2013 NLCS Preview and Predictions From WhatIfSports.com image

Dodgers thump Cards, advance to World Series

Simulation engine predicts Dodgers will make easy work of Cardinals en route to Fall Classic

WhatIfSports.com
October 11, 2013

Using our MLB simulation engine we "played" the Los Angeles Dodgers versus the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 best-of-seven National League Championship Series 101 times.

In the table below, you will find each team's chances of advancing to the World Series and how often they win in 4, 5, 6 or 7 games. The most likely scenario is the Dodgers beating the Cardinals in five games 36.6 percent of the time.

NLCS 101 Simulations of Best-of-7 Series
MatchupWin%4-Games%5-Games%6-Games%7-Games%
Dodgers88.116.836.621.812.9
Cardinals11.92.01.04.04.9

No two franchises encapsulate the Senior Circuit like the Cardinals and Dodgers. Between St. Louis and Los Angeles, the National League pennant has been won 39 times, with the Redbirds boasting 11 World Championships to their credit versus six for the Boys in Blue. Fitting, then, that these two squads will battle it out for a ticket to this year's Fall Classic.

The Dodgers had the fewest wins of any division winner in 2013, yet don't misconstrue this as belittlement of the Blue Crew. The Los Angeles club won 60 of its last 88 ballgames and flaunted a league-best 2.75 ERA in the second half of the season. The starting rotation was anchored by Clayton Kershaw, who rode his devastating curveball to a 1.83 ERA and 0.92 WHIP, both MLB-lows, this summer. Kershaw was accompanied by offseason acquisitions Zack Greinke, who finished with a 2.63 ERA and 1.11 WHIP despite missing time to a shoulder injury, and Hyun-jin Ryu, a rookie from South Korea who dazzled in his debut season (3.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in 30 starts). Coupled with bullpen virtuoso Kenley Jansen (0.86 WHIP, 1.88 ERA in 75 appearances) and complementary arms in J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez, the Dodgers have arguably the best top-to-bottom staff in the game.

Not that pitching was the sole catalyst for this turn around. After sputtering in the first two months of the year, the offense scored the third-most runs in the National League after the All-Star break. This awakening was spurred by the call-up of Cuban defector Yasiel Puig (.319 average, 19 homers, 66 runs, .391 OBP in 104 games) and the return from injury of Hanley Ramirez (.345 average, 20 homers, 57 RBI, .402 OBP in 86 contests). Puig especially was vital in compensating for the absence of Matt Kemp, who battled injuries for most of the season.

The Cardinals can empathize with the Dodgers on the reinforcement front. The St. Louis arms were riddled with ailments this season, starting with the loss of staff veteran Chris Carpenter. After battling injuries for most of 2012, Jamie Garcia succumbed to shoulder woes. Jake Westbrook dealt with various strains throughout the season, and reigning NL saves leader Jason Motte underwent Tommy John surgery in late May. Lady luck was not exactly wishing the Cards a prosperous journey.

In spite of these afflictions, St. Louis finished the regular season with the second-best starter ERA at a 3.42 mark. The steady presence of ace Adam Wainwright kept the Cards afloat with 19 wins, a 2.94 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. Also contributing were 22-year-old Shelby Miller (3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP), Joe Kelly (10 wins, 2.69 ERA) and rookie Michael Wacha, who delivered a gem in Game 4 of the Divisional series. Though their arsenal is comprised of youth, the St. Louis pitchers pack a mighty punch.

Of course, owning the most feared lineup in the league doesn't hurt, either. The Cardinals lead the NL in runs scored this year, led by the breakout campaign of Matt Carpenter (.318 average, .392 OBP, 55 doubles, 126 runs) and the powerful stick of Matt Holliday (.300 average, 22 homers, 94 ribbies). There's no such thing as an easy out when the Redbirds are up to bat.

But enough of this chatter. Who emerges victorious to claim a spot in the World Series? Let's go to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com baseball simulation engine and find out:

Game 1 Sample Box Score
TeamsRHEWIS Interactive
Dodgers9120Boxscore
Cardinals280Simulate Game

Starting pitching was a strength for this Cardinals club, evidenced in the performances of Wacha and Wainwright in the final two games of the NLDS. Alas, this good fortune did not carry over to Kelly, as the Dodgers rocked the St. Louis starter for six runs through four innings on the way to a 9-2 beatdown.

