Ranking the 10 Best Storylines of the 2013 ALCS, NLCS
The 2013 League Championship Series round has begun, with the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals kicking things off in the NL on Friday, and the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers set to get things started on the AL side on Saturday.
There is no shortage of intriguing matchups in those two series, and before the World Series kicks off there will no doubt be a few more postseason heroes who emerge on both sides.
So here is a look at 10 of the best storylines to watch for in both the ALCS and NLCS as we move ever closer to the 2013 Fall Classic.
10. ALCS: David Ortiz Owns the Tigers and October
Few hitters have put together a better October resume than Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, as he enters the ALCS with a .288/.397/.541 line to go along with 14 home runs and 50 RBI in 70 postseason games.
Those numbers don't quite tell the whole story, though, as he has come through with clutch hits time and again for the Red Sox in the postseason, and he'll be looking to do it again this season.
He enjoyed another solid regular season, hitting .309/.395/.564 with 30 home runs and 103 RBI, and that was followed by a terrific ALDS as he went 5-for-13 with a double and two home runs.
The Tigers pitching staff is certainly talented, but Ortiz was great against them in the regular season, hitting .357/.419/.821 with four home runs and seven RBI in 28 at-bats, and he'll look to continue that success against Detroit and in October in this year's ALCS.
9. NLCS: Can Matt Carpenter Get It Going Atop the Cardinals Lineup?
There may have been no bigger breakout star this season than Matt Carpenter in St. Louis, as the former utility man stepped into an everyday role at second base and atop the Cardinals lineup, and he turned in an MVP-caliber season.
All told, the 27-year-old finished the regular season with a .318/.392/.481 line while leading all of baseball in hits (199), runs (126) and doubles (55) as he was a fantastic catalyst for the Cardinals' veteran lineup all season.
He came through with a big two-run home run in Game 3 of the NLCS last season in place of an injured Carlos Beltran, but things have not gone as well so far this postseason.
Carpenter was just 1-for-19 in the NLDS, walking once and striking out six times, and the Cardinals will need him to turn things around in the NLCS.
8. ALCS: Will Torii Hunter Finally Reach the World Series?
Set to hit free agency at the end of last season, Torii Hunter was reportedly willing to take a pay cut to stay with the Los Angeles Angels, according to Mike DiGiovanna of the LA Times.
It was not to be, though, and he wound up being one of the first free agents off the market when he agreed to a two-year, $26 million deal with the Tigers on November 16.
The 38-year-old Hunter currently ranks ninth among active players in games played at 2,091, and only Miguel Tejada has played more games (2,171) than him among active players without appearing in a World Series.
Hunter went to four postseasons with the Twins and two with the Angels, twice reaching the ALCS, and he'll be looking to finally get over the hump and make it to the Fall Classic this time around.
7. NLCS: How Big of a Factor Can a Healthy Andre Ethier Be?
The Dodgers have four terrific outfielders on their roster, but very rarely this season have all four of them been healthy at once, and the postseason has been no different.
With Matt Kemp sidelined for the entire postseason and Andre Ethier battling an ankle injury, Skip Schumaker was penciled in as the starting center fielder in all four games of the team's NLDS series. He went 3-for-13 at the plate and was one of the few weak spots in the team's lineup.
Ether was limited to pinch-hitting duties in that series, going 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout, but he was in the starting lineup in center field for Game 1 of the NLCS.
The Cardinals rotation is made up of all right-handed pitchers, and getting Ethier's left-handed power bat back in the lineup could be a huge addition for the Dodgers if he's healthy enough to produce.
6. ALCS: Can John Lackey Win on the Road?
The Red Sox have flipped their Game 2 and Game 3 starters from the ALDS to the ALCS, as Clay Buchholz will take the ball for Game 2 in Boston and John Lackey gets the nod for Game 3 in Detroit.
That is significant for Lackey, as he was 6-3 with a dazzling 2.47 ERA at home this season but just 4-10 with a 4.48 ERA on the road. He earned the win in Game 2 of the ALDS in Boston but didn't pitch great, allowing seven hits and four runs in 5.1 innings of work.
In six career starts at Comerica Park, Lackey is 4-1 with a 3.82 ERA, and he faced the Tigers in Detroit once this season, going seven innings and allowing seven hits and two runs in a no-decision.
The decision to flip-flop those two guys in the rotation is the biggest change the Red Sox made heading into the ALCS, and it will be interesting to see how that decision plays out.
