The Los Angeles Dodgers eliminated the Atlanta Braves in four games to advance to their first NLCS since 2009, and they'll now turn their attention to the St. Louis Cardinals as they look to claim their first NL pennant since 1988.
It was a tale of two seasons for the Dodgers. They struggled out of the gate and looked destined to be a major flop, only to drastically turn things around, running away with the NL West title in the process.
They've looked like a team built for postseason success for some time, with a pair of aces fronting a talented pitching staff and an offense built around a handful of superstar talents, but getting past the Cardinals will be no walk in the park.
Here is an overview of what the Dodgers need to do to have a chance of winning the series and advancing on to the World Series.
1. Take advantage of not having to face Adam Wainwright right away.
By wrapping up their NLDS series in four games, the Dodgers were able to set their pitching rotation for the NLCS. Zack Greinke will take the ball in Game 1 with an extra day of rest, and Clayton Kershaw will go in Game 2 on regular rest.
The Cardinals were not afforded that same luxury, as ace Adam Wainwright took the mound in Game 5 of the NLDS and will not be available until Game 3 or Game 4 of the NLCS as a result.
That puts the Dodgers in a great position to jump out to an early lead in the series. And if everything goes according to plan and they get two good starts out of their aces, they could very well take a 2-0 series lead back to Los Angeles with them.
2. Get a (moderately) healthy Andre Ethier back in the everyday lineup.
With Matt Kemp sidelined for the entirety of the postseason and Andre Ethier battling an ankle injury, what was once a logjam in the Dodgers outfield has turned into a weak spot of sorts.
Skip Schumaker played center field throughout the NLDS, but he went just 3-for-13 with a pair of RBI as one of the few weak spots in what was an otherwise potent Dodgers attack.
It remains to be seen whether or not Ethier, who was limited to pinch-hitting duty in the NLDS, will be able to run well enough to play the field during the NLCS. Getting him back in the everyday lineup would be a major boost for the Dodgers, though.
With the Cardinals fielding an all right-handed starting rotation, adding a left-handed bat with some pop like Ethier back into the lineup would allow the Dodgers to drop Mark Ellis back down in the lineup and move Yasiel Puig back to the No. 2 spot, where he could serve as a table-setter.
3. Exploit the Cardinals inability to hit left-handed pitching.
For as good as their offense was during the regular season, the Cardinals consistently struggled against left-handed pitching, and the Dodgers could come at them with three left-handed starters, depending on how they set their rotation.
With the exception of Yadier Molina, who has hit well against both lefties and righties this season, and David Freese, the entire lineup has put up markedly better numbers against right-handed pitching this season.
The Cardinals will no doubt face at least two left-handed pitchers in the series, with Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu likely to take the ball in Game 2 and Game 3, respectively, and the Dodgers could opt to go with a third lefty in Game 4, depending on how they decide to set their rotation.
That brings us to No. 4...
4. Start Chris Capuano instead of Ricky Nolasco in Game 4.
With the Dodgers' decision to start Clayton Kershaw in Game 4 of the NLDS, right-hander Ricky Nolasco did not see the mound in the series. He has not pitched since throwing an inning of relief on Sept. 29 and has not started a game since Sept. 25.
Nolasco was great after joining the team in an early July trade, going 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA in his first 12 starts in a Dodgers uniform. However, his season ended with a thud, as he allowed 24 hits and 17 runs in 12 innings of work (12.75 ERA) over his final three starts.
It will have been a full 15 days since Nolasco last pitched when Game 4 rolls around, and the likely rust he'll have to shake off, combined with his late-season struggles, could be reason enough for the Dodgers to go a different route.
In his place, left-hander Chris Capuano looks like a solid option to earn a start. He came on in relief of Hyun-Jin Ryu after his early exit in Game 3 of the NLDS and threw three scoreless innings to earn the win.
While it is his first postseason, the big stage likely won't be too much for the 35-year-old veteran to handle. And given the Cardinals' aforementioned struggles against left-handed pitching, all signs point to him deserving the Game 4 start.
5. Continue to hit up and down the lineup.
Entering the postseason, it looked as though starting pitching would be the Dodgers' biggest strength. But while they threw the ball well for the most part in the NLDS, it was their offense that captured the headlines, as they got good production from up and down the lineup.
With the exception of Skip Schumaker, who was filling in for the injured Andre Ethier, the entire Dodgers lineup put up terrific numbers in their NLDS matchup with what was a very good pitching team in the Braves.
In their seven games against the Cardinals during the regular season, the Dodgers hit a solid .280/.359/.393 with 30 runs, taking the season series 4-3.
If they can stay hot and can pair their dynamic rotation with a high-powered offense, the Dodgers will be virtually unstoppable and likely on their way to a World Series appearance.
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