower of the Dodgers and West Coast baseball, you may not be familiar with the players that have picked up a bulk of the offensive slack for the Dodgers.

Matt Kemp has emerged as an offensive weapon for the Dodgers.

Matt Kemp has emerged as an offensive weapon for the Dodgers.

In his second season as the everyday centerfielder for the Dodgers, Matt Kemp has emerged as a star on the rise. He hit .297 with 26 home runs, 101 RBI and 34 stolen bases. Rightfielder Andre Ethier blasted 31 home runs and drove in 106 runs while hitting .272.

When you add Orlando Hudson (.283, 9 HR, 62 RBI), James Loney (.281, 13 HR, 90 RBI), Casey Blake (.280, 18 HR, 79 RBI) and the still explosive Rafael Furcal (.269, 9 HR, 47 RBI) to the lineup you end up with a lineup that finished fourth in the NL in runs scored.

Of the two teams, the Cardinals pitching staff seems to be best suited for the short five-game series. The Cardinals boast two Cy Young Award candidates in Adam Wainwright (19-8, 2.63 ERA) and Chris Carpenter (17-4, 2.24 ERA). Joel Pinero (15-12, 3.49 ERA) would be a number one starter on many teams.

The St. Louis bullpen is also strong with Blake Hawksworth (4-0, 2.03 ERA), Trever Miller (4-1, 2.06 ERA) and closer Ryan Franklin (4-3, 38 saves, 1.92 ERA).

Los Angeles finished with a lower team ERA than the Cardinals (3.77 compared to 3.95), but doesn’t have the pitchers with glitzy numbers that the Cardinals possess.

Randy Wolf, who will start game one for the Dodgers, was 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA. Their projected game two starter, Clayton Kershaw, was 8-8 with a 2.79 ERA.

The deep Dodger bullpen includes former Orioles closer George Sherrill (0.65 ERA in 30 games), Ronald Belisario (4-3, 2.04 ERA), Ramon Troncoso (5-4, 2.72 ERA) and closer Jonathan Broxton (7-2, 36 saves, 2.61 ERA).

With future Hall of Fame managers Joe Torre and Tony Larussa squaring off, this series promises to have lots of thrills and excitement. It should come right down to the wire with the winner likely being the favorite to win the NL Championship Series and reach the World Series.

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