5. NLCS: Will Dodgers' Bullpen Roster Moves Work Out?
The Dodgers made a pair of tweaks to their roster from the NLDS round to the NLCS, removing left-handers Paco Rodriguez and Chris Capuano in favor of righties Carlos Marmol and Edinson Volquez.
The decision to drop Rodriguez was a relatively easy one, despite his terrific rookie season. The 22-year-old had a 1.88 ERA in 64 appearances heading into September, but he went 0-2 with a 5.68 ERA in 12 appearances over the season's final month.
Those struggles continued in the NLDS, as he allowed four hits and two runs in 0.2 innings of work over two appearances. Meanwhile, Marmol turned things around after coming over from the Chicago Cubs, with a 2.53 ERA and 11.4 K/9 in 21 appearances for the Dodgers.
The removal of Capuano was a head-scratcher, though. The veteran southpaw threw three scoreless innings in relief of Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 3 of the NLDS to earn the victory, and given the fact that the Cardinals hit just .238 against lefties on the season, he looked like a candidate to earn the Game 4 start.
Instead, the team opted to go with Volquez, who had a 5.71 ERA on the season and a 4.18 ERA in six games (five starts) after joining the Dodgers. He posted a 6.55 ERA in two starts against the Cardinals this season.
4. NLCS: What Will Adam Wainwright Do Far an Encore?
After missing all of 2011 with Tommy John surgery, Adam Wainwright was not his usual dominant self at times in his return to the mound in 2012, and that was never more evident than in Game 5 of last year's NLDS.
Facing the Washington Nationals with a trip to the NLCS on the line, Wainwright surrendered seven hits and six runs in 2.1 innings of work, though the Cardinals did manage to come away with the victory.
The big right-hander found himself in the same situation this year, facing the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 5 this past Wednesday. He made the most of the opportunity this time around, scattering eight hits and one run in a complete-game victory.
He'll take the ball in Game 3 of the NLCS and therefore won't get the chance to square off against Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke, but that could prove to be a pivotal game nonetheless as he looks to duplicate his NLDS success.
3. ALCS: The Re-Emergence of Justin Verlander as a Bona Fide Ace
After signing a seven-year, $180 million extension in the offseason, Justin Verlander turned in a subpar season by his standards, going 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA while pitching just 218.1 innings, his lowest total since 2008.
He finished the year strong, posting a 2.27 ERA in six September starts, and he was particularly good in his final two outings, throwing 12 scoreless innings and striking out 22.
That late-season momentum carried over into the ALDS, as Verlander threw 15 scoreless innings in his two starts, striking out 21 and allowing just six hits.
With Max Scherzer emerging as one of the best pitchers in the game this season, if Verlander can keep it up, the Tigers could have the deadliest one-two punch in all of baseball looking ahead to the ALCS and beyond.
2. NLCS: Can Cardinals' Young Starters Hold Their Own Against Dodgers' Studs?
With Wainwright throwing Game 5 of the NLDS, it falls to Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha to square off against Greinke and Kershaw in the NLCS, at least the first time through the rotation.
Kelly more than held his own in Game 1, allowing six hits and two runs in six innings of work, as he departed with the game tied 2-2. Greinke was even better, allowing four hits and two runs with 10 strikeouts in eight innings of work, though both wound up with a no-decision.
Wacha was brilliant with the Cardinals facing elimination in Game 4 of the NLDS, throwing 7.1 innings of no-hit ball before giving up a solo home run to Pedro Alvarez to come away with the win.
However, Kershaw showed why he remains the game's best pitcher with his NLDS performance, going 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA and allowing just six hits with 18 strikeouts in 13 innings of work.
That matchup of youth versus experience (though Kershaw is actually the same age as Kelly) will likely be the single biggest deciding factor in this NLCS showdown.
1. ALCS: Which Offense Will Reign Supreme?
During the regular season, the Red Sox hit .277 as a team and led all of baseball with 853 runs scored, while the Tigers led MLB with a .283 average as a team and ranked second to the Red Sox with 796 runs scored.
Now those two teams square off in the ALCS, and while the old adage is that pitching wins championships, it may be a matter of which team can pile up more runs in this series.
Both teams boast veteran rotations, though the Tigers probably have the better staff top to bottom, but slowing down these offensive attacks will be no small feat for either side.