The Cardinals are back on home turf. The crowd tonight will be overwhelming red instead of the blue and white of the first two games. While St. Louis is in a good position, they were so achingly close to being so much better off.
You know all about Game 2 by now, of course. How Zack Greinke did a better Clayton Kershaw impression than Clayton Kershaw. How Matt Carpenter jolted J.P. Howell with a game-tying home run. How two batters later Jhonny Peralta came up with two on and just one out, given a prime opportunity to drive in the go-ahead run and put the Cards six outs away from going up 2-0 in the series.
The double play has been killer for the Cardinals in the past couple of years, but perhaps none more so than the one Peralta hit into. When Matt Kemp hit a home run in the bottom of that inning, it let the Dodgers escape the fire and come into St. Louis with a little less urgency.
You do wonder somewhat about Pat Neshek. Bernie Miklasz pointed out that Neshek has a 10.38 ERA in his last four games. Now, to be fair, for the nine games before that, he had a mark of 1.04, only giving up a run against the Rockies in that span and he had a good outing in Game 1. However, since the beginning of August (not counting this series), he’s had a 3.75 ERA and batters have a .658 OPS against him. That’s not disastrous, but it’s not the level that we’ve come to expect out of Neshek. It’s possible our early season memories–and not just ours, but Mike Matheny‘s–are skewing how we look at the reliever.
Tara and I discussed this last night on Gateway and we both agreed that running Neshek out there again is not the worst thing in the world, assuming that Matheny thinks he can do the job. If he’s just running him out there because he wants Neshek to have confidence or that’s what you do with your eighth inning guy, then that’s wrong. The playoffs are not the place for an ego boost. You either do the job or someone else will.
Game 3 in a tied series is always huge for either team. Somebody’s going to be playing for their postseason lives tomorrow and you hope it’s the other team. We know how things can get crazy in just one game, so even if you have all the advantages, you would rather not be in the situation where your back is against the wall. Which means tonight is crucial.
The Dodgers would seem to have a bit of an edge because they are running out Hyun-Jin Ryu. Anytime you can run out a left-hander against St. Louis, you have to like your chances. Ryu faced the Cards just once this year on June 27, when he allowed three runs and nine hits in seven innings. Jhonny Peralta had the big blow in that game, a two-run double.
They’ve not seen him all that often, but they’ve not done a lot with him on those occasions. The wild card is, of course, that Ryu is making his first start since September 12, when he allowed four runs in an inning to the Giants. He’s been dealing with a shoulder issue since then, but he’s looked good enough in simulated games and the like for the Dodgers to put him out there.
If Ryu is on, that makes for a tough task for the Cardinal hurler. Luckily, John Lackey has had some tough tasks in the postseason before, so this won’t be anything new for him. Lackey, who will be making his 17th post-season start, has thrown 104 postseason innings and has an ERA of 3.03 to show for it. The stage isn’t going to both him at all.
Looking over Lackey’s postseason history, it’s a little bit of a mixed bag if you are trying to figure out what he’s likely to do. Most of his games he gives up three or four runs, though he’s mixed in some shutout innings and the occasional stinker of an outing as well.
We tend not to worry about pitcher-hitter matchups because they are usually a very small sample size. That said, when you start getting to 50 plate appearances and are hitting close to .500 with an almost 1.200 OPS against a pitcher, it’s a pretty good guarantee you’ll be out there to face him. If Lackey is able to contain Carl Crawford, this should go much better for St. Louis than if he can’t.
John Mozeliak gave up Allen Craig and Joe Kelly in part for this sort of moment. Lackey finished the season with two strong starts and hopefully his dead arm phase is behind him. If nothing else, he’s working on about 12 days rest, so he should have plenty of bullets stored up.
It’s obvious that this is a big game. If the Cardinals lose this, the Dodgers can save Kershaw for Game 5, having him fully rested and gambling the Cardinals won’t beat him again. If the Redbirds win, LA has to decide if Kershaw against St. Louis on short rest is better than Dan Haren going with plenty of days off. Losing tonight’s game puts a lot on Shelby Miller tomorrow as well. The clearest road to the NLCS is winning tonight. Hopefully that’s the path this team will take!