The NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals have gained a 1-0 series advantage over the NL West winning Los Angeles Dodgers after 3-2 win in 13 innings, Friday night at Busch Stadium.
As you know for St. Louis, the appearance marks their third consecutive after winning the World Series in 2011 and falling just a game short last season against the Giants. With little turnover on the roster, this is a team with J.D. Power & Associates-caliber October experience and last night it was shining.
Before I keep going, here’s one stat to keep in mind: With runners in scoring position the Cardinals were 2-4. Not impressive in terms of opportunities for the 2013 NLCS, but that percentage is pretty damn good. Conversely, the Dodgers were 1-10. Just chew on that for a second.
The Dodgers are participating in their first NLCS since 2009 and it shows. Their playoff drought was erased this season with help from some big spending that landed Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford. They were also benefactors of the electrifying Yasiel Puig who was nearly an all-star after only a month play and who helped spark a 42-12 Dodger record in July and August.
Oh, and one more stat to keep in mind — the Cardinals have played in 32 playoff games since 2009. Dodgers have played in eight. And they were all in 2009. This autumn match-up was set up to be fairly even and last night’s score score proved that. They both have good pitching, deep lineups and solid bullpens. Those bullpens had to be especially solid last night — a great way to begin the 2013 NLCS.
As for their match play during the regular season, the Dodgers took the series 4-3. Yes, if the pick for this series wasn’t difficult enough, the two teams basically played each other at .500 in 2013. Kind of like they did for 13 innings last night. However, there are some notes to bear in mind. The first, two of the Cardinals victories came against Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ robot like ace and Game 2’s starter. And another game, much like this series poses to be, was a toss-up in a battle that saw Greinke outduel Adam Wainwright. Pitching toss-up involving Zack Greinke … hmm sounds familiar.
Despite their equivocal play head-to-head and otherwise, the edge, like last night, is with the Cardinals. Their postseason experience and success, especially with their back to the wall, is enough to lean towards them. It took them 13 innings to get their fourth runner in scoring position and they still won the game. That is how the Cardinals win. They take advantage of opportunities themselves and squander them for opponents.
This style of winning is nothing new. They have done it for the last three seasons and they have carried it with them all year. They may actually be getting better at it which is the scary part. In the midst of the tightest division race in the league, the Cardinals posted a .330 average with runners in scoring position. The previous mark was .311. It’s no surprise that a record holder like that was the best team in the National League.
That kind of consistent, timely hitting is what makes teams great in October and St. Louis has been doing it for years. Those kinds of teams know how to win and those teams are terrifying to play.
With last night, the pressure builds for the Dodgers. Can they match the Cardinals in clutch and consistency? Can they overpower their postseason maturity and mettle? If they think they can, last night wasn’t convincing. This time of year destroy you if you miss opportunities. Especially 90 percent of them.
And so the pennant comes down to a series between two teams: here we go and here we go again. A deemed powerhouse against an established one. One seemingly in cruise control, the other in neutral.
The Cardinals take the driver’s seat of the series sitting in the economical and dependable 2014 Honda CR-V. (Sponsorship pending.) The Dodgers are behind the wheel of a Caprice convertible, a car that was awesome when they could pop the roof and let the warm summer breeze catch their hair. But it’s the last thing they want to be driving when it gets chilly and all the leaves fall of the trees.
Consistency breeds excellence when playing October baseball. Grit and resilience help, too. That is why it’s the Cardinals are up 1-0 in this series and that is why they will be returning to this year’s Fall Classic five games from now.