Wednesday, October 12, 2005

NLCS Preview

If not for last year's ridiculous ALCS, the 7-game 2004 NLCS between St. Louis and Houston would have been remembered in popular perception as one for the ages. It was, but most people don't think of it, especially since the Cards were swept out of the World Series. The two teams have achance to do it again this year, with both sides fielding dissimilar, yet very evenly matched squads.

Lineup
Berkman and Ensberg provided most of the offense against Atlanta, and will have to do the same against St. Louis. Both should be able to hit all of the Cards' pitchers, even Carpenter. It will be critical for Taveras and Biggio to get on base to maximize the damage. St. Louis is still St. Louis, and Reggie Sanders waking up makes them all the more formidable. The series may rest on players like Sanders and Jason Lane of Houston. A hot week from a role players could tip the balance, much like Sanders did against San Diego. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Bench
Neither team has a secret weapon, but both have plenty of pinch hitting options, as Chris Burke's game winner in NLDS Game 4 proved. The Cardinals have more proven players who showed they could produce during the regular season. ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS

Starters
Mark Mulder's health has to worry St. Louis. Their rotation is deep enough to be able to withstand losing him, but the team would certainly be worse for it. Mulder will likely pitch as much (and as well) as his pain will let him. Consider him a wild card. Roger Clemens followed up his shaky start in NLDS Game 2 with some legendary relief work. He has another chance to shake the label of postseason choker, and we'll see if his stint in the 'pen will light his competitive fires. St. Louis must take advantage of Brandon Backe's start, as he is the weakest pitcher on both starting staffs. Three aces to one, however, means ADVANTAGE: ASTROS

Bullpen
The 'Stros bullpen was terrific in the Atlanta series, and they had plenty of time to mend following Sunday's marathon. Brad Lidge remains the most formidable weapon, with his exploding stuff and his ability to pitch more than one inning. Isringhausen, on the other hand, looked pretty shaky for St. Louis, and they will feel the loss of Al Reyes more acutely in what will be a tightly contested series. ADVANTAGE: ASTROS

Defense
Both teams rated at the top of the National League in run efficiency and both have extremely strong defense up the middle. Edmonds and Taveras are the two best defensive centerfielders in the NL; same goes for catchers Yadier Molina and Brad Ausmus. The two excellent defenses should keep the games taut and exciting. ADVANTAGE: EVEN

Bottom line
It's another race that's too close to call. It's the time of year where no team has any real weakness, and opponents must attack each others' strengths, to go all Sun Tzu on you. I feel Houston, with its pitching staff, is in the best position to do that. It is not hard to envision 6 or 7 innings of 0-2 run ball in 6 of 7 games from Houston's starters, followed by scoreless relief work by Lidge and Dan Wheeler. Of course, Chris Carpenter is perfectly capable of matching that performance, and St. Louis's offense will likely have a bust-out game against one of Houston's big three. All that said, the closest thing to a weakness on either team is St. Louis's bullpen. Berkman showed he can get the clutch hit when needed, and Farnsworth was better than anyone in St. Louis's 'pen this year. It's a close call, but I say Berkman beats the St. Louis bullpen, while Lidge will be able to shut down the Cardinals. ASTROS WIN 4-3.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home