C70 At The Bat

With the postseason now over the Cardinals, it’s time to start sorting through some of the other responsibilities on my baseball desk.  One of those is voting in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance‘s postseason awards.  As head of the St. Louis Chapter, I was able to assign people to vote for the various awards.  I also assigned myself to tackle the Walter Johnson Award, one of the two ballots the chapter can cast for the best pitcher in the league.  (It’s also a little past due, but I know the guy that counts the votes and since they weren’t finished yet, I think he’ll let it slide.)

With that in mind, here’s my ballot with a few brief comments.

1) Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles–Do we really need to talk about this?  Even when you factor in the fact that the Cardinals beat him in the postseason (which you can’t for this voting, as it’s just for the regular season), he still was head and shoulders over every one else.  When a pitcher is the front-runner for the MVP award, you know it’s a slam dunk win for the top pitcher award.

2) Adam Wainwright, St. Louis–To be fair, Wainwright gets a bit of a bonus for wearing the birds on the bat, letting that break any ties.  Even with that, though, there’s a strong case for him being runner-up to Kershaw’s strong season.  There is a reason he was selected to start the All-Star Game–at the time, he was Kershaw’s equal in most every way.  The dead arm phase of the season cost him, but he still won 20 games and had an ERA in the low twos.  He just is pitching at the same time as one of the all-time greats.

3) Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati–You know I hate to put him on here, but it’s impossible to ignore him.  20 wins, a 2.25 ERA, 242 strikeouts in 243.2 innings?  If Cincinnati had any sort of offense and had been in the hunt, Cueto might have been more in the conversation at the top spot.  As it is, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him edge out Wainwright, but he’s not going to do it here.

4) Jake Arrieta, Chicago–Winter is coming.  Aaron Finkel has been writing a Game of Thrones parody about the coming good Cubs team over at Viva El Birdos and, while good, it’s also quite scary.  The Cubs are starting to figure some things out around Wrigley and one of them was grabbing Arrieta from the Orioles.  Given how the Cardinals couldn’t do anything with him this season, it gives Redbird fans chills to know he’ll be in Cubbie blue for quite some time.

5) Cole Hamels, Philadelphia–It was a lost season in the City of Brotherly Love and therefore Hamels didn’t get a lot of attention.  He was only able to put up nine wins (though, as we all know, wins are a deeply flawed stat) but he had a 151 ERA+ and a 3.07 FIP.  Hamels came just shy of 200 strikeouts and was the one bright spot in a dismal season for the Phils.

The BBA will be announcing the winners on Wednesday, so be sure to check out their web site for them!

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The Darkness Falls

For 29 teams, when the end of the season comes, it’s a tough thing to handle.  Even for fans with teams that were out of the race in June, you miss the companionship of the daily grind, you miss turning on the TV to see your team play ball, however badly.  For teams that make the playoffs, the loss is an extra sting, because you know how close you were to being that one team that can enjoy an offseason.

That sting is sharper or duller depending on how the loss came about.  Was it a steamrolling by a superior team?  That hurts, but you have a bit of resignation to it.  Was it a tight series that went down to the final pitch of the last game?  The sting is greater, given just how close you were, but there’s also a little bit of “that’s baseball” to it.

Then there are the series where you know your team could have won, perhaps should have won, but didn’t.  Those hurt.  Those hurt a lot.  Which is why this series, and especially last night’s game, are going to fester for a while.

First off, let’s talk about the good.  It was very, very nice to see Adam Wainwright out there looking like the Adam Wainwright we know and love.  As someone put it on Twitter, a hurt pitcher doesn’t have the best inning of his postseason deep into his third game, but Wainwright struck out the side in the sixth, mowing down the heart of the Giants order.  If nothing else, that should ease some worries that we were going to lose Wainwright to some surgery or other medical ailment, at least for a while.  An offseason of rest and a plan to limit his use next season might be just what he needs.

Of course, even the greatest of Wainwright can’t come without some controversy.  Wainwright went seven strong innings, retiring the last 10 batters he faced.  He’d also thrown 97 pitches and the top of the Giants order was coming back around in the eighth.

If the score had been anything but 3-2, I might have said send him out there.  Instead, I agree with Mike Matheny (and that happens sometimes, though we weren’t in lockstep all night at all) and I would have pulled him.  To go through an order for a fourth time tends to be courting disaster.  In most cases, it would have been better to have a reliever start with a fresh inning than bring him in with the tying run on base.  To be fair, Wainwright’s been pretty good this year when he’s gone deep enough to face a hitter for the fourth time, but it still seems like you should be able to get six outs from your pen.  A fresh arm, in theory, is less likely to give up a big hit than a tired one.

That’s theory, though, and baseball tends to frown on theories.  We’ve seen Pat Neshek struggle some in the second half, but he’d pitched five hitless innings during the playoffs since his lapse in Game 2 of the NLDS.  There was no particular reason to think that he’d fail to get this game to the ninth in the condition that it is.  Of course, that would have created its own issues, but that’s beside the point.

If there’s any solace in that tying home run by the Giants–and I’m not sure that there is any–is that it wasn’t some banjo hitter or postseason fluke like Mark Lemke hitting it out.  Michael Morse has been a large part of the Giants offense all season long and normally would have been starting had he not been returning from injury.  Neshek got beaten by a quality opponent.  It doesn’t really lessen the sting, but I guess it could be worse.

Once the Giants tied it up, it seemed almost inevitable they were going to win it.  Rallying on your home turf to tie up a game late?  Yeah, the Cardinals know a little about that.  And while you have to credit the attempt the Redbirds made in the top of the ninth, the Giants were able to make that come to naught.  I never like tie games on the road and this one set up to be just another example why.

So, season in the balance, who do you go to?  Why, of course, the pitcher that hasn’t thrown a regulation pitch since the Arizona Diamondbacks were giving him fits.  The moment Michael Wacha came into the game, I knew it was over.  That’s no aspersion on Wacha, of course.  In the ideal world, he’d have been part of the starting rotation this postseason and been just as good as we saw in the first half of the year.  However, he 1) wasn’t sharp after coming back from the stress reaction and 2) HADN’T PITCHED IN 20 DAYS!

I don’t think you can emphasize that enough.  Pitching is feel, pitching is rhythm.  If Wacha had been on the DL for 20 days during the season, he’d have likely gone on a rehab assignment, been limited to 60 pitches in the minors to start building up not only strength but sharpness.  While I realize he wasn’t necessarily going to be asked to go six innings or anything, he’s not going to have any feel for his stuff.  Which is exactly what we saw.

This thought process of Matheny’s, from Jenifer Langosch’s article, is pretty interesting to tear into.

Holding Rosenthal out for a potential save situation, Matheny had four ninth-inning choices: Carlos Martinez, Randy Choate, Wacha or Seth Maness. He did not like how Martinez matched up with the lefties coming up and preferred Wacha over Choate, given Choate’s troubles in that part of the lineup the other day. Wacha had been forewarned pregame that his role could change on Thursday, and Wacha said afterward he was not in any way physically limited.

So we’ve got a lefty specialist that we don’t trust to get lefties out, which is wonderful.  Martinez did struggle with left-handed batters some this season, so I’ll give Matheny that.  Maness had struggled with them as well and had been worked pretty hard the last couple of days.  I still think you go with Choate or Martinez over a guy that threw as many pitches in the postseason as I did until last night.

