LA Dodgers playoffs: What you need to jump on the blue bandwagon for the NLCS vs Cardinals

Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Four

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Adrian Gonzalez #23, A.J. Ellis #17 and Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after the Dodgers defeat the Atlanta Braves 4-3 in Game Four of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 7, 2013 in Los Angeles.

There are those who can recite the OBP and WARP of every Dodgers player on the field. And then there are those who may just now be jumping onto the blue bandwagon and wondering what those acronyms mean. Here are some basics for the Dodgers vs. Cardinals National League Championship Series, which starts at 5:30 p.m. Friday night.

Why is everyone talking about the Dodgers? I thought this was a Lakers town.

Last year, in the waning days of the depressing Frank McCourt era, those unfortunate enough to be stuck with tickets couldn’t give them away.

Then, last March the team was bought by a new ownership group, led by the financial services firm Guggenheim Partners for $2.15 billion, and which includes Lakers legend Magic Johnson as a minority partner. With McCourt safely out of the way, the new owners quickly went to work assembling one of the most expensive payrolls in sports history.

According to ESPN, the Dodgers pay their players more on average than any sports franchise in the world except for English Premier League's Manchester City.

Unfortunately, money doesn’t always buy wins (see: New York Yankees and L.A. Angels of Anaheim). By June, much of the Dodgers' expensive line-up was on the bench because they were injured and the team was in last place in its division, the National League West.

Enter Yasiel Puig, a rookie from Cuba whom the Dodgers signed last year to a seven-year, $42 million contract without ever seeing him play a game in the United States.

As soon as he was called up from the minor leagues he electrified the team — and much of L.A.'s baseball fanbase. His historic first month helped lead the Dodgers to a 42-8 winning streak over the summer, the league's best 50-game record in 71 years.

RELATED: KPCC Asks: Are you a die-hard Dodgers fan?

Now the Dodgers are four wins away from returning to the World Series for the first time since 1988. Meanwhile, the Lakers are expected to be one of the worst teams in the NBA. They ranked a lowly #21 in ESPN’s Power Rankings.

How good are the Dodgers' chances to get to the World Series?

The last time the Dodgers were in the NLCS — in 2008 and 2009 — they recorded only a single victory each time, going 1-4 against the Philadelphia Phillies both times.

The Dodgers have a lot more going for them this time around, which is why they’re favored by Las Vegas oddsmakers.

Their 1-2 pitching punch of Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke is widely considered the best in baseball.

Greinke, signed to a rich $147 million/six-year deal in the off-season, has been worth every penny. He's starting the first game of the series Friday night.

Kershaw, who had the lowest Dodgers earned run average since Sandy Koufax, would normally pitch in the first game, but he started Tuesday’s game on short rest.

Regardless, if the best of seven series goes the distance, St. Louis faces the daunting prospect of facing Kershaw and Greinke back-to-back twice.

The Dodgers' late game pitchers have also been superb. Setup man Brian Wilson (the one with the long beard who used to pitch for the San Francisco Giants) and closer Kenley Jansen have yet to give up a run in the postseason. They have a combined 1.01 earned-run average since Wilson made his Dodgers debut on Aug. 22, after coming off the disabled list.

And lest we forget about the offense. Hanley Ramirez may be the hottest batter in the postseason right now. Carl Crawford, Juan Uribe and Yasiel Puig were also very productive in the divisional series against Atlanta.

What about St. Louis?

Despite the fact their payroll is about $100 million less than the Dodgers, the Cardinals had a better record this year, which is why they enjoy home field advantage.

What the Dodgers have been able to achieve with their cable TV-fueled mega wallet, the Cardinals have done with an excellent farm system and shrewd scouting.

Unlike the Dodgers, they finished the regular season strong, winning 10 of their last 12 games.

They’ve also been far more successful over the last decade, earning seven playoff berths, three pennants and two World Series titles. Last year, they were on the brink of going to the World Series again, but couldn't close out their series against the San Francisco Giants.

Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter is frequently mentioned as a leading candidate for the National League's most-valuable player award.  (He had a woeful divisional series though — producing a mere single in 19 at-bats.)

Slugger Carlos Beltran is regarded as one of the best postseason hitters in history.

On the mound there's Adam Wainwright, who has been nearly unstoppable in October. The Cards have won 12 of 15 games in which Wainwright has appeared in the postseason. However, Wainwright pitched in the Cardinals’ Game 5 victory on Wednesday over the Pirates, so he won’t be available until Monday.

What do these teams have in common?

Both franchises have won 18 National League pennants, making them two of the most successful teams of all-time.

The Dodgers' Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto were part of the Cardinals team that won the World Series two years ago. The Cardinals' former hitting coach, Mark McGwire, now has the same job for the Dodgers. 

Here are some fun facts from The New York Times: "The Dodgers and the Cardinals are two of the three N.L. teams (the Phillies are the other) that never wear a colored jersey. The Dodgers have two jerseys, home whites and road grays, and the Cardinals have home whites, road grays and a cream-colored home Saturday jersey, new this season, that reads, 'St. Louis,' across the front. It is the first Cardinals uniform style since 1932 to include the city name."

How did the teams do during the regular season?

The Dodgers won four of their seven games against the Cardinals. In August, the Dodgers took three of four from the Cardinals in St. Louis, outscoring them 22-12.

Something that worries Dodgers fans: St. Louis has hit well against the normally unhittable Kershaw. Since shutting out the Cardinals in May 2012, Kershaw has gone 0-3, recording a 6.75 earned-run average in three starts against St. Louis.

When are the games played?

  • Game 1 Friday, Oct. 11, in St. Louis, 5:37 p.m.
  • Game 2 Saturday, Oct. 12 in St. Louis, 1:07 p.m.
  • Game 3 Monday, Oct. 14 in Los Angeles, 5:07 p.m.
  • Game 4  Tuesday, Oct. 15 in Los Angeles, 5:07 p.m. 
  • Game 5 Wednesday Oct. 16 in Los Angeles, 1:07 p.m. (if necessary) 
  • Game 6 Friday Oct. 18 in St. Louis, 5:37 p.m. (if necessary) 
  • Game 7 Saturday Oct. 19 in St. Louis, 5:37 p.m. (if necessary) 

Can I still buy tickets?

All the games are sold out. Tickets on Stubhub.com are starting at about $100 a piece. But at least you can save on parking; for the first time anyone can remember, the Dodgers are offering free parking if you carpool with four or more people.

Where can I watch?

Cable channel TBS is broadcasting every game. Fox will show the ALCS, between Boston and Detroit.

Where can I listen?

There are two options, which is unusual, but it’s a pretty easy choice when you have the legendary Vin Scully on one channel.

ESPN 710 AM is carrying the national broadcast.

FOX Sports AM 570 airs the Dodgers broadcast, with 85-year-old Scully, in his 64th season, calling the first and last three innings. Rick Monday and Charley Steiner take the middle innings.

You can also listen to Dodgers broadcasts in Spanish on KTNQ–1020 AM with Jaime Jarrin (in his 55th season with the Dodgers), Pepe Yniguez and Fernando Valenzuela — yes, that Fernando.

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