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Dodgers vs. Cardinals: Keys to Each Team Winning NLCS Game 2

Chris StephensCorrespondent IIOctober 12, 2013

Dodgers vs. Cardinals: Keys to Each Team Winning NLCS Game 2

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Saturday is Game 2 of the NLCS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals, and if Game 1 was any indication, it's going to be a great one.

    The Cardinals took Game 1 by a score of 3-2 n 13 innings Friday, getting the series off to an exciting start. It was a big win, and the Cardinals maintain home-field advantage.

    Now, both need to improve on some things before Game 2 on Saturday. Each team has certain things that need to go its way if it wants to come out on top.

    Here's a look at three keys for each team heading into Game 2.

     

    Note: All stats obtained from ESPN unless otherwise noted.

Cardinals' Key: Don't Let Hanley Ramirez Beat You

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Hanley Ramirez was great at beating the Atlanta Braves during the divisional round. But the Cardinals didn't really give him a chance to do that in Game 1 of the NLCS, as they walked him three times.

    Sure, you're putting a man on base, but the way Ramirez has been swinging the bat lately, you'd rather it be someone else beating you.

    Ramirez was dominant all year (when he was healthy), batting .345 with 20 home runs and 57 RBI in 86 games. But his monthly numbers tell the biggest story:

    MonthAvg.HRRBIOBP
    June.375517.414
    July.365517.421
    August.254411.293
    September.370511.462
    Postseason.44416.583

    *Note: April and May aren't included due to injuries, which limited him to 11 total at-bats in those two months.

     

    While August was a little bit of an off month for Ramirez, he got things going again in September and it carried over into the postseason.

    Friday's outing doesn't advocate walking him every time, but the Cardinals need to pick the right times to go after him. 

    The Cardinals can't let Ramirez beat them. That could be dangerous considering Adrian Gonzalez (batting .350 in the postseason) is behind him in the lineup. However, Ramirez has already proven to be a killer at the plate in October. 

Dodgers' Key: Get into Cardinals Bullpen Early

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    While both teams went deep into their bullpens in Game 1, the Dodgers hold the advantage with Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in the game, going for them in Game 2. He is expected to go at least seven innings.

    However, Michael Wacha is a different story, as he is considered a wild card. Wacha may have only given up one hit and one run in Game 4 of the NLDS, but he also only has 10 MLB starts to his name.

    Wacha's inexperience is something the Dodgers need to take advantage of. It's that same kind of thing they capitalized on against the Braves and Julio Teheran in Game 3 of the NLDS.

    There's no doubt Wacha's a great pitcher, but he hasn't faced the likes of Ramirez and Gonzalez, both proven hitters throughout their careers.

    If the Dodgers can get to Wacha early and get into the bullpen, that will be two games in a row where the Cardinals would have to go deep with their relievers. L.A. would not only create an advantage for itself in Game 2, but for the rest of the series.

Cardinals' Key: Michael Wacha Has to Go At Least 7 Innings

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    With the previous slide in mind, Wacha has to go at least seven innings, not only for the sake of Game 2, but for the rest of the series.

    There's no doubt Wacha is a great pitcher, as evident by his performance in Game 4 of the NLDS. But there's a major difference between facing the Pittsburgh lineup and the Los Angeles lineup. Here's how they compared during the regular season:

    TeamAvg.HRXBHOBPRBI
    Pirates.245161469.313603
    Dodgers.264138436.326618

    Now, you may be looking at the power numbers and saying the Pirates are a lot better. And in that category, they were. 

    However, as we saw in both divisional series, it's not about the long ball as much as it is about manufacturing runs. Sure, the long ball won Game 4 for the Dodgers, but they manufactured a lot of runs the rest of the series, which allowed them to win.

    The Dodgers lineup seems a lot tougher and has more guys who can get on base. Regardless of what happens, Wacha can't get flustered and make the same kind of mistakes rookies tend to make on the mound in big games.

Dodgers' Key: Carl Crawford Must Score a Run

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    A little-known fact is that the Dodgers have a better chance of winning if Carl Crawford scores at least one run than they do if he doesn't score a run.

    In games he started, the Dodgers were 37-17 when he scored at least one run, including the playoffs. In games he started but scored no runs, the Dodgers went 33-32.

    While the Dodgers only have four more wins in games he scored, the winning percentage is a lot better.

    It may not seem like much for one player to score, but you must also remember that Crawford is at the top of the lineup setting the table for guys like Ramirez and Gonzalez. If he's not getting on base (along with the No. 2 hitter), that's hindering both Ramirez's and Gonzalez's ability to drive in runs.

    Crawford has to be the table-setter at the top of the lineup, whether he takes a walk or hits the ball to the area of the field where it's pitched.

    When he did it on Friday, he had opportunities to score. Now, actually scoring is a different story, as we saw when he was thrown out at home on a grounder back to the pitcher in the third inning.

Cardinals' Key: Matt Carpenter Has to Get on Base

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Matt Carpenter got a hit and scored a run for the Cardinals in Game 1, but it's not enough. In fact, this whole postseason hasn't been enough for Carpenter at the plate.

    In the NLDS, he was 1-for-19 at the top of the Cardinals' order. That's simply not going to cut it with guys like Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday behind him.

    Carpenter already has eight strikeouts this postseason, which is too many for a leadoff hitter.

    The Cardinals were lucky to come out of Game 1 with a win, but Game 2 will be a different story with Kershaw on the mound. Carpenter can't afford to get into the mindset that the guys behind him will still get the job done.

    With a guy like Kershaw throwing, nothing is a guarantee at the plate. You have to take what you can get, and for Carpenter, there's a lot he's left on the table.

Dodgers' Key: Clayton Kershaw Putting Struggles vs. St. Louis Behind Him

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Kershaw has dominated almost everyone this year, but he's struggled with the Cardinals. Here's how he's done against St. Louis this year in two games, both of which were losses:

    DateIPERHBBSO
    May 267.04735
    Aug. 66.02625

    The biggest number that stands out is only five strikeouts in each contest. In 14 of his 33 starts, Kershaw had at least eight strikeouts. So, to see him only get five both times against the Cardinals is a surprise.

    In his one start against them in 2012, he was much worse, giving up eight runs in 5.2 innings on July 24.

    Kershaw has to put these bad games behind him and be the dominant pitcher we saw him be in Games 1 and 4 of the NLDS.

    Does the Dodgers' ace feel concerned about these numbers? As expected, that is not at all the case (h/t to MLB.com):

    Asked Friday if he recalled anything noteworthy about the two regular-season games he lost to the Cardinals this year, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw concluded his brief reply by saying, "No, not really."

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