Of course, then you also have the option to actually throw what should be your best reliever.  Trevor Rosenthal would have been a dicey guy to throw out there and I fully admit he well might have ended the series the same way Wacha did.  I’d have probably been pretty worked up if Rosenthal had come in, to be fair, but he is the closer.  Which means he should be your best reliever.  So why didn’t Matheny, who obviously holds Rosenthal in higher regard than most of the fan base, bring in this weapon?

“We can’t bring him in, in a tie-game situation. We’re on the road.”

That’s the answer Bernie Miklasz got from him.  That sound you hear is millions of palms being slapped into millions of foreheads.

Mike, you’ve got to GET to a tie situation before you can worry about it.  Sure, it’d be great if you could just let Rosenthal sit out there until the Cardinals scored a run, but it’s unlikely the Giants are just going to go along with that plan.  You’ve got to stop them while you can.  It doesn’t do you any good to score in the 10th when the game ends in the ninth.

Again, I’m not saying he should have brought Rosenthal into the game there or that the results would have been any different.  The thinking behind that decision, though, is what’s troubling.

It goes, somewhat, to what we’ve said about Matheny for a long time.  I can’t find it now, but I believe it was someone over at Viva El Birdos that said Tony La Russa thought so far ahead that he started battling demons that weren’t there, while Matheny seems to make decisions ten minutes after he should have.  It so often seems Matheny makes the choice for that moment, not worrying to much about what might happen down the line.  Save for the times, like with Rosenthal, that he looks for contingencies on things that well may not happen.

How different would last night have looked, for instance, if John Lackey goes deeper in Game 3?  Say he just pitches the seventh.  Is Marco Gonzales available last night since he would have not pitched in both the last two games?  Having Gonzales to be able to face the lefties in the ninth would have been nice.  What if Martinez had thrown more than one inning last night, leaving Gonzales fresher for today?

This isn’t hindsight, at least not much.  Most of those decisions were ones that fans were questioning at the time they were made.  They are ramifications that Matheny might have considered, but the evidence doesn’t appear to lean that way.

As Christine wrote over at Aaron Miles’ Fastball this morning, nobody is going to say that Matheny has improved in his third season as manager.  If anything–and this seems to be the most likely scenario–he’s taken a step back, at least tactically.  Honestly, some of his player interactions seem to be undermining his “leader of men” qualities as well, though we don’t really get to see how that works in the clubhouse.  His calling out of Oscar Taveras in the press a few times and burying him and Peter Bourjos on the bench in favor of Randal Grichuk would seem to be conflict starters, not calm sailing waters.  Again, though, we aren’t in that locker room so we don’t know how Matheny sells it to those players or if they’ve bought into it all.  There’s not been any public upheavals, really, so you’d think he’s still doing OK in that regard, even if it seems that quality of his has been tarnished.

Matheny will be back next year, of course.  It’s tough to get rid of a manager who has three NLCS and one World Series berth in his three years on the job.  You do wonder, though, if the Cards are ever going to win the title with him at the helm.  Tactics can be learned, of course, but right now it doesn’t look like Matheny really wants to learn.  I think that the offseason conversations between him and John Mozeliak will be interesting.  At least, I hope they are.  I’d hate to think Mo is just going to pat him on the head and say, “Hey, great work getting us there.”

Of course, coming up with a run in extras last night would have been extra hard without Matt Holliday and Matt Adams in the lineup.  Adams’s removal made sense–you needed the extra speed in the ninth when he was on second representing the go-ahead run.  You could also argue that swapping out Holliday improved your defense at a time when you had a one-run lead, so I’d say that was a defensible (no pun intended) move.  So I’m not saying that Matheny didn’t make the right moves there, but taking that much combined firepower off a lineup that struggles to score anyway was probably not going to work in their favor either.

There were some good performances last night.  Wainwright was superb, save the two-run homer to Joe Panik, which proved to be a big deal.  Without that home run, Wainwright probably at least goes eight innings.  Adams not only had the hit in the ninth to start things off, he had the tying home run earlier off of Madison Bumgarner, which is only his second-most impressive homer off a lefty this postseason.  As much as Adams had his issues with those that throw with a different hand this year, he can still get up and play against them at times.  Some were calling for a platoon at first for 2015, but I’m still convinced that Adams can do OK against lefties with experience and exposure.  I wouldn’t mind a right-handed backup, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know that I’d want a straight platoon.

Let’s give it up for Tony Cruz as well.  After being throw into the fire in Game 2 and not necessarily looking great, he played a solid game behind the plate in Game 5 and also hit what should have been the game-winning home run.  While having Yadier Molina for the last three games would have been nice (and might have been the difference in Game 2 if he’d stayed in), Cruz and Pierzynski picked up a good deal of the slack, to the extent that I don’t know that much, if anything, in the series would have been different with Molina back there.

I started this postseason by tweaking the words to “The Sounds of Silence”.  Now, the darkness falls, the silence of the winter approaches us.  The Rogers Hornsby quote is all too accurate.  As you know, I’m a fairly reactionary poster, writing about the last game and what’s going on with the Redbirds.  Which means that in the winter, this place gets a little quieter.  I’ll still try to write fairly regularly when news and rumor circulates, but it won’t be every day.  I’ll be starting work on the Exit Interview series soon, so you’ll have that to look forward to.  It’s always fun for me to go through each player and try to sum up their season.

Congrats to the Giants, who if nothing else earned the wins by keeping close and being able to take advantages of mistakes, then winning a fairly clean game by the Cards by finding their power for the first time all postseason.  I’m not necessarily rooting for either side in the Series, but it could be an interesting one to watch.

As the Starks say, winter is coming.  It’s going to be a particularly cold one in Cardinal Nation.

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I think you could forgive Cardinal fans if they started exploring nihilism.  It seems like, no matter what they do this series, the Giants are going to wind up scoring crazy runs and win the ballgame.  This series is closer than the 3-1 deficit, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

Would you like to spin the Wheel of Blame?  Because no matter where the arrow lands, it’s likely going to be an accurate target.

Matt Adams drove in the first run but let in the tying and go-ahead runs (plus, if he makes the plays, the sixth run never has a chance to score) with two miscues in a row in the sixth inning.  Plus, with a chance of redemption in the next frame, with two on and two out, he wound up striking out, ending the last real shot at coming back.

Shelby Miller, for all the excitement he generated down the stretch, now has a 4.82 ERA this postseason in two starts and hasn’t gotten out of the sixth in either one.  Last night, staked to both 1-0 and 4-1 leads, he let the Giants continue to reach, allowing eight baserunners in less than four innings.

Randal Grichuk was 0-4 with two strikeouts, leaving three men on base.  John Nagel made the point that at least he’s a power possibility, but you start to wonder how much that counts when the book is obviously out on him.  The home run in Game 3 was big, no doubt, so I don’t know.  I feel like having Peter Bourjos in center and Jon Jay in right would help enough to offset that–at least the first Giant run last night probably doesn’t score if Bourjos is out there, since Jay let the ball come out of his glove for a “double”.

Jhonny Peralta hit into double plays twice in his first two at-bats, ruining a good first inning rally and then driving in a run with his second DP, but since that was followed by a home run, it would have been nice to have someone on.

