First off, let me stipulate that the Cardinals are exactly where they want to be. They are in a situation that most of us didn’t expect to actually occur, sweeping the two games in Busch started by Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. A split would have been a good thing for St. Louis. A 2-0 lead going to LA is outstanding, even more so when Adam Wainwright is lined up to take the ball next.
Things are flying high for the Cardinals and they should be. They need two more wins and Wainwright goes two more times. They have beaten the Dodgers’ best and now get to hit the less-dominating portion of their rotation.
However, those that are starting to make their plans for a World Series party a week from Wednesday probably don’t want to put the down payment on that just yet. As we saw last night in Boston, where a hitless team found life and rallied to win late, baseball laughs at your expectations and plans.
There are a lot of reasons to believe the Cardinals will be in their fourth World Series in a decade, but there are a number of reasons to think that ticket hasn’t been punched quite yet.
The Cardinals know this. They know how quickly a series can turn when the other side has some strong pitching. Last year’s NLCS still sticks with them, knowing in retrospect (and some even before the game) how much the series pivoted on the Barry Zito start. Lose that and, as we saw, things got out of control in a hurry.
We as Cards fans expect Wainwright to win tonight and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Waino’s proven that he can dominate a game and there’s every expectation that he’s not going to give the Dodgers much. You have to like your chances a lot when he’s on the mound.
However, Wainwright only faced the Dodgers once this season and came away with a loss. Three runs in seven innings isn’t a rough game and that one was in the midst of an August malaise that this team has revived itself from, but the most recent history is a loss. We know that Wainwright threw a great game in the 2009 playoffs against the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium, only to see the Cards go down to defeat after Matt Holliday missed a fly ball and Ryan Franklin couldn’t lock down the save.
To be fair, all the numbers indicate that if the Cards do lose this one, it’s more on the offense than anything Wainwright will do. Andre Ethier is one of the top hitters against him, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be healthy enough to play. He should be, but even if he is, he’s far from 100%. All I know is that Dodger fans would have almost guaranteed a win for Kershaw, just like we would almost guarantee a win for Wainwright. Let’s hope the similarities stop there.
On the flip side, the Cards have to deal with Hyun-jin Ryu, a rookie lefthander. Oh, like THOSE words are a comfort to hear. The Cardinals struggled with rookies and lefthanders together and separately this season, so even going no farther, you could see the scenario where the offense is shut down and the Dodgers eke out a victory.
St. Louis did face Ryu this season and it wasn’t pretty. Ryu threw seven innings, allowed just one unearned run, and struck out seven in a 5-1 win. Those are the kind of things that keep you up at night when you start worrying about how Game 3 will play out.
Now, it’s true that Ryu struggled against the Braves in the NLDS and his last outing of the season against the Rockies (four innings, eight hits, two earned runs), but the rest of September was pretty solid. Those other three starts he allowed a BAA of .211 and put up an ERA of 2.57. To me, there’s no real reason to think tonight’s the night the moribund offense comes to live, which means it’ll be another pitching duel.
Even if the Cardinals win this one, their work isn’t completely over. You have to figure the Dodgers would move up Greinke and throw him on short rest. There are at least some Dodger fans that think no matter what the outcome of tonight’s game, we won’t be seeing Ricky Nolasco at all in this series. If Greinke goes in Game 4 and wins, you’d have to think Kershaw would come back on short rest for Game 5. If the series continues, they’d have to figure out Game 6 but then Greinke would likely start Game 7 (unless Ryu looks quite sharp, and even then he might go on short rest in Game 6) with Kershaw as a reliever. The Cards might have danced through the gauntlet once, but they are not out of the woods yet.
This isn’t to be a depressing read, just a realistic one. There’s all sorts of indications that the Cardinals will be coming back from Los Angeles preparing to travel to an American League city. They are in a strong position to play for the chance for their 6th World Series title since the retirement of Stan Musial. (Not that there is any symbolism there, given this is the 50th year since he last played.) Just like last year, though, a series can pivot faster than a revolving door being pushed by a sugared-up kid.
Plus this offense is an extremely strong one that is eventually going to break out. It could be tonight against Ryu, though that seems less likely than seeing it tomorrow against whomever takes the mound. I don’t believe the Cardinals finish this series hitting .130. Things are going to average out soon, I expect.
A wise man once said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Let’s hope the Cards make it much closer to over tonight!