The 2013 National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals will be decided by starting pitching.
Make no mistake, the team that gets the most of its starters will have the best shot at representing the National League in the World Series.
Coming into the series, Los Angeles seems to have a slight edge in its rotation over St. Louis. The Dodgers pitching staff ranked second in baseball with a 3.25 ERA. They were tied for third in WHIP—1.23—and third in opposing team batting average at .243.
Los Angeles can also count on perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw, who has emerged as the best starter in baseball after his stellar 2013 season.
On the other hand, St. Louis was fifth in the National League in ERA at 3.42. They held opposing teams to a .244 batting average and struck out 1,294 batters, which ranks fifth in the league.
Adam Wainwright is the bonafide and proven ace of the Cardinals' staff, and his postseason experience will be an unquestionable boost.
While the pre-series edge slightly favors the Dodgers, both teams can look toward their starting rotation as a key element to moving on to the World Series.
The Los Angeles Dodgers
Game 1: Zack Greinke—RHP
Game 2: Clayton Kershaw—LHP
Game 3: Hyun-Jin Ryu—LHP (predicted)
Game 4: Ricky Nolasco—RHP (predicted)
The Dodgers will kick off the NLCS with two Cy Young award winners in Greinke and Kershaw. That is a tough challenge for any team having to face both arms.
Greinke finished the 2013 regular season with a 15-4 record and a 2.63 ERA while Kershaw was even more dominant. His numbers included a 16-9 record along with a league-leading 1.89 ERA. His 8.14 WAR (wins above replacement) also led the league.
Yet Kershaw's career numbers against St. Louis are not particularly inspiring. He has a 4-5 record against the Cardinals in 12 starts, and Kershaw's ERA versus St. Louis is 3.75. Based on those numbers alone, the Cardinals can beat him.
The Cardinals' likely approach will be defeating at least one of Los Angeles' first two starters. A 1-1 series would bode well, considering the arms St. Louis had to face. A road split over the first two games also plays into the Dodgers' hands as well.
The back end of the Dodgers' playoff rotation is slightly more vulnerable, although not by much.
Ryu could be in the discussion for the NL Rookie of the Year award, but his focus needs to be on the postseason. In spite of a commendable regular season, Ryu struggled in his postseason debut against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS where he gave up six hits and four earned runs over three innings.
The big question is how he will handle the added pressure and a talented Cardinals' lineup.
Nolasco figures to be the weakest member of the Dodgers' postseason rotation, although his 3.70 regular season ERA is anything but weak.
His 3.84 ERA against St. Louis is something to keep an eye on, however. In addition, Cardinals' slugger Carlos Beltran owns a .340 batting average against Nolasco, so that matchup will be something to watch.
The St. Louis Cardinals
Game 1: Joe Kelly—RHP
Game 2: Michael Wacha—RHP
Game 3: Adam Wainwright—RHP
Game 4: Lance Lynn—RHP (predicted)
St. Louis' postseason rotation may not be as dominant as that of Los Angeles, but it is just as effective. Comparing both teams' ERA indicates this.
The Cardinals lose the advantage of starting Wainwright in Game 1 thanks to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who took them to five games in the NLDS. As such, St. Louis will have to start off the series with Kelly.
Kelly defeated Kershaw already this season and will carry his 2.69 regular season ERA over into the NLCS.
It is worth noting, however, that Kelly has been more effective on the road in 2013 compared to at Busch Stadium. At home, Kelly has a 3.29 ERA compared to a 2.09 ERA on the road. That could be a vital factor, considering Game 1 will be played in St. Louis.
Wacha, the likely Game 2 starter, will probably face Kershaw, and that will be no easy task. Yet Wacha fended off the Pirates in Game 4 on the road, so hopefully that momentum carries over for St. Louis.
As far as Wainwright is concerned, he will likely match up against Ryu on the road in Los Angeles for Game 3.
The Cardinals' ace owns a 5.16 ERA in five starts at Dodger Stadium, so the advantage of having Wainwright on the mound is not as clear-cut as it may appear. Still, all regular-season statistics can go out the window in the playoffs, and St. Louis is hoping that is the case.
At the back end of the rotation, the Cardinals can count on either Lance Lynn or Shelby Miller.
Both Lynn and Miller performed well over this season, yet Lynn gets the edge over Miller for the final postseason starting job thanks to his better numbers against Los Angeles—Lynn has a career 2.50 ERA in three starts against the Dodgers compared to Miller's 4.26 ERA in two starts.
As such, Miller will likely be relegated to a spot starter and may enter a game as a long reliever.
This series will likely favor the road teams, considering many of the pitching matchups that we will probably see.
While St. Louis commands home-field advantage and will enjoy Games 1 and 2 along with Games 6 and 7 at home, the Dodgers should be able to spoil the advantage by splitting the first two games at Busch Stadium.
Defeating both Greinke and Kershaw will be a tough task for the Cardinals.
Kelly will likely pitch better at home in Game 1 compared to Game 5. While Greinke is a tough opponent, his best games have been at Dodger Stadium. Look for those matchups to be split between those two starters.
Los Angeles will hope that they can get two wins out of Kershaw. St. Louis knows they will have their hands full with the 2011 Cy Young winner and will hope that they can get the better of him in at least one of the likely two games he will pitch.
Wainwright's struggles in Los Angeles have also been noted, and the only benefit to him starting Game 3 is that he is facing Ryu who has not fared well thus far into the postseason. Yet the Dodgers could still get the better of him at home. Still, Wainwright on the mound for Game 7 is a solid plus for St. Louis.
The matchup between Lynn and Nolasco is also worth noting. Lynn's numbers suggest a slight edge over Nolasco, which could prove to be an advantage for the Cardinals.
While Los Angeles' starting rotation appears as the early favorite, the Cardinals can boast a rotation that can equal the task even if they are not as heralded.
Based on these elements, my conclusion is the Cardinals take the NLCS in seven games.
The Dodgers have the more-heralded rotation while the Cardinals have more postseason experience. Which rotation gets the best out of its opponent will be a vital factor in deciding this series.
As any predictions are concerned however, the results are yet to be determined.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.
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