Marco Gonzales, after looking so sharp during his second stint in the big leagues, wound up allowing three runs last night.  Granted, the third run scored when Seth Maness allowed an RBI single to Buster Posey and the other two were on ground balls that should have been outs, so it wasn’t as bad as the linescore indicated, but it still was a tough outing and one that turned the game, unfortunately.

And if you are spinning the Wheel of Blame, half the spots on there point to Mike Matheny, so there’s a good chance you are going to wind up looking at him.  He stuck with Shelby Miller too long, letting the Giants get back into the game.  There was a lot of grief aimed at Matheny last night on Twitter, some of which was probably frustration at this Giants team directed toward the manager.

(The Wheel of Blame probably avoids Kolten Wong, who hit another home run, turned a nice double play, and doubled and scored another run.  If Peralta hit like he did this postseason, we’d probably already be talking about Kansas City.)

I mean, what can you do when a team has scored about half their runs this postseason via means other than a hit?  They did more of it last night, getting three RBI hits, but the other three came via sac fly and the two misplays by Adams.  I said when the Cards were up that I felt nervous with a three-run lead.  That had less to do with the Cardinal pitching as the fact that there’s some sort of magic with San Francisco in the playoffs, especially this one.

Yes, there’s still a chance to play baseball in St. Louis this year.  Yes, there’s a path to the World Series.  I mean, if you get past today, you get Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson in Busch, both pitchers that the Cardinals have hit this series.  You have to wonder if it matters, though.  The Redbirds could score 5 runs against either of them, but lose 6-5 when the Giants score on a balk.  That’s just the way this series has gone.  Eventually San Francisco will run out of magic, I think.  It just may be when they play that equally charmed Royals team in the Series.

St. Louis has never come back from a 3-1 deficit.  They’ve blown plenty of 3-1 deficits, including to this Giants team two years ago.  If you were writing this in a book or a script, the Cards would come storming back to provide a mirror image of what San Francisco did to them two years ago.  Unfortunately, we don’t get to script October.

There is a path, but there’s a huge boulder in the middle of it in the form of Madison Bumgarner.  The only starting pitcher to really take over a game in this series, Bumgarner allowed only four hits and struck out seven in his 7.1 innings in Game 1.  Can he be beaten?  Sure.  However, it’s a monumental task to expect that to happen in his home ballpark with a chance to clinch a trip to the Fall Classic in front of the home fans.

It would be more encouraging if we knew what we were going to get from Adam Wainwright.  Wainwright continues to say he feels better, that he’s made a mechanical adjustment, all the things that a pitcher has to say after being unlike his ace self for two straight postseason starts.  The problem is, Wainwright can’t take time to get the feel of things or hope to work out the kinks during the game.  One run could be the difference between a flight home to play baseball or a flight home to clean out your locker.  To win this, Wainwright has to be Wainwright from the opening pitch.  The Cards have had postseason magic before, but apparently the Giants have possessed it.  David Freese isn’t walking through that door.

All the cliches are true, you take it one game at a time, there’s always a chance, etc.  The Cardinals can win this tonight, but it’s going to take a team that, frankly, we’ve not seen just a ton of this season for them to dig out of this hole.  Win tonight and maybe there’s a bit more optimism, but that’s a big, big task.  Let’s hope they are up for it.

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Choating One Away

The error was almost incidental, the speeding up of the inevitable.

After all, even if Randy Choate throws a strike to first base, there are still runners at second and third with one out with a left-handed Joe Panik coming up, meaning that Choate would have likely stayed in for that.  Anyone want to bet on whether he’d have gotten out of that jam?

Choate’s an amazing example of anecdotal evidence versus statistical evidence.  My general feeling is that when Choate comes into get a left-handed batter out, he’s hit or miss about getting it done.  It feels like there’s been too many walks and hits by lefties against him this season.

The stats don’t back that up, though.  Here’s his breakdowns against righties and lefties.

Lefties Righties
PA 88 60
H 7 20
BB 8 5
K 28 4
BA .093 .385
OPS .351 .958
BABIP .125 .404

Even so, most of us aren’t exactly confident when Choate comes into a close and late ballgame, even though he’s got a .515 OPS against in 20 games of high-leverage work.

In the heat of the moment, having Choate out there could seem problematic and there are reasons not to have him still there with folks on, but for the most part, he’s gotten the job done this year, something I wasn’t expecting when I started this post.

Then again, there were a number of other Mike Matheny decisions that drew plenty of debate when it came down to the pitching staff.

1) Pulling John Lackey after six innings.  Lackey struggled in the first inning, being unable to put Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval away with two strikes and two outs and seeing that inning explode when Randal Grichuk couldn’t/wasn’t able to get to a ball hit deep into the swirling winds.  (Your opinion on whether Grichuk should have gotten that ball probably depends on if you watched it and your opinion on whether Matheny should have started Peter Bourjos, among other factors.)  After that, though, Lackey was locked in and had thrown less than 80 pitches when his turn came up in the seventh.

Before the inning, it was going to be a tough call on whether you pulled Lackey for a pinch-hitter.  There were good reasons on either side of the argument, especially if runners got on.  Grichuk then made most of those moot by homering the batter before Lackey, tying the game.

So you have the bases empty and a tie game.  You know that tie games in these playoffs and in this series have a tendency to go deep and have some extra frames.  Heck, the Giants played an 18-inning one in the last round, and while expecting that would be nuts, you gotta figure that having pitchers available might be a good thing.  This would seem to be the place to let Lackey hit, take the out, and keep him around for another frame or two.

We’ve often seen Matheny stick with a starter longer than he should, but this time I think he pulled the trigger too quickly, especially when you are going to pinch-hit with Daniel Descalso.  I’m guessing the idea was that Descalso might get on and then be able to turn the lineup over with one out, but even with his improvement in the second half, when he hit .315, I think that was asking a lot.

2) Not using Marco Gonzales for more than one frame.  Again, pitching easily could be at a premium here.  You could be in the 11th or later wondering why you burned through so many arms.  I mean, sure, Michael Wacha is out there, but given that he’s not pitched in a couple of weeks, is that who you want the game riding on?  (And can we say now that we won’t see Wacha in these playoffs?  He’s even rustier than Shelby Miller was this time last year.)  Gonzales threw a scoreless frame.  His spot in the lineup wasn’t coming up.  Nothing against Pat Neshek, who does need to pitch in this game, but why are you going to him?  Was there any reason besides it was the eighth and that’s when Neshek pitches?  He could have pitched a ninth just as easily, especially if it was tied.  When you’ve got a guy that can go multiple innings, use him for multiple innings in this situation.

3) Replacing Seth Maness with Choate.  There’s probably less of an issue here than it appeared after Choate blew the game, but there’s still an issue.  Why not, when you are bringing Maness in, do one of those famed double switches and put Maness in the eighth spot, since Grichuk had just struck out to end the frame, and Bourjos in the ninth spot?  That way you have the option of keeping Maness in the game–two innings isn’t unheard of for the guy–while improving your late game defense?  Of course, the argument against that is that Maness allowed lefties to hit him at a .852 OPS clip and there were a number of left-handers coming up.  I’m not sure those facts appease Mr. Maness’s significant other, however.

The more I look at things, the more that the end of the game decisions by Matheny weren’t as bad as I thought.  I’d have still probably left Lackey or Gonzales in there longer and perhaps worried a little less about left-handed matchups, but Choate should have gotten the job done and he didn’t.  It could have easily been Carlos Martinez having a wild day or another decision that should have worked but didn’t.  Matheny has enough decisions that shouldn’t have worked but did that it’s going to even out eventually.

