NLCS game day: Respect the Dodgers, but don't fear them

NLCS game day: Respect the Dodgers, but don't fear them

Credit: Getty Images

Yasiel Puig #66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a single off of Joe Kelly #58 of the St. Louis Cardinals during the sixth inning at Busch Stadium on August 6, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

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by Mike Bailey / BaseballStL

KMOV.com

Posted on October 11, 2013 at 9:35 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 11 at 2:30 PM

(BaseballStL) -- In baseball hell, the Cardinals would play the Pittsburgh Pirates every day for eternity. 

It seems like they did just that already.

But we are in self-proclaimed baseball heaven, not hell, and thus we are playing the Dodgers from the City of Angels.

So here’s some perspective on the series.

The Dodgers are not the Pirates, meaning they hit a whole lot better than the sub-Mendoza line performance logged by the Bucs in the five-game series. 

Fans think of a power hitting as home runs, but power in baseball is defined by the ability to split the outfielders, called gap power. Unlike most of the Pirates, the Dodgers have power. Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and of course Adrian Gonzalez have the kind of power that can turn a two-out walk into a blow-out.

How do you defeat that? Two ways. First, have a great defense and the Cardinals do. The Cardinals turned three double plays against the Pirates Wednesday and thus killed rallies in one third of the innings. John Jay will have to play a little deeper to cover the gaps and protect Matt Holliday. Pete Kozma picked a wonderful time to start hitting because his defense in the clincher against the Pirates was demoralizing and we will need that. And there will be no running game for the Dodgers with Yadi behind the plate. That means we can mitigate the impact of back-back doubles by making the routine plays and seizing every opportunity to wipe out rallies. 

Secondly, pitchers will have to accept the Dodgers will pressure them all game so it becomes imperative they get ahead and stay ahead. Batters hit about 100 points less when they trail in the count. That’s why the best pitch in baseball is strike one. Once ahead, you don’t have to throw strikes to get outs.  

The Cards played the Pirates 24 times so neither team had any secrets. The Cardinals only played the Dodgers seven times, once when the Dodgers were struggling and once when the Redbirds were. So throw out those stats and don’t get too twisted that Joe Kelly gave up 11 hits when he threw against LA earlier this year. 

The Dodgers should be respected but not feared. Like the Cards, they overcame several injuries to key players. But unlike the Redbirds, they played good baseball for just two months and under .500 the rest of the time. After going 42-12 in July and August, they were just 12-15 in September, largely because they were not pushed like the Cardinals were.

When a team successfully navigates crucial games night after night and survives a pair of elimination games, there accrues a sense of focus and an almost fatalistic desperation to survive just one more day that does not compare to success easily gained. 

Some call that experience but it is not the same thing. When experience means familiarity, it has little value. The Atlanta Braves made the playoffs 14 of 15 straight years but won only one world series. The Cardinals have the “or-else” experience that breeds faith. It means they may not win it, but they won’t lose it.

The last factor is an intangible and thus cannot be quantified. It is the deep connection Cardinal players have with each other that transcends baseball. Adam Wainwright stood before the team Wednesday night and told them he loved them. He meant that in a way that can only be understood by those who have spent a portion of their lives with people for whom they have developed a deep respect. 

The Cardinals are not a group of mercenaries; free agents with big contracts slapped together with the sole purpose of winning a championship before their next contract takes them somewhere else. These guys truly are that proverbial Band of Brothers. They share a collective conviction that the whole is much greater than just the sum of the parts. 

That doesn’t mean victory is guaranteed.

But it does mean feral resolve is.

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