Adrian Gonzalez got the ball rolling for L.A. in the first with an RBI single, driving in Puig (who reached off a plunked pitch). Gonzo was in the middle of the Dodgers' run in the third, as Kelly surrendered a bases-loaded walk to A.J. Ellis. Los Angeles' other Ellis, Mark, followed with a two-run single to right, bringing the score to 4-0. Back-to-back RBI hits from Andre Ethier and Juan Uribe sent Kelly to the showers, and bestowed more than enough support for Dodgers pitcher Greinke. The former Cy Young winner went seven innings strong, giving up just two runs while striking out six.

Game 2 Sample Box Score
TeamsRHEWIS Interactive
Dodgers12171Boxscore
Cardinals051Simulate Game

As marvelous as Kershaw has been in 2013, perhaps no cannon is hotter than Wacha, who enters the NLCS with a scant two hits surrendered in his last 16 innings. Apparently the Dodgers' Han-Ram and Puig are the water to his flame, as the duo combined for six hits and four ribbies to give Los Angeles a 2-0 lead in the series.

Wacha navigated the first two innings unscathed, but allowed two runs in the third off a Ramirez double and a Gonzalez single, and was shelled in the fourth for six runs, effectively putting the Cards out of reach. For the second consecutive game, this substantial run production was unnecessary, as Kershaw illustrated why he's the favorite for the Cy Young, holding St. Louis to five hits in a shutout performance. Though it's just two outings, the Cardinals are all types of discombobulated and need to get back on track in a hurry.

Game 3 Sample Box Score
TeamsRHEWIS Interactive
Cardinals270Boxscore
Dodgers171Simulate Game

Ryu kept his part of the bargain, following in the footsteps of Greinke and Kershaw with seven innings of one-run ball, but a ninth-inning bomb from Carpenter off Brian Wilson sealed the deal for the Cards, with St. Louis coming out on top 2-1 in Game 3.

Wainwright lived up to his billing as head of the rotation, keeping the Dodgers at bay through six innings. With the game tied at zero in the seventh, Ramirez booted a routine grounder from Carlos Beltran, conceding a run to St. Louis. After Carpenter's jack in the ninth, the Dodgers mustered a rally of their own thanks to a Gonzalez solo shot. Unfortunately, L.A. could manage no more off closer Edward Mujica, giving the game to the Cards.

Game 4 Sample Box Score
TeamsRHEWIS Interactive
Cardinals190Boxscore
Dodgers7120Simulate Game

Judging by the scoreboard, it appears the Dodgers ate their Wheaties before Game 4. Ricky Nolasco continued the mound dexterity for the City of Angels while Puig stayed hot with the lumber, equating to a 7-1 win for Los Angeles and leaving the Dodgers just a game away from the World Series.

In his first 12 games with the Dodgers following his arrival from Miami, Nolasco was lights-out, posting a 2.07 ERA in 74 innings. His last four appearances? Not so much, yielding 19 runs (17 earned) in 13 innings. Nevertheless, Nolasco was able to put these demons aside and deliver on the big stage, permitting a lone run with eight punch-outs. His adversary, Lance Lynn, did not experience the same providence, going seven innings but allowing seven runs in the process. Puig collected two more hits to raise his series average to .533, and Uribe added two more RBI to give him five runs through four games.

If St. Louis hopes to mount a comeback, the heart of the lineup will need to be resuscitated, as Holliday (.143 average in the series), Yadier Molina (.188 average) and Jon Jay (.077 average) are struggling mightily.

Game 5 Sample Box Score
TeamsRHEWIS Interactive
Cardinals5140Boxscore
Dodgers9130Simulate Game

Give credit where credit is due. The Cardinals did not go quietly into the night, with the bats waking up to knock Greinke around for five early runs. Sadly for St. Louis fans, this would not be enough firepower, as a five-run seventh drives the Dodgers into the Fall Classic with a 9-5 series-clinching victory.

Kelly and Miller could not hold down the fort for Mike Matheny, as the pair was rocked for eight runs in six innings. Ramirez, Gonzalez, Ethier and Uribe each contributed two RBI in the winning effort, while the Dodgers bullpen put forth three scoreless innings. Beltran's three ribbies and Carpenter's three hits for the Cards went for naught.

Check back to WhatIfSports.com during the World Series to see if the Dodgers capture their seventh ring in franchise history.

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Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at jbeall@whatifsports.com.

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