Lots of ifs in this one, of course, and it’s a frustrating game after the Cardinals rallied the way they did.  When they came back from 4-0 down you felt like, eventually, they were going to get that run across, take the lead, and things were going to be great.  Kolten Wong‘s triple seemed to be the spark they needed, but unfortunately they wasted a few opportunities and the Giants didn’t.

So today’s game plays like an elimination game for the Cardinals.  Yes, they could lose today’s game and find a way to win the series.  There’s a path there, though it involves beating Madison Bumgarner at home, which would seem to be a tall task.  If they got past that, they’d have Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson and Busch Stadium, so it would be conceivable to win the last two, but it’s not a situation that the Cardinals have thrived on in their history.  They are much more likely to give up a 3-1 lead than to come back from that deficit.

Miller will take the mound today in hopes of evening the series and making it a best of three.  He pitched well enough before fading against the Dodgers and, as we know, had a great last month of the season.  Miller didn’t actually face the Giants this season, which might be a good thing.  Element of surprise and all that.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Brandon Belt 8 7 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 .000 .125 .000 .125 0 0 0 0 0
Gregor Blanco 8 6 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 .000 .250 .000 .250 0 0 0 0 0
Hunter Pence 8 7 2 0 0 1 1 1 1 .286 .375 .714 1.089 0 0 0 0 0
Buster Posey 8 8 1 1 0 0 0 0 3 .125 .125 .250 .375 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Crawford 7 7 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .286 .286 .286 .571 0 0 0 0 0
Pablo Sandoval 3 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Vogelsong 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Travis Ishikawa 2 2 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 .500 .500 2.000 2.500 0 0 0 0 0
Total 47 43 7 1 0 2 3 4 11 .163 .234 .326 .560 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/15/2014.

Nobody’s seen him a lot, but at least what they have seen of him he’s done pretty well.  Would be great if that continued today.

Probably needs to, because Ryan Vogelsong becomes a different pitcher in the playoffs and seems to have a way of shutting down the Cardinals as well.  Vogelsong gave up one run in just under six innings against the Nationals last time out.  Cards did get him for four in 6.1 at Busch this season, but he limited them to two in seven in AT&T Park later in the year.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Yadier Molina 27 25 4 0 0 0 0 2 1 .160 .222 .160 .382 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 19 17 5 0 0 0 2 2 3 .294 .368 .294 .663 0 0 0 0 1
Jon Jay 19 19 4 0 0 0 2 0 2 .211 .211 .211 .421 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 15 12 5 0 1 0 1 3 3 .417 .533 .583 1.117 0 0 0 0 1
Daniel Descalso 12 12 2 0 0 0 0 0 3 .167 .167 .167 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 11 9 2 0 0 0 1 2 0 .222 .364 .222 .586 0 0 0 0 2
Pete Kozma 9 8 4 0 0 0 1 1 1 .500 .556 .500 1.056 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Peter Bourjos 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 1
Shelby Miller 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Oscar Taveras 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 129 117 28 1 1 0 7 11 22 .239 .305 .265 .570 1 0 0 0 5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/15/2014.

Yadier Molina says he might have to play with pain, but he’s likely not going to push it given his history with the Giants hurler.  Hopefully Matt Carpenter continues his hot streak against Vogelsong and Matheny doesn’t get any ideas about playing Pete Kozma.  Here’s hoping tonight’s much less frustrating for the Cards!

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The folks at THE San Francisco Giants Blog were so receptive to the Q&A that Craig and I did before the series that they asked that we do a little more of that as the series went along.  So, with Game 3 just hours away from getting started, here are a few more answers from Craig.  I’ve answered some from him and they’ll likely go up over there shortly.

C70: What are your thoughts about the series so far?  Are you content with the split?

SFGB: I am totally content with the split. We just needed one to have a realistic shot at taking the series. Now, playing at home is almost a negative for this reason: If our bats are silent, which is usual, the crowd gets quiet and there’s a lot more pressure on the hitters to perform. I’ve watched it happen for going on 2 years now. I would PREFER to play all of our games on the road.

C70: The Giants have seemed to score a lot of “fluky” runs this postseason. Is there a concern that the offense could be in trouble if they dry up or is the attitude they are doing well now, just imagine if the bats start going?

SFGB: The offense stinks (as I said before the series started). I don’t think anyone expect the bats to suddenly wake up. That’s why advancing will be such a longshot. It’s going to happen with outstanding pitching and fluky runs or it’s not happening.

C70: What should we as Cardinal fans expect out of Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong?

SFGB: I expect both to pitch very well. The pitching staff is locked in. Huddy’s waited his whole life for this opportunity and Voggy never turns in a bad playoff performance.

My thanks again to Craig and I look forward to doing this after Game 5, whether that’s an off-day or a series wrap!

3 comments

Last night had plenty of worry and concern.  At least it went out on a high note.

In a vacuum, Game 2 of the NLCS was an exciting and ultimately fulfilling outing for the Cardinals, who used the home run ball that had been so desperately lacking in the regular season to create leads and dig out of holes.  It was a left-handed attack, as all four of the home runs came from the sinister side.  (Sinister would probably be an appropriate synonym for left there for Giants fans.)

Kolten Wong continues to make up for that World Series gaffe from last year, putting up his second game-winning home run of the postseason, this one walk-off style.  It was fun to look back and see the other three postseason walkoff homers the Cardinals have had.  Ozzie Smith‘s “Go Crazy” homer in 1985.  Jim Edmonds‘s blast in 2004.  David Freese‘s immortal shot in 2011.  While there’s a long way to go to determine if Wong’s blast would live up to those standards–the rest of those game in Game 5 or later in a series and all three times the Cards either moved on to the World Series or, in Freese’s case, won it–it still was a balm from Gilead to the troubled Cardinal fans soul.

Because that soul was sorely troubled last night.  We’re not even talking about another Trevor Rosenthal meltdown, though that definitely was part of it and we’ll get to that in a bit.  No, the most troubling sight was Yadier Molina keeled over in the batter’s box, unable to return to the dugout without help, much less try to run out a ground ball.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the Molina situation, but there are some things that seem painfully obvious.  While the club is going to try to run tests and determine the severity of the issue, even Molina’s famed healing powers probably aren’t enough for this one.  We’ve seen enough oblique injuries in the past few years to know that isn’t something folks come back from quickly.  Even the rosiest scenario would seem to indicate a return in Jupiter next February more than another at-bat in the postseason.  Unless something comes back differently and stuns us all, the Cardinals are without Molina for the rest of the postseason and that just upped the level of difficulty tremendously.  Bernie Miklasz says the team rallied around him last night, which is doable, but sustaining that focus and momentum for seven more wins is going to be tough.

The big buzz on Twitter early on last night was Molina bunting with two on and nobody out.  Now we know, or at least the postgame comments seem to indicate, that the oblique was already bothering him at that time.  Which at least gives a reason for a bunt there, because otherwise it made absolutely no sense.  (Trust me, that point was repeatedly made on Twitter.  Because it’s completely true.)

