October 7, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig (66) runs after he hits a single in the fourth inning against the Atlanta Braves in game four of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians Fan's Guide to the NLCS: Game One

The 2013 National League Championship Series features a classic David vs. Goliath match-up. In one corner, we have the bullies, a perennial powerhouse of champions, facing off against long-suffering franchise who hasn’t won a World Series in 25 years.

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

OK, so maybe the idea of the Los Angeles Dodgers as David and the St. Louis Cardinals as Goliath is misleading, as the two clubs combined Opening Day payrolls exceeded $333 million dollars. But money aside, there are some striking similarities
between these two teams.

Both are built upon solid pitching foundations (albeit, assembled in different ways), both boast bona-fide aces in their starting rotations – LA enjoys LHP Clayton Kershaw and St. Louis employs RHP Adam Wainwright. Both teams have large amounts of #veteranpresents and former players as managers, with St. Louis’s Mike Matheny and LA’s Don Mattingly (and both quite capable of making questionable decisions). Each team has an electrifying rookie worth getting excited over. For St. Louis, it’s RHP Michael Wacha, who twirled a gem in Game 4 of the NLDS vs. the Atlanta Brave to keep the Cardinals alive. In the Dodgers’ case, it’s outfielder Yasiel Puig, who made the leap from AA to the big leagues and pissed off people who hate fun everywhere hit 19 home runs and posted a .319/.391/.534 slashline. Maybe these two teams aren’t the surprising or sentimental choices to make the NLCS, but baseball fans should be excited for a fun series regardless of the fact they will have to watch pitchers attempt to hit baseballs.

How they got here: By not using the DH and bunting a lot. The Dodgers dispatched Atlanta fairly easily, with a terrific 6 innings from Kershaw (on short rest) to clinch the series in Game 4. St. Louis needed all five games to outlast the Cinderella Pittsburgh Pirates, capped off by Wainwright’s masterful complete game in the deciding match.

Who’s starting Game 1: Having had to use Wainwright in Game 5, St. Louis will hand the ball to RHP Joe Kelly, who started Game 3 in Pittsburgh and gave up only 2 runs in 5.1 IP in the eventual loss. LA turns to its biggest offseason signing, RHP Zack Greinke, who began his career with the AL-Central rival Kansas City Royals and gave up two runs in 6 IP in a Game 2 loss in Atlanta.

Offensive players to watch: For Los Angeles, this conversation begins with Hanley Ramirez (8-16 vs Atlanta’s excellent pitching staff, with 4 doubles, a triple and a home run) but it doesn’t end there – Puig, outfielder Carl Crawford, 1B Adrian Gonzalez and – I can’t believe I’m writing this – 3B Juan Uribe (two home runs, including the one to seal the series win in Game 4 after a botched bunt attempt) are all quite capable of doing damage with the bat. But St. Louis isn’t exactly hurting offensively – perennial Cleveland snubber Carlos Beltran continues to own October (two home runs and a double in the previous series), not to mention 1B Matt Adams and former postseason hero David Freese – who both hit home runs in Game 5. Freese has had a bit of a rough season, but Cardinals fans would be happy to see him break out in this series.

X-factor for Game 1: St. Louis has the steady (and often spectacular) Yadier Molina behind the plate, which could be a big factor in helping the team’s younger pitchers. LA might have given itself some good karma by hosting a LGBT night in late September, but its x-factor on the field is the occasionally unpredictable Puig, a 22-year-old (now former) prospect who has taken the big leagues by storm and hasn’t apologized for doing so.

Ex-Tribe Pride: St. Louis employs former Indians RH RP Edward Mujica as its closer, and though he isn’t on the active roster for the NLCS, former Indians SP Jake Westbrook could be added in the event of an injury. LA doesn’t have any former Cleveland players on its roster.

Game 1 prediction: Neither team is throwing their ace, but Greinke isn’t chopped liver, and would be the number-one starter on many teams. Kelly’s been great this year (2.69 ERA in 124 IP), but I think the Dodgers will crash the party at Busch Stadium and take the series opener in a thriller, 2-0.

Tags: Adam Wainwright Carlos Beltran Clayton Kershaw Cleveland Indians Edward Mujica Hanley Ramirez Jake Westbrook Joe Kelly Juan Uribe Los Angeles Dodgers Michael Wacha St Louis Cardinals Yadier Molina Yasiel Puig Zack Greinke

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