Cards’ Five Keys to Beating Dodgers in NLDS

So after all of the ups and downs of the regular season, after injuries, trades, Major League injuries and disappointments, minor-league call-ups, and enough calls for Mike Matheny and John Mabry’s jobs to make one think the Cardinals were the Phillies or Red Sox, the Redbirds take baseball’s 13th-highest payroll into the playoffs against the big, bad, top-paid Dodgers.

Los Angeles boasts a MLB-highest $235,684,934 payroll, more than double that of the Cardinals’ $109,729,000. With all that talent being paid all that money, how do the Redbirds possibly hope to beat L.A. in the best-of-five NLDS that starts Friday? Here are five ways they can.

1. Maintain their success against Clayton Kershaw.

clayton kershaw
Clayton Kershaw

The reigning National League Cy Young winner (and certain winner in 2014, too) has less success against the Cardinals than any other NL team. His first MLB start was against the Cardinals, and he didn’t get a decision on May 25, 2008.

Since then, Kershaw has compiled a 5-5 record and a 3.46 ERA against the Cardinals. If the Cards can beat Kershaw in Game 1, getting two wins in the next three games is doable.

2. Manufacture runs.

If the Cardinals hope to win games against the Dodgers in the playoffs, they aren’t going to score by hitting a bunch of home runs. St. Louis was last in the National League with 105 homers.

The team needs to manufacture runs. Kershaw allowed just nine home runs in 198 innings. Zack Greinke allowed 19 in 202 innings. Hyun-Jin Ryu allowed eight in 152 innings. Dan Haren led the NL by allowing 27 home runs, but even he allowed just six homers in the last two months after allowing 21 in the first four months of the season. The Cards will need to find a way to use their patience and their speed.

3. Get dominant starting pitching.

Adam Wainwright
Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright was dominant in September, going 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA. Lynn’s best month was August, when he was 3-0 with a 1.99. John Lackey has started clinching games in two different World Series. And Shelby Miller has occasionally turned in dominant starts in his career.

Of course, Michael Wacha owned the Dodgers in last year’s NLCS, going 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA.

Against the highest-paid lineup in baseball, the Cardinals’ starters need to compete at their highest level.

4. Get to the Dodger bullpen early.

Their closer, Kenley Jansen, is one of the best in the game. The bridge to Jansen is not great.

L.A. had the National League’s 12th-best bullpen ERA at 3.80. Only Arizona, Cincinnati and Colorado were worse. Veterans Chris Perez, Jamey Wright and Brian Wilson were particularly vulnerable, all featuring ERAs above four. It the Cardinals can get to that bullpen in the sixth or seventh inning – a tough task – they have a chance.

5. Win a game in L.A.

The Dodgers and Giants tied for the fewest home wins among National League playoff teams with 45. The Cardinals tied Washington for the best home record in the league at 51-30. Even though the Dodgers were the best road team in the NL, if the Cards can steal a game there, the chances of winning two at home are much better than beating Kershaw twice at Dodger Stadium. If Wainwright or, presumably, Lynn, can get the Cards out of L.A. even at a game apiece, the Redbirds can advance.

The task is daunting, but there is a road map for the Cardinals to advance to their third NLCS in three years under Matheny.

Matt Holliday
Matt Holliday

One other side note: A vocal minority of Cardinal fans don’t like Matt Holliday, despite all he’s done to help the team to the playoffs in five of the six years he’s hit in the middle of their lineup. They point to one long-ago play in Los Angeles.

In Game 2 of the 2009 NLDS, Holliday had a ball go off his belt buckle with one out in the ninth. After a Ryan Franklin walk, an RBI hit by Ronnie Belliard, a passed ball that moved runners to second and third, and another walk, Mark Loretta’s RBI single won the game for Los Angeles.

Those fans apparently forget that Franklin and Yadier Molina made mistakes in that inning, too. The question is, if the Cardinals beat the Dodgers this year, will Holliday be able to atone for his grievous sin? Just wondering.

More: Lackey-Wacha Debate Far from Clear-Cut