Now, if Molina is already hurting to the point where he can’t swing the bat, there are a couple of questions.  One, why is he still in the game?  There’s little upside to having him in the lineup if he can’t hit and, most likely, can’t throw.  Yes, he can be a better receiver than Tony Cruz (as we found out) or A.J. Pierzynski, but is the difference worth potentially losing him for the postseason?  We don’t know that rest would have helped it or if they could have caught it early enough to make a difference, but at least there’d have been a chance.

The second question is, if he can’t swing away in the first situation, why was he swinging away with a runner on and nobody out?  That would seem to be just as good of a bunting situation as the time before.  Even if he’d been able to hit the ball to the outfield, he’d have never made it to first base.  While we as fans would have howled about another bunt, once the situation was explained, it would have made some sense.  Instead, Molina swings away with as terrible of a result as you can imagine.

Tony Cruz wasn’t quite up to Molina standards behind the plate.  He immediately allowed a passed ball then was unable to block Rosenthal’s wild pitch in the ninth, getting so turned around that the runner was able to easily score from second base.  It’s possible the same thing would have happened to Molina, but I personally believe Molina could have kept that ball in front of him.  The ball bounced up and then off of Cruz’s arm.  Watching that it seemed like Molina would have approached it a little differently and the ball would have hit more off his chest protector.  Impossible to know, of course, but that was my initial reaction.

It’s also debatable if Molina’s pitch-framing abilities would have helped in the ninth.  There were a couple of pitches that were low in the zone that Rosenthal didn’t get the call on.  I’m not saying they were strikes, but they were close enough that perhaps Molina could have worked his magic to get a strike or two out of them.  Maybe not and it might not have mattered, given Rosenthal’s night.

I wanted to give Rosenthal the benefit of the doubt.  There were some stats that indicated that with enough rest, Rosey was a pretty solid closer.  However, my idea of a pretty solid closer is that, more often than not, you retire the side in order with a lead.  That is not apparently in Rosenthal’s job description.

I went through his game log and noted every time he faced the minimum amount of batters.  I was generous and even counted times where he got a double play to erase someone that was put on.  During the regular season, Rosenthal had a perfect outing 21 times out of 72 appearances.  That’s 29% of the time and that counted one outing where he only had to get one out to lock down the game.  In the postseason?  He’s 0-4 in that category, always putting runners on even as he (usually) gets out of the jam.

For comparison’s sake, I did the same thing for Craig Kimbrel, who is considered by most as one of the top closers in baseball.  Kimbrel was perfect 32 times in his 63 appearances, almost half the time.  While I was surprised to see that it’s harder to have a perfect outing than I expected, it still points to the fact that you shouldn’t have to take your antacid medicine of choice anytime the ninth inning rolls around.

Jon Doble did some great work showing that Rosenthal is nothing particularly special in the ninth inning.  Honestly, the way that Pat Neshek was going last night, I think 90% of Cardinal fans would have rather see him at least start the ninth and see if he couldn’t lock it down.  So far, Mike Matheny hasn’t gone to the old Browns gimmick of letting the fans vote on moves, though.

Matheny was also particularly unmoved by Rosenthal’s struggles.  I might have gone to Seth Maness as soon as a runner got on base, but Matheny didn’t go out to talk to Rosenthal until well into the inning and still allowed him to pitch to Buster Posey after he’d allowed the game to be tied.  I have a feeling he’d have kept Rosenthal in there even longer had his pitch count not been up to 30.  Given how successful his trip to the mound was against the Dodgers, when it settled Rosenthal down and focused him, I’m a little surprised Matheny wasn’t more proactive.

Of course, proactive and Matheny don’t often go in the same sentence.  Someone pointed out that, when Lance Lynn came to bat with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, this was where a manager with a sense of urgency (and a loaded up bullpen) would have pinch-hit for Lynn to try to get some runs.  While I don’t necessarily fault Matheny for leaving Lynn in there then–covering five innings with the pen might have been an issue, depending on how he feels about Michael Wacha–there’s no doubt that in 2011 Tony La Russa would have had Lynn out of there in that situation.  La Russa didn’t always manage like that, though.  ’11 TLR was a unique animal and it worked to perfection.  I’m not sure a lesser manager–and no matter what you think of Matheny, just by experience level he’s a lesser manager than La Russa–could have pulled it off quite as well.

Lynn had a pretty solid game.  I was hoping that when he was staked to a 2-0 lead (more runs than the Cards had scored off the Giants in their last four postseason games against them) he’d be able to hold the line, but the Giants are able to score in fluky ways and are never out of it.  If you can keep San Francisco from receiving wild pitches (this was the second run they’d scored that way in the postseason), passed balls, etc. you can shut down this offense.  For whatever reason, though, they are able to make the most out of the least.  They aren’t likely to club you to death, but they’ll make that paper cut bleed.

We have to give some major love to Oscar Taveras for tying up the game and giving the club a heartbeat after losing Molina and the lead in just a couple of innings.  John Mozeliak said that Taveras needs to learn and he’s hoping this October will teach him.  Obviously he got at least one lesson.  I understand what Mo is saying and we don’t know what happens in the clubhouse, but it also seems to me that you are possibly cutting off your nose to spite your face when Taveras sits against right-handed pitchers.  Randal Grichuk has had a strong September and some moments in the postseason (though he was 2-20 between the home run off of Clayton Kershaw and last night’s RBI single) but you’d think a platoon would be to the team’s advantage.  Again, we don’t know all the dynamics, but just on paper, not having Taveras in the lineup against righties would seem to diminish the team.

All of this and I’ve not touched on Adam Wainwright‘s struggles in Game 1.  I only have a few minutes left, so let me do it quickly.  1) It was better than his last start, so hopefully he’s trending the right way.  2) It’s amazing how quickly folks will give up on a player.  3) All that said, if there’s any potential injury, Waino has to be smart about it.  I know he doesn’t want to let the team down, but he lets them down more by losing ballgames that someone else might have been able to win.  4) I don’t think there’s a realistic option to replace him even if you were going to do that, which you aren’t.  Wacha did warm up last night, but expecting him to go even five innings now would probably be a stretch.  Marco Gonzales has looked good out of the pen, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into similar success starting.  5) While I’ll hold my breath a little more when Wainwright goes out there in Game 5, I think that’s the right call.

All right, Game 3 is out in San Francisco with the crazies by the bay.  (I say that in affection, my SF friends.)  John Lackey gets yet another chance to show why Mozeliak traded for him.  If he comes up as big as he did in the NLDS, that trade is going to tip heavily toward the Cardinals.  Lackey’s pretty much an unknown to these Giant hitters.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Joaquin Arias 6 6 3 1 0 0 2 0 0 .500 .500 .667 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Hunter Pence 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Pablo Sandoval 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Total 12 12 5 2 0 0 2 0 2 .417 .417 .583 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/13/2014.

The bottom line doesn’t look good, but that’s in 12 plate appearances.  That’s pretty much the smallest of sample sizes.  You have to hope that Lackey’s postseason experience comes into play here and that he doesn’t have any freaky stuff happening behind him.

