Baseball is marked by series. It’s one of the reasons that the wild-card play-in game is such an affront to most true baseball fans. We’re conditioned to watch our team play another team more than once. There are usually 52 series in a season and most are of the three-game variety. Best two out of three wins and the teams move on to another matchup.
Tony La Russa, especially in the latter part of his term as manager, placed a specific emphasis on winning series. Win two out of three often enough and you’ll be a very, very good team. While Mike Matheny has boiled that focus down to “win the day”, the point still holds. Good teams win series.
Now, we have two very good teams facing each other with just three games remaining. Whoever “wins the series” wins the Series. Best two of three to the title.
It’s not where Cardinal fans hoped to be after Allen Craig rambled home Saturday night on that interference call (that will likely obtain legendary status should St. Louis win two more games but will be just a footnote in Series lore otherwise). With Clay Buchholz admittedly not at his strongest, the hope was that the Redbirds would be able to pile on the runs early, win Game 4 and have Adam Wainwright ready to win the Series at home on Monday night.
As you probably have come to expect by now, the script looked great on paper but it never made it to the screen.
Part of that script turned out better than expected for the Cardinals. There was the feeling that runs would be plentiful between Buchholz and Lance Lynn, but Lynn pitched well, dominating the Sox early until allowing them to tie the game in the fifth and running into trouble in the sixth.
I think that’s one reason we get so frustrated with Lance Lynn. When Wainwright or others have their tough innings, it’s usually early. Once they get into their groove, they don’t often come out of it. Lynn will cruise along pretty well, then have the one bad inning. While his bad inning this time was exacerbated by the fact that David Ortiz can’t miss anything and Seth Maness picked the wrong time to be a fly ball pitcher, for the most part limited blame can be put on his shoulders.
A significant amount of double guessing, though, goes to the manager. Some would say he didn’t need to pull Lynn in the sixth with two on and two out. There’s a case there, especially since his pitch selection would have made it less likely to have seen Jonny Gomes go yard. If you were going to replace Lynn, though, it seemed better to do it 1) before Ortiz batted and 2) with someone more prone to strikeout than ground ball.
Even though Ortiz is hitting over .700 in this Series, I didn’t care for him being pitched around in that situation. You have a runner on first that is going to be pushed to second with the walk. A base hit, a dying quail, anything like that and you are down a run. Go after Ortiz with one of the lefties and at least make them earn the run. I understand why it didn’t happen that way, but I felt like you were courting trouble.
With that runner on second, bringing in Maness who typically gets grounders is a risk. Ground balls tend to get through the infield at a solid rate, so while they don’t often leave the yard, a grounder to short (especially with Daniel Descalso instead of Pete Kozma manning that area) could have seen a 2-1 lead for the Red Sox. Maness would normally be a guy you bring in with the idea of a double play, but with already two outs, that was moot. Again, a little bit of this (on my part, not on fandom in general) is second-guessing, but there’s a logical stream there to go in a different direction.
The Cardinals did have chances to rally, but Matt Holliday couldn’t come up with a hit with two on and two outs and a run in during the seventh and Kolten Wong got picked off with Carlos Beltran up and two outs in the ninth. It’s a tough way to end a game, but it would have been pretty amazing had the results been any different if Wong had stayed put. You never know, of course, and you’d rather find out if something could happen, but Koji Uehara doesn’t give up homers–just five all year long. Having Beltran up there was probably the best chance, but odds are we’d be talking about the same result no matter.
As we’ve seen all postseason long, the Cardinals’ magic with runners in scoring position is dissipating. There are very few “big innings”–heck, there are few innings with runs at all–and it’s the pitching that’s keeping them going. That’s well and good, but occasionally the bats have to produce. Walking 1-0 tightwires only means that eventually you are going to fall off.
When you look at it as a best of three, you do have it lined up as well as you could hope if you are a Cardinal fan. Wainwright goes tonight, motivated to make sure that his Game 1 performance is seen as an aberration and dedicated to putting his team that much closer to a title. While it’s going to be tough for the Redbirds to scratch out much against Jon Lester, you take comfort in the fact that Clayton Kershaw gave up an unearned run in his first outing against this team and was beaten around the second time. If the Cards could take that leaf out of their playbook and apply it, most of us would feel very good about the situation.
Then you have Michael Wacha going, which gives you confidence unless you are a worry wart like me wondering just how long Wacha can keep going without a rough outing. Those kind of games are going to come sometime, but I just hope it is in 2014. John Lackey, who actually got into last night’s game and threw a scoreless inning, will be another tough nut to crack, so the pitching edges, even if they are in St. Louis’s favor, are very, very slim.
Then you have a Game 7, if necessary. I really, really hope it isn’t because I’m pretty sure that I can’t handle that kind of stress, but once I saw the note that if the Series went seven, there would be MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA games all on the same day, I was afraid that it would happen. Let’s just hope we get vintage Wainwright tonight and take a large step toward winning the series….and the Series.