Eventually, you’d think these things would be old hat. I mean, when Game 6 happened, you figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, an amazing occurrence that we’d tell our children about. Which was true, save maybe the once-in-a-lifetime thing.
Then you get 2012 and Game 5 against the Nationals, which probably was even more improbable given the gap the team had to rally from. Lightning had struck twice and a little Cardinal playoff reputation started forming.
Even with that kind of background, though, it is still difficult to expect, believe, or comprehend what happened in Dodger Stadium last night. Down 6-1 to not only the best pitcher in baseball but a pitcher who had a distinct motivation to beat the Cardinals, not only did they claw back, they got a big enough lead that even a shaky bullpen couldn’t squander. While there was no official elimination avoided yesterday, that sort of rally will obviously settle nicely into the Cardinal legend and, obviously, taking a game against Clayton Kershaw does wonders for your postseason health.
Can you give enough kudos to Matt Carpenter? Probably not. When he hit the solo homer to make it 6-2, I thought it was just some respectability. Then he gets up with the bases loaded and the game on the line and repeats that classic at bat from last year’s NLCS against Kershaw, fouling off pitches and not missing the one he wanted, driving it into the gap for a double that gave the Cards the lead. I don’t do Heroes and Goats in the postseason, but it’d been tough to find anyone that personified the Hero tag more than Carpenter last night.
Of course, to have a big comeback, you have to have a big deficit. Apparently Adam Wainwright knows that and always wants to let his team have a great story to tell. Last night’s start was about as disastrous as Game 5 against Washington and both times his teammates pulled his backside out of the fire. Note to Wainwright: Stories are nice, leads are better. Cardinal fans aren’t going to be able to handle much more of this stress on the heart.
It seems to me that Wainwright is very rarely going to have an average game. He’s either going to be scintillating or he’s going to get raked. Last night, it seemed to me the Dodgers knew he was going to throw that bouncing curveball when he had two strikes and was ahead in the count and they just laid off of it, forcing him to either go to the fastball or try to get them to chase again. Maybe that was just the few at-bats that came to my attention, but if that’s the case, he’s going to have to mix up his approach a little more.
(By the way, it’s impossible to know, but would Wainwright have been sharper without a huge layoff, if he’d thrown a couple of innings on Sunday? Maybe, maybe not. When you skip him like that, though, you get the questions. Of course, to be fair, if you had thrown him Sunday and he had that kind of game, folks would wonder if he should have had more rest. You can’t win.)
Wainwright’s postseason game log is an interesting study. Factor out the 2006 postseason, when he did some incredible work out of the bullpen, and you see that duality that we were talking about. He’s got five starts where he’s allowed just one run, but he has three starts where he’s allowed five or more. It’s not that he’s not a great pitcher, it’s just he seems to have a higher standard deviation to his results than some folks do. Then again, Kershaw is great but three of his eight playoff starts he’s allowed five runs or more. True, two were against the Cardinals, but still.
Let’s also, while we are talking about Wainwright, address the Puig in the room. I think it’s ridiculous for Adrian Gonzalez to go off after Wainwright hit Yasiel Puig with a pitch. Look at the situation, man! The Cards have a slim 1-0 lead against the assumed NL MVP. So they are going to hit the first batter, putting a runner on in the third inning and bringing the potent middle of the lineup up with nobody out? That’s fairly insane.
I say Gonzalez after the game not backing down, saying something to the effect of, “C’mon, it’s Wainwright, he knows where the ball is going.” Did you watch that game, Gonzalez? Because I’m pretty sure that wasn’t exactly classic Wainwright out there. I can understand they are het up because Hanley Ramirez got hit last year and it kept him basically out of the rest of the NLCS. However, I’m pretty sure the “win by eliminating your competitors” works more on Survivor than it does in Dodger Stadium. In the emotion of the moment, I get it, but continuing to chirp about it afterwards seems pretty wrong.
That said, the war of words may have a significant casualty. Yadier Molina obviously pushed the umpire out of the way in his determination to explain to Gonzalez why he was mistaken and perhaps to enlighten him about Gonzalez’s ancestry and personal habits. While Molina wasn’t ejected, which might mean that he’ll avoid punishment, MLB doesn’t tend to like to see its umpires manhandled like that. If it was a Dodger player that had done that, I think we as Cardinal fans would expect and want him to be suspended. If Molina avoids it, we’ll be grateful but if he doesn’t, I’m not sure we can get worked up about it.
MLB could treat it like the Roberto Alomar suspension, which didn’t go into effect until the next season. However, that spitting incident happened at the end of the regular season, not in the postseason. Alomar got to play in the playoffs over some objections, but given the incident happened outside of them, MLB couldn’t really suspend him for them. That might not fly with Molina, since his action did happen in the playoffs. On the flip side, MLB is not likely to want to hurt the chances of any team unless they have to and since Molina wasn’t ejected, that could be the out there.