It’d be nice to see Lackey go up against some untested young hurler.  Instead, he gets veteran Tim Hudson, who’s been around these postseason wars for quite some time.  He’s also not a new face to the Cardinal hitters, either.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Holliday 31 26 9 1 0 0 5 5 3 .346 .452 .385 .836 0 0 0 0 1
Yadier Molina 23 15 6 1 0 0 5 5 1 .400 .545 .467 1.012 1 1 1 1 0
Jon Jay 10 8 2 1 0 0 0 1 3 .250 .400 .375 .775 0 0 0 1 0
Daniel Descalso 7 6 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .333 .429 .333 .762 0 0 0 1 0
Matt Adams 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 3 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Tony Cruz 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Oscar Taveras 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Peter Bourjos 2 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 2.000 3.000 0 0 0 1 0
Lance Lynn 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 93 75 23 5 0 0 11 12 13 .307 .424 .373 .797 1 1 1 4 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/13/2014.

Interesting to see that St. Louis has done pretty well against him.  Most of these stats have to be from the last couple of years as well, meaning they have some relevance.  That said, it’s the postseason and there’s no doubt Hudson will be even that much more difficult to solve with the pressures of October on both sides.

Enjoy the off day.  You may need the rest!

3 comments

Another off day.  When postseason baseball is done right (i.e., your team is in them), there are stretches of agonizing, heart-pounding angst followed by periods of almost boring calm.  Right now, with three days between the LDS and the LCS, we’re in that eye of the storm, the calmness before everything breaks loose yet again.  While it’s probably good for our mental well-being, it does tend to drag after a while.  We just want to see some baseball!  Sure, the Royals and the Orioles are going tonight, but does the American League really count as baseball?  That’s a value judgement you have to make on your own.

While we are waiting, everyone tends to try to break down the upcoming series.  If you want more unbiased and reasonable reporting, well, you probably aren’t here.  Still, let’s take a look at what the regular season tells us about the two teams and what kind of wild and erroneous conclusions we can draw from it.

HITTING

Category St. Louis San Francisco
R 619 665
HR 105 132
BA .253 .255
OPS .689 .699
BB 471 427
K 1133 1245

It’s interesting to see how close these two teams really are offensively.  Save for home runs, which the Giants didn’t just crush but did hit at a better rate than the Cards, most everything else is pretty similar.  What the Redbirds lost in power they made up for in patience and contact.

Someone pointed out that the two teams hardest to strike out, St. Louis and Kansas City, are still playing, perhaps indicating that being able to put the ball in play has positive aspects in October.  (Well, it obviously has positive aspects anytime, but maybe more so in the playoffs.)  Being able to wait for a mistake helps you beat pitchers like Clayton Kershaw by fouling off their good stuff or making sure it’s in the zone before you swing.  Will they be able to carry that forward?  It would seem reasonable, though we’ll look at the pitching of each team in a bit.

The Giants scored all of nine runs in four games against the Nationals–four technical games, though Game 2’s extra-inning marathon should have counted for two.  Their last three runs came on a bases-loaded walk, a bases-loaded groundout, and a wild pitch.  To say their offense struggled against the strong starting pitching of the Nats is probably an understatement.

Now, of course, they could break out like the Cards did against the Dodgers, but given the pitching staff the Cardinals have, you have to like the chances of low scoring affairs, something that the Cards have plenty of experience in winning this season.

PITCHING

Category St. Louis San Francisco
Total ERA 3.50 3.50
K 1221 1211
BB 470 389
Quality Starts 91 86
Shutouts 23 12
Starter ERA 3.44 3.74
Reliever ERA 3.62 3.01

While the goal in the divisional series was to try to get into the Dodger bullpen, I’m not sure that should be the same hope this time around.  The arms out there put up some nice numbers and there’s plenty of options for Bruce Bochy to use when different situations arise.  None of the relievers were putting up ridiculously gaudy K/9 rates, but they weren’t shabby either.

The starting rotation is Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong.  Even with the confidence of beating Kershaw, Bumgarner is a scary opponent.  Peavy’s had a good run as a Giant, but I think the Cards have been able to beat him before.  Hudson is always tough and Vogelsong was part of that 2012 collapse, winning Game 6 allowing one run over seven innings.

If Adam Wainwright is fully healthy and on his game, I’d give the Cardinal rotation a slight edge, but it’s very slight.  It would be surprising if either side was able to hang a large number on a starter given how good they are and how the offenses have struggled at times this season.

FIELDING

Category St. Louis San Francisco
Errors 88 100
Range Factor/9 4.12 4.17

Without going position-by-position, it seems like the defenses are pretty similar as well.  The Cardinals catch what they get to, the Giants get to a few more balls.  With the two pitching staffs, limiting errors is going to be key.  Giving a team an extra opportunity is a very good way to give up a run and, with them at a premium, giving up a run could be quite deadly.

THE SEASON SERIES

Date At St. Louis San Francisco
5/29 SL 5 6
5/30 SL 4 9
5/31 SL 2 0
6/1 SL 0 8
7/1 SF 0 5
7/2 SF 2 0
7/3 SF 7 2

San Francisco won the season series 4-3 and, as you can see, there were a lot of games where the bats didn’t show up.

The first game, the Cards got to Vogelsong, getting four runs off of him in 6.1 innings.  However, Carlos Martinez came into the game in relief of Jaime Garcia and gave up two singles and a walk, allowing a run to score, before Trevor Rosenthal came in to try to stop the damage.  Unsuccessfully, it turned out, as he gave up a two-run double to Michael Morse, sealing the deal.  (Note that Morse is going to be activated for this series after an oblique strain had sidelined him since August.)

Game 2 in St. Louis was a matchup of our NLCS Game 1 starters in Wainwright and Bumgarner.  The Giants were up 5-0 after two innings while Bumgarner threw seven scoreless, striking out 10.  The Cards made it respectable off of David Huff, but they were really never in the game.  Factoring in everything, that well may have been Wainwright’s worst game of the year.

The third of the fourth game set saw the Cards win behind six scoreless innings from Michael Wacha, who also won’t be starting in this series.  Yusmeiro Petit, whom St. Louis may see out of the bullpen, allowed just one run in six.  You might remember that one, since it was Oscar Taveras going deep in his first start in the big leagues.  Ah, the memories.

San Francisco took the series with a win in the last matchup, kicking off June by obliterating Lance Lynn.  Lynn allowed seven runs (only four earned, but still) in 3.1 innings.  That was his last bad game until the end of the month, when he allowed seven to the Dodgers.  Since he didn’t have as much trouble with them in the NLDS, let’s hope the same applies here.

A month later, the Cards went out to the Bay Area and took two out of three, though the Giants kept their momentum going by stealing the first one.  Marco Gonzales made his second start in the big leagues and got touched for five runs in 4.1 innings while Tim Lincecum threw eight scoreless, because of course.  A home run by Pablo Sandoval was the big blow off of Gonzales, though the four walks he issued played a role as well.

Wainwright got a shot at redemption and took it the next night, throwing 7.2 innings of four-hit, no-run ball to do just enough to beat the Giants.  Vogelsong allowed two runs in the third on back-to-back RBI singles by Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday (in one of the rare times he batted second) but Wainwright, Pat Neshek and Rosenthal made those two stand up.

The Redbirds took the rubber match in the last meeting of the regular season between the two squads.  They laid into Bumgarner this time, putting up two in the first on a Jhonny Peralta home run, then scoring three more in the fourth to put the game well in hand.  Carlos Martinez got the start and did much better this time, allowing just one run in five while striking out six.  Given the cushion, the bullpen made the rest of the game fairly anticlimatic.

