Heading into their NLDS match, the Los Angeles Dodgers had star power, loaded payroll, the widely considered best pitcher in baseball and they managed to get just one win in the best-of-five game series to show for it.
Clayton Kershaw was effective in both of his starts with the exception of two costly seventh innings, Yasiel Puig struggled and so did Dee Gordon, which stifled the top of the Dodgers’ lineup. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals, who purportedly weren’t better than the 2013 NLCS version, battled their way to a series win.
While Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig were no longer on the team, Matt Carpenter was and he became quite the thorn in the Dodgers’ side. Following the series, Matt Kemp credited the Cardinals for being the better team, though Kenley Jansen had a different view of the NL Central champions.
According to Bill Shaikin of the LA Times, Carpenter said the Dodgers were probably the better team when compared to the Cardinals on paper:
Matt Carpenter on Cardinals NLDS win: "On paper, you would probably say the #Dodgers had a better team."
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) October 10, 2014
In terms of sheer talent, Carpenter’s assessment would likely be proven correct. However, when it came time to needing a key hit or big out, the Cardinals were the team that was able to come through. Where the Dodgers had their most trouble in matching the Cardinals was with their bullpen.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny showed little concern in calling on a reliever in a tight situation, whereas Don Mattingly didn’t have the same luxury and gravely cost the Dodgers. At the start of the 2014 season, the Dodgers had a record payroll over $235 million, which was tops in all of baseball.
Conversely, the Cardinals’ payroll was just over $111 million and ranked 13th. While the Dodgers’ ledger and printed roster may have been superior to that of the Cardinals, it didn’t amount to being enough of a difference for a second consecutive postseason.