By: Michael Martinez - FOX Sports West
1. Starting lineup
Both teams are strong offensively, not because of their power but because of their depth. The Cardinals finished second in the National League in team batting (.269) and had five hitters in the top 14, led by MVP candidate Yadier Molina (.319) and second baseman Matt Carpenter (.318). But St. Louis lacked punch in its division series win over the Pirates, hitting just .209. Carpenter struggled through a 1-for-19 (.053) series, and third baseman David Freese was 3 for 16 (.188). Conversely, the Dodgers, who finished third in the NL during the regular season (.264), hit .333 against the Braves and totaled 18 extra-base hits in the NLDS. Hanley Ramirez (.500), Yasiel Puig (.471) and Juan Uribe (.375) led the offense, and Carl Crawford (.353) transformed himself into a deep threat, delivering three home runs in four games.
THE EDGE: Dodgers
By defeating Atlanta in four games, the Dodgers were able to set up their rotation to their liking. Zack Greinke will start Game 1 on Friday, with ace Clayton Kershaw set to pitch Game 2, followed by left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu and possibly Ricky Nolasco, who struggled late. The Cardinals will open with Joe Kelly and save ace Adam Wainwright for Game 3 in LA. Rookie Michael Wacha, so superb in throwing a one-hitter over 7 1/3 innings on Monday, will face Kershaw in Game 2. The Dodgers should feel good with left-handers Kershaw and Ryu on the mound since St. Louis hit .238 against lefties during the regular season, ranking third worst in the NL.
THE EDGE: Dodgers
The Dodgers' major concern is the seventh-inning bridge to their bullpen. Rookie left-hander Paco Rodriguez and Ronald Belisario faded down the stretch and in the team's NLDS win over Atlanta, perhaps from overwork. But lefty J.P. Howell, setup man Brian Wilson and closer Kenley Jansen remain rock solid. The Cards look formidable as well with rookies Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal strong in the eighth and ninth. Rosenthal took over for Edward Mujica, who pitched himself out of the closer's role with an 11.05 ERA in September. St. Louis relievers held the Pirates to a .194 average in their five-game series.
THE EDGE: Even
Neither team's bench played a major factor in their just-completed series. The Dodgers have veterans Nick Punto, Michael Young and perhaps Jerry Hairston Jr. as bench players, but look for Scott Van Slyke to get an opportunity if the Dodgers need some power in the late innings. Andre Ethier could go from pinch-hitter to starting center fielder if his left ankle improves. The Cardinals were the league's worst pinch-hitting team during the regular season, hitting .201, and were 0 for 4 in the NLDS against the Pirates. Left-handed-hitting Kolten Wong could be a factor.
THE EDGE: Dodgers
The Cardinals and Dodgers are the NL's most storied franchises, but St. Louis is making its third consecutive trip to the NLCS while the Dodgers haven't been here since 2009. St. Louis' Mike Matheny is one of the league's most astute managers and beat the Pirates with 10 rookies on his roster. The Dodgers have been on a magic carpet ride since June, finding ways to win that border on the improbable. Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly made a couple of mistakes in his team's victory over the Braves, something he can't afford against St. Louis. But with Kershaw and Greinke, he always has an edge.
THE EDGE: Cardinals
Dodgers in six.