While the Dodgers couldn't do much right, the Cardinals didn't make any mistakes. St. Louis didn't want to relive the disappointment of last season, when it led the San Francisco Giants, three games to one, in the National League Championship Series but failed to advance to the World Series.
During the 2013 NLCS, the Cardinals showed why they had the best record in the league. Their young pitching staff was brilliant. Defensively, the Cardinals seldom made a miscue, and this forced the Dodgers to create their scoring opportunities. However, Los Angeles couldn't hit with runners in scoring position.
Michael Wacha, a year removed from pitching for Texas A&M, helped the Cardinals shut out the Dodgers twice during the series. Not many teams can overcome this and win a best-of-seven series. The Dodgers didn't, and they looked poor offensively throughout the series.
Although this Dodgers team was supposed to win the World Series because they had a humongous payroll, L.A. struggled throughout the season -- except during the historic 42-8 streak in the second half.
Since the beginning of the season, injuries have plagued the Dodgers, and they again undermined their effort in the postseason. From the first inning of the first game of the NLCS, when the Cardinals' Joe Kelly hit Hanley Ramirez with a pitch and broke Ramirez's eighth rib, the Dodgers were in trouble that they couldn't overcome. Ramirez tried to play despite the injury, but he wasn't the same player who propelled the Dodgers into the playoffs. That single pitch might have changed the destiny for Los Angeles in the postseason.
Uncertainty faces the Dodgers this offseason. Neither manager Don Mattingly nor general manager Ned Colletti has a contract for the 2014 season. The new ownership must determine whether it wants to go in the same direction or a different direction with a new GM and skipper.
During Colletti's tenure he has demonstrated an ability to build a winner with strict restrictions on his payroll flexibility and to use a large budget wisely, identifying the team's needs. When the Dodgers have needed something that Colletti couldn't find at a reasonable price through the free-agent market or via trade, he has found creative ways to fill those particular voids. Brian Wilson is a prime example, and the veteran reliever definitely helped the Dodgers make it to the NLCS.
Yes, Colletti has made some costly mistakes, but every general manager does. Over his tenure, Colletti has defused many potential scandals. With his background as a journalist, Colletti handled the media expertly.
In his third year as Dodgers manager, Mattingly has made several mistakes that have cost the team victories. However, he has kept the club together and believing in itself even when circumstances looked the bleakest. Because he had no Minor League managerial experience, the Dodgers must expect mistakes from Mattingly while he's running games. And since Mattingly played his entire career in the American League, he doesn't often emphasize the importance of manufacturing runs. He was a great player and has respect from his players, who appreciate his even-keel personality.
The Dodgers have several areas that they need to improve before they can reach the World Series. Both Mark Ellis and Juan Uribe are free agents, and it's doubtful that L.A. will re-sign them at this advanced stage of their careers. The Dodgers need speed to help to prevent prolonged offensive slumps. While Carl Crawford usually led off this year, he doesn't have a high on-base percentage because he doesn't draw many walks, so the club needs to obtain a proven leadoff hitter to generate more offense.
The Dodgers had the second-most errors in the NL, and they desperately must improve this to win more and lessen the pressure on their pitching staff. L.A. also needs to find reliable fourth and fifth starters to have a solid rotation, and they must maintain a highly effective bullpen.
Although this was supposed to be the Dodgers' year to return to the World Series, they didn't. But they did provide excitement for Dodger fans everywhere.
Heading into an offseason filled with uncertainty, the Dodgers hope they will provide the same kind of excitement in 2014.