Probably because of my bias, but I like the Cardinals in this one, even though I can’t see it going any less than six.  The home field advantage will help some, given how great the Cards played at home (51-30) versus on the road (39-42).  (For comparison, San Fran was 45-36 at home and 43-38 on the road, so it doesn’t make much difference for them.)  I think that the Cardinal offense might be a bit better than San Francisco’s, at least if the bats can continue from what they were doing last series, and I like the depth of the Cardinal staff.

That said, freaky stuff tends to happen with the Giants in the postseason.  There’s a reason they’ve won seven straight postseason series–they are good and they take advantage of any breaks that might go their way.  The Cards haven’t beaten the Giants in the NLCS since 1987–that needs to end right now.  This is a series that will decide who the “team of the half-decade” will be–whichever team wins will be going to its third World Series in five years.  It’s an even-numbered year, which has worked out for the Giants in the past, but every streak comes to an end.

Let’s look at the historical numbers for our Game 1 starters.  First, Bumgarner.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Holliday 20 18 3 0 0 0 0 2 5 .167 .250 .167 .417 0 0 0 0 1
Yadier Molina 18 16 5 0 0 0 0 2 0 .313 .389 .313 .701 0 0 0 0 0
Jon Jay 15 14 6 3 0 0 3 1 3 .429 .467 .643 1.110 0 0 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 11 11 1 0 0 1 2 0 3 .091 .091 .364 .455 0 0 0 0 1
Daniel Descalso 9 9 3 1 0 0 1 0 2 .333 .333 .444 .778 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 6 5 3 2 0 0 0 1 2 .600 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 6 6 1 1 0 0 0 0 5 .167 .167 .333 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Tony Cruz 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Pete Kozma 5 4 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 .250 .400 .500 .900 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 1
Oscar Taveras 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 1
Peter Bourjos 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 2 2 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
John Lackey 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Seth Maness 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 112 104 25 8 0 1 9 8 28 .240 .295 .346 .641 0 0 0 0 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/10/2014.

Unsurprisingly, he’s been very good.  That’s basically because he’s a really good pitcher.  The confidence that this team has after beating Kershaw twice will help, but this is a Giants team that has plenty of postseason experience and Bumgarner isn’t likely to rattle on the big stage.  You can never account for luck, of course, but I expect that he’ll throw a very good game, even if he doesn’t inspire the same fear that Kershaw does.

Now, Mr. Wainwright.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Hunter Pence 54 54 15 4 0 3 5 0 12 .278 .278 .519 .796 0 0 0 0 0
Pablo Sandoval 23 21 6 0 0 0 2 2 3 .286 .348 .286 .634 0 0 0 0 2
Gregor Blanco 21 20 3 0 0 0 0 1 2 .150 .190 .150 .340 0 0 0 0 1
Brandon Crawford 20 20 4 2 0 0 2 0 6 .200 .200 .300 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Buster Posey 15 14 2 0 0 0 1 1 0 .143 .200 .143 .343 0 0 0 0 1
Brandon Belt 13 11 2 2 0 0 0 2 2 .182 .308 .364 .671 0 0 0 0 1
Joaquin Arias 7 7 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .286 .286 .286 .571 0 0 0 0 0
Madison Bumgarner 6 6 3 0 0 0 0 0 2 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Travis Ishikawa 6 5 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 .000 .167 .000 .167 0 0 0 0 0
Joe Panik 3 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 .667 1.333 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Vogelsong 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 1 0 0 0 0
Tim Lincecum 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Yusmeiro Petit 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 172 163 39 8 0 3 10 8 36 .239 .275 .344 .618 1 0 0 0 5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/10/2014.

Waino’s been bueno, of course, and it’s good to see that he’s been able to corral the Giants for the most part.  Nobody has much of a line against him–well, expect Bumgarner!  Let’s try not to walk the eighth place guy to get to the pitcher in this one, OK, Mike Matheny?

For all the complaining in the national media about the familiarity of this series, I expect it’s going to be a better baseball series than the ALCS.  My gut feeling over there (and, given I don’t follow the American League all that much, is probably not worth the pixels used to express it) is that Baltimore is going to end that Cinderellaish run of the Royals in five games or so.  Maybe not and we’ll still have a chance for an ’85 rematch (this time with instant replay), but that’s what I’m thinking.

This one, though, could be decided late in every matchup.  Which is scary given Rosenthal, but it’ll be exciting baseball no matter!

0 comments

The National League Championship Series came into being in 1969, when that year’s expansion to Montreal and San Diego forced baseball to divide each league into divisions.  While it took a while for St. Louis to visit the NLCS, they’ve done a great job of making it their home.

The Cards didn’t make the big stage until 1982, when they swept the Atlanta Braves in three games.  (No, that’s not a “Detroit in three” reference, the NLCS didn’t expand to seven games until 1985.)  Darrell Porter took home MVP honors there, but given that this one was 1) before I started watching baseball and 2) never much talked about, I’m guessing it wasn’t largely memorable.  Sounds like it was a wet series, though, with a couple of rainouts.

St. Louis returned to the NLCS in 1985 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  It’s possible you know something about this series.

Indeed, Cardinal Nation went crazy but it’s easy to forget that this series wasn’t over.  Ozzie Smith‘s homer sent the Cards out to LA for Game 6, where Tommy Lasorda’s fateful decision to pitch to Jack Clark with a base open gave Tom Niedenfuer back-to-back games that would never be forgotten.  I don’t know the reception Dodger fans gave Niedenfuer in 1986 and beyond, but these days I can’t imagine how a player would survive given social media and so much extended coverage.  Ozzie got the MVP for this series, by the way.

St. Louis won their third NLCS in 1987 in their first postseason matchup with the San Francisco Giants.  This was a seven game classic that went back and forth as both teams won once on the opponents’ soil.  The Cardinals had to rally in this series, coming back to St. Louis for Games 6 and 7 down three games to two.  Not only did they win those games, but John Tudor and Danny Cox both led the staff to shutout wins as the Giants didn’t score for the last 22 innings.  Even with all that, Jeffery Leonard, who made waves with his “one flap down” home run trot won the MVP though his team lost.

If there is still bad blood between the two organizations, something that’s debatable in my opinion, it most likely started here.  Leonard’s home run trot was designed to infuriate and Chili Davis stoked the fire by calling St. Louis a “cow town” before the series started.  Add those elements into a fairly tight series and, well, perhaps it’s not surprising the next season Will Clark and the Wizard got into a scrap.

After appearing in the NLCS three times in six seasons, St. Louis disappeared from the big stage for a while.  New ownership arrived and they brought in a new manager.  That seemed to work out pretty well.

In 1996, his first year at the helm, Tony La Russa led the Cardinals (liberally dashed with his former A’s) to the Championship Series.  This was the first time that the Cards had to get by another round of playoffs before reaching this one, having disposed of the Padres in three games before reaching a matchup with the NL team of the decade, the Atlanta Braves.

The Braves were in the midst of their run of eight straight NLCS appearances, the all-time record.  While they didn’t always win them, this was a powerhouse squad that had plenty of postseason experience.  Experience that came into play when they dug themselves a hole.

St. Louis raced out to a 3-1 lead in this series.  As they’d never lost an NLCS, no doubt there were many visions of taking on the other team of the decade, the Yankees, in the Fall Classic.  However, as we know, 3-1 leads can be anathema to this squad.  I guess when you throw Todd Stottlemyre, Alan Benes and Donovan Osborne against John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, you kinda understand how the Braves outscored the Redbirds 32-1 in the last three games to take the title.  Game 7 was as anti-climatic as they come, as Osborne didn’t make it out of the first inning, leaving with a six-run deficit.  Javier Lopez, the Braves’ catcher, took home MVP honors.

