The sun splashed across the emerald green grass, with the arch mown into the outfield. The sea of red filled the seats, cheering on their heroes. All the trappings of postseason baseball in St. Louis, the bunting, the Clydesdales, all of that was on display as well. Which means that, even before the first pitch, it’s a pretty awesome day.
Then it got much, much better.
Being that I was at work, I tried to monitor GameDay while working on other tasks. Even from the animated simulation, you could tell two things out of the first two innings: Adam Wainwright was on his game and A.J. Burnett was not. Wainwright’s curve was dropping into the strike zone and he was mixing up his pitches well. It was one of those days where you knew he wasn’t giving up much. The question was, would the offense back him up?
I think we can say that was answered in the affirmative.
Burnett seemed to be laboring from the get-go. He seemed to have little control, but was able to get away with it in the first two innings. You started to have the fear that it was going to be one of those games where the Cardinals squandered opportunity after opportunity, especially after Daniel Descalso hit into a double play with runners at first and third.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to labor under that idea very long. I didn’t hear the radio guys, but I have no doubt that when Wainwright walked to lead off the third, Mike Shannon was saying something about bad things happening when you walk the pitcher. A Matt Carpenter hit later and Carlos Beltran proved that old saying, along with why people put him high on the list of greatest postseason performers ever. Beltran’s homer was enough to make Cardinal fans confident that, with the sharp Waino on the mound, this game was pretty much effectively over.
Of course, that wasn’t the exclamation point on the inning. That came a few batters later, after the Cards were up 4-0 and David Freese singled into two more, with Jon Jay following with the Pirates hit Freese with the relay throw. Seven runs for Wainwright? I’ll take that every day of the week. You know it’s a good day when your pitcher bats twice before anyone on the other team does.
The rest of the game was pretty anti-climatic. Pedro Alvarez did show his Cardinal killing skills by breaking up Waino’s shutout, but when that just cut the lead to six I don’t think anyone was terribly concerned. If they were, it was alleviated when the Redbirds immediately got that run back, then tacked on another.
Winning 9-1 in the first game of a five-game series is a nice way to start things off. I don’t do Heroes and Goats in the postseason, though there’s no doubt it would likely be Wainwright for the first (with Beltran, Freese and Yadier Molina making their cases–and Matt Adams had a nice day as well, though not to that level) and Descalso the latter. The problem is, as we’ve seen all season long, momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher.
Which, if we get the good Lance Lynn, works in the Cardinals’ favor. Lynn has put four good starts in a row together, with a 1.09 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 24.2 innings pitched. The qualifier on that is that the four teams were Milwaukee (twice), Colorado and Chicago. Not exactly upper-echelon competition. Here’s his outings against the Pirates this season:
April 15: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 4 K, 3 BB (win at Pittsburgh)
April 26: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 9 K, 3 BB (win in SL)
July 30: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 7 K, 2 BB (no-decision in loss at PNC)
August 15: 5.1 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 6 K, 1 BB (no-decision in win at Busch)
August 31: 4 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 4 K, 3 BB (loss at Pittsburgh)
As we can see, Lynn has had some success against the Bucs, but those last two games are what worry Cardinal fans. He was bailed out by a rally against Burnett in the 8/15 matchup and nothing could have saved him in the last game at PNC Park.
That said, that game was about when Lynn started changing his approach and getting better results. If he has command, he should be able to get some strikeouts and perhaps work out of any jams he might create. Then again, if his recent hot streak is more a factor of his pitching than the opposition he’s been facing, he might not get into many jams at all.
Given the varying levels of success Lynn has had this year, some high numbers aren’t unexpected. He does seem to have kept a number of the bigger guns quiet, though he’s going to have to figure out Starling Marte or he’s going to run the risk of some innings blowing up on him. There’s hope for today, though probably not that rock-solid assurance we saw yesterday in Wainwright.
The Pirates will put up one of their top rookies in Gerrit Cole. As you know, Cole hasn’t faced the Cardinals yet this season, but our compatriot at El Maquino suggests that’s not as big of an issue as we think it is. (I’d like to see that as a comparison to what other teams do to unknown hurlers and factored by ERA coming into the game, as it appears the Cards struggle with bad pitchers more than they should, but that’s irrelevant right now.) The problem is, Cole is good enough to shut the Cardinals down even if they have experience with him.
Cole had a very strong September, though save from beating a Rangers team that was in free-fall the competition looks very similar to what Lynn faced over his last four games. However, in his short career Cole has never given up more than four earned runs a start, and he only did that once (a five-inning outing against the Marlins in August).
This is a big game for the Cardinals. Win this one, and the fact that Francisco Liriano is looming in Game 3 becomes an annoyance only. Lose this one, and with Liriano coming you might be looking at needing to take the series to the limit to advance. We saw how fast series turn last year in the NLCS. Let’s hope the postseason magic is still with the Cardinals today!