10/04/09 1:12 AM EST
Dodgers start with Cards in NLDS
Los Angeles begins first round of playoffs at home
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
"Neither one is easy to play," manager Joe Torre said.
Torre's Dodgers will start with the Cardinals at home on Wednesday in the best-of-five National League Division Series. If they play the Phillies, it will be in the NL Championship Series, as it was last year.
The Dodgers were 2-5 against the Cardinals this year, 1-2 at home and 1-3 on the road. They were 4-3 against the Phillies, 2-2 at home and 2-1 on the road. They are 12-3 against Colorado entering their weekend series.
Last year, the Dodgers opened the playoffs on the road and still were able to sweep the Cubs. Then they went to Philadelphia, lost the first two games and eventually lost the best-of-seven series in five games.
"We've probably got to play both [St. Louis and Philadelphia], so it don't matter," said Matt Kemp. "Either way, we'll have our hands full. But we definitely can compete with them."
The Cardinals have a right-handed-dominant lineup and arguably the best player in the game in Albert Pujols, while the Phillies are more left-handed. St. Louis has a pair of NL Cy Young candidates in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainright, while the Phillies outbid the Dodgers to add ace Cliff Lee. Philly might appear to be more vulnerable with a streaky lineup and slumping bullpen.
"We've played better against the Phillies, and one thing about St. Louis you can't argue is their 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, so that's an obvious challenge," said Randy Wolf, who played eight seasons in Philadelphia and lines up as the Dodgers' Game 1 starter.
"With Philly, they have a relentless lineup and even though Cole Hamels isn't having a typical season, he can dominate. Lee is a big acquisition and going against lefties has been a little tough for us. Both clubs have strengths."
The Dodgers have never played the Phillies in an NLDS, but in 2004, they were eliminated by the Cardinals in four games, the only Los Angeles win was a complete-game shutout by Jose Lima at home in Game 3.
Torre said he believes the Dodgers are better equipped to succeed than last year.
"Yes I do, because of the experience of last year," he said. "Last year, it really was something thrust on us very quickly. Our goal coming in last year was to be six or seven over .500.
"These guys learned, and especially during Manny [Ramirez's] absence, they can function. They are good players in their own right. Just getting to the postseason last year and beating the Cubs. And even getting beat [by the Phillies], there's still something to learn and something to take from that."
Kemp said one difference between the two potential opponents is the fans in those cities.
"St. Louis fans are nicer," he said. "I've been in St. Louis, you make a good play and they say, 'Nice going.' You don't get that in Philly. ... That's where home-field advantage comes in. It's tough to go there and try to win. Those fans make it hard."
Ronnie Belliard, who joined the Cardinals for their 2006 title run, offers a counterargument.
"Those fans in St. Louis, I don't know what it is, but they light a fire for [the Cardinals]," he said. "We fed off the fans that year.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.