It seems only fitting that the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals will meet in the 2013 National League Championship Series. For the majority of the regular season, they were the best teams in baseball. St. Louis’ 97 wins were tied for the MLB lead, and L.A. has been the best team since June.
On Friday night, the two clubs will continue their run towards the World Series. The Cardinals have home-field advantage.
St. Louis has reached the last three NLCS’s, but Los Angeles may be more experienced where it counts. In Game One, the Dodgers will send Zack Greinke to the mound against Joe Kelly. While Greinke has been in the Majors for 10 years, Kelly has only made 32 career starts. Including the postseason, the 25-year-old has appeared in 38 games this year, including 22 out of the bullpen. He became a fixture in the rotation after the All-Star break, registering a 1.91 ERA.
‘‘You could be laid off for eight days and come out and play absolutely the best baseball you've ever done,’’ Kelly said, who hasn’t pitched since Game Three of the NLDS against the Pirates. ‘‘You could come out and play the next day and not have a good game. This is all about execution.’’
Through one year of Greinke’s $147 million contract, the Dodgers don’t appear to be having any regrets. The veteran went 15-4 with a 2.63 ERA, making it the best year of his career, since he won the Cy Young award in 2009. Now, he’ll have to prove he can match that level of performance when it counts the most. In 2011, the only other time he appeared in the playoffs, Greinke had a 6.48 ERA. The NLDS saw him give up two runs in six innings in a losing effort to the Atlanta Braves.
Half of the Cardinals postseason rotation, which includes rookie Michael Wacha, has never been in this position before. The rest of the club, though, has plenty of postseason experience. St. Louis’ top hitters have had a lot of success against Greinke in the past. The Cardinals roster is hitting a combined .301 in 113 career at-bats against the Dodgers pitcher. Carlos Beltran is only 1-7, but he might be the best performer in postseason history.
Andre Ethier was only used sparingly in the NLDS against the Braves because of an ankle injury, picking up one walk in four pinch-hit appearances. Manager Don Mattingly would not rule out the 31-year-old playing centerfield in Game One.
"Whatever role they need, I want to figure out how I can contribute more," Ethier said. "Pinch hitting is obviously a big role, and you can make a big impact, coming off the bench and getting a big hit. But I feel like I can do well on defense, too, playing center field. I felt like I did that well all year. And that's probably the most frustrating part.
The Cardinals are playing in their first game since Wednesday. The Dodgers haven’t stepped on the field in four days.
Start Time: 8:37 p.m. ET
Betting Odds: Los Angeles-128, St. Louis+118
TV Channel: TBS
Live Stream: Postseason.TV
Prediction: St. Louis 4, Los Angeles 2