Even though Carpenter gets a lot of the attention and everyone appreciates Matt Holliday‘s home run, there were some other heroic types in yesterday’s game as well. For starters, how about the rookie outfielder? Randal Grichuk not only gave the Cardinals that early lead that they were looking for with a home run, but then followed up Carpenter’s big double with a walk, which led to Holliday getting a chance to bat with two on instead of ending the inning. It’s a small thing, but those three runs produced by Holliday’s bat turned out to be extremely huge.
And how about the lefties being part of that chipaway at Kershaw? Both Jon Jay and Matt Adams had big hits during that inning, which is really significant in Adams’s case given his flailing against most any lefty in the second half of the season. (Honestly, he’s not done that great against righties since the All-Star Break either.) Mike Matheny was smart enough not to put those guys in their regular lineup spots, but further down the lineup, and it wound up paying off.
What didn’t wind up paying off was the addition of Randy Choate to the postseason roster. Now, to be fair, there was 0% chance he was going to be left off of it, even with Sam Freeman and Marco Gonzales (who, by the way, picked up his first postseason win in his first ever postseason appearance–way to go, Marco!) as part of the squad. Choate was there to get folks like Adrian Gonzalez out, so when there was a runner on and one out in the eighth with a four-run lead, Choate had one job.
He didn’t do it.
That Gonzalez home run tightened up most people’s air passages like they’d just questioned Darth Vader’s intelligence. Thankfully Pat Neshek came in to quell any other problems, but you never want to see your lead cut in half right before turning it over to Trevor Rosenthal.
Ah, Rosenthal. We’ve talked much this year about how good he really has been with plenty of rest. Yet, with more rest than he’s had pretty much all year, Rosenthal still couldn’t do it without the drama. I guess we should be glad that runners on second and third with one out only produced one run and that he had plenty of heat to strike out Puig, but that’s not the way I’d have scripted it.
Given Rosenthal’s struggles on back-to-back days and Neshek’s better numbers when he’s used more often, I’d like to see Neshek in the ninth tonight if the situation warrants. We won’t, of course, but that’s what I’d like to see.
Which seems like as good of a place as any to start talking about tonight’s game. For one, it’s almost a must win for the Dodgers. If they get down 2-0 before going to St. Louis, they have some major issues. Sure, Hyun-Jin Ryu is a good bet to shut the Cardinal bats down, but that only gets the Dodgers to 2-1 and then they have to decide whether they bring Kershaw back on short rest against a team that’s beaten up on him regularly or send Dan Haren out there.
Of course, it’s important to the Cardinals as well. One, it keeps the momentum. Two, a 2-0 lead is obviously huge, though for a franchise that has blown numerous 3-1 leads, it’s not a given that they’d win one more. Three, that means they can easily save Wainwright for Game 5 instead of debating sending him out there for Game 4 in the same manner the Dodgers would be doing with Kershaw.
The good thing is that Lance Lynn is going for the Redbirds. While I still wonder what would have happened in 2012 had Lynn not thrown the ball literally at second base in Game 5 against the Giants, his postseason record outside of that isn’t terrible, though it’s not as outstanding as you might think. Then again, there seems little doubt that Lynn is a different pitcher this year, more composed and collected. This is also his fourth postseason, so any October jitters should be out of his system.
Lynn first faced the Dodgers this year on June 28. He lasted two innings and allowed seven runs, six of which were earned. (His opponent that day is the same as it will be today.) It was his worst start of the year. It was also basically his last bad one. Lynn appeared in 16 games after that and put up a 2.11 ERA with a .650 OPS against in 102.1 innings. One of those games was July 18, when he faced Haren in St. Louis and allowed four hits and two runs in six innings in a game the Cards won 3-2.
Historically, though, things haven’t been all that great for Lynn against the guys in blue. (Not to be confused with the umpires in blue–he’s not had any major problems with them.) While Puig has limited at-bats against him, to be sure, that 1.444 OPS against does make you wince. He’s had better success at home than way, but it’s not a huge split this year. There’s no reason to think that Lynn won’t be competitive in this game.
The Cards, on the other hand, have to face off against Zack Greinke. We noted above that he squared off against Lynn in June, when he struck out 10 in seven innings and only allowed a single run. St. Louis had better success against him on July 19, when he gave up four runs in five innings in what was Joe Kelly‘s last win as a Cardinal and his last appearance on the Busch Stadium mound wearing the red.
In the past, Greinke’s been pretty good against the Cards, putting up a 9-4 mark with a 3.17 ERA. Interestingly, four of Grienke’s six postseason starts have been against the Redbirds. He’s gone 2-1 with a no-decision in those games (2011 with Milwaukee, 2013 with Los Angeles) and while he was hit around in 2011 (11 runs, eight earned in 11 innings over the two starts), last year he had outings of two runs in eight innings (with 10 K) and two runs in seven innings.
Greinke’s done a little better at home than on the road, though the difference is fairly minimal. He’s not likely to walk folks and most likely is going to put up a good outing. To expect back-to-back blowups from Los Angeles’s two top pitchers is asking for trouble.
This one doesn’t start until 8:30 Central time. Odds are, it may be Sunday before it’s decided. Get your paper bags ready, another tight one awaits!