Once the new millennium came around, though, the Cardinals started changing their address most every October, having their mail delivered to the championship series.  Since 2000, they’ve played in nine (counting the one that begins Saturday night) of fifteen championship series.  If the NLCS had a sponsor, it’d be the Gateway Arch.

They started the 2000s off by facing off against the New York Mets in the championship series.  While there’s a very memorable LCS against the Mets coming up, this one was fairly unremarkable, overshadowed for the most part by the continuing meltdown of Rick Ankiel.  Ankiel had started his strange inability to throw strikes against the Braves in the divisional series and proved that wasn’t a one-time deal when he couldn’t get out of the first inning of Game 2 due to balls leaving the local ZIP code.  The legend of Mike Hampton culminated in this series (he was the MVP), as he was a target of the Cardinals during free agency in part because of the way he was able to manhandle them both here and when he was with Houston.

The Cards missed 2001 when they lost in the bottom of the 9th in Game 5 of the NLDS, but returned in 2002 to face off again with the Giants.  St. Louis had leads in both Games 4 and 5 but were unable to hold them as the Giants lost only Game 3 in the series.  Kenny Lofton proved to be an irritant to the Redbirds, shouting at the Cardinals before delivering the game-winning hit, then spending his first moments as NL champ pointing and hollering at their dugout.  However, Benito Santiago was the one that took home the MVP hardware.

St. Louis started a run of three straight NLCS appearances in 2004 with possibly the strongest Cardinal team of the past decade.  However, the Houston Astros were just as strong, led by Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte on the pitching staff and the “Killer Bs” (Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell, Carlos Beltran and Derek Bell, two of which would eventually don the birds on the bat).  St. Louis trailed three games to two before Jim Edmonds ended an extra-inning affair with a dramatic home run.  The next day, the Astros got ahead early before Jimmy Ballgame did this.

That kept the game close and eventually Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen made Clemens pay.  Pujols took home MVP honors and the Redbirds moved on to face the Red Sox in the World Series, a series we will not discuss here.  Or anywhere.  Ever.

2005 saw these two teams match up again, but with a different result.  Houston had a chance to end this series in Game 5 but, well, you know…..

Unfortunately, all that did was send the series back to St. Louis, where MVP Roy Oswalt closed down Busch Stadium II with a Game 6 victory.

Nothing comes easy for the Cardinals in the postseason.  Nowhere was this more evident than in 2006, when they matched up again with the Mets.  The first six games went back and forth with the Cards taking a 3-2 series lead back to New York before losing Game 6.  While the rest of the games in this series had their moments, such as So Taguchi going deep off of Billy Wagner in Game 2, most all anyone remembers from this series is Game 7.  What a game it was.

After trading runs early, it looked like Rolen had put the the Cardinals ahead with a two-run home run in the sixth, but Endy Chavez had other ideas.

That kept the game tied and it stayed that way until the ninth, when Yadier Molina–not the full-blown offensive force that we know today, but a guy that hit .216 in the regular season–untied it.

That gave the Cardinals a two-run lead to turn over to their young fill-in closer, Adam Wainwright. Proving that Trevor Rosenthal‘s antics are only the latest in a long line of closer heartburn, Wainwright proceeded to load the bases to bring up Beltran, a noted Cardinal killer. The rest, as they say, is history.

That last pitch by Wainwright not only finished that series, a series that Jeff Suppan took home MVP honors for, but was the last pitch the Cardinals threw in a championship series for the next five years.  In 2011, the Cards returned to their rightful stomping grounds and faced the Milwaukee Brewers, the team that had beaten them out for the divisional crown.  Proving that the regular season didn’t mean all that much, the Cards pounded the Brewers in six games as La Russa managed his pitching staff like there was no tomorrow.  No starter went more than five innings as La Russa played matchup baseball frequently, but with MVP David Freese and the rest of the Cardinal offense putting up 43 runs, including two games of 12 runs apiece, it all worked out and their magical run continued.

It looked like things were going to repeat in 2012 as St. Louis matched up with San Francisco for the third time in their history.  And history did repeat, just not the history that the Cardinals wanted.  With a commanding 3-1 lead and Game 5 in Busch Stadium against Barry Zito, the Cards looked poised to go to back-to-back World Series for the first time since 1967-68.  Instead, the Giants outscored the Cardinals 20-1 over the last three games, moving on to their second World Series in three years with MVP Marco Scutaro proving to be one of those pesky hitters the Cards just couldn’t solve.

The Cards took another crack at it last year against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  It was the first time since ’85 the two teams had met with the Series on the line and with Los Angeles having otherworldly pitcher Clayton Kershaw, it seemed a tough task for even the potent St. Louis offense.  The Cards took a 3-2 lead to Game 6 in St. Louis on the basis of solid pitching, as they had only scored 12 runs total to that point.  Game 6 was a scoreless affair between Kershaw and Michael Wacha until Matt Carpenter had an at-bat for the ages in the third.

That opened the floodgates and eventually four runs would score in the frame.  With Wacha being so outstanding–he would take home MVP honors–that was more than enough, but the Cards scored five more in the fifth anyway to seal the deal.  For the second time in three years, St. Louis would be the National League representative in the World Series.

So what does all of that tell us?  Well, it tells us that it rarely comes easy for St. Louis.  They swept their very first one, but other than that they’ve never won a series in less than six games.  It tells us that the Giants have recently had our number, something that needs to change if the Cards are going to get those back-to-back Series berths.  More than anything, though, it tells us that in the next week or however long this series lasts, there are going to be some memorable moments, moments that, if we are lucky, will etch themselves in the deep fabric of Cardinal history.

What moment will be clip-worthy?  What shorthand will we use to describe that big home run or key defensive stop?  We don’t know.  All we know is it’s coming and we’re ready for it!

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Once the Giants had disposed of the Nationals and were set as the other half on the NLCS, I reached out to Craig of THE San Francisco Giants Blog (fine title until you note the URL) to see if he’d answer a few questions for me. Not only was he up for that, but he sent some my way as well, which you can check out over here.

So think of this as a great bookend to the preseason Playing Pepper series. Let’s get to know these Giants!

C70: For those that haven’t followed the Giants this season, what’s been the overarching narrative for the team this year, in your opinion?

SFGB: It’s just been the weirdest year I can ever remember. We were never really as good as our 42-21 record to start the season. But we certainly weren’t as bad as the slop we had to watch for the following 2 months. Then Sept hit and they turned it on again. Going into the WC game vs Pittsburgh I don’t think any of us knew what we were going to see. But there has been a strange aura around this team since 2010. Once we get to the playoffs, good things start happening. And for all our glaring weaknesses (mostly, the offense) the 2014 playoffs have picked up right where 2012 left off…

C70: What do the Giants do really well and what is their biggest weakness?

SFGB: They compete. I know that sounds like a cliché but it’s true. And they do it with an attitude that you have to have in the playoffs. They don’t get too high or too low. When things go sour they don’t turn into a bunch of third graders and start yelling at the umpire and/or throwing their equipment around (see: 2014 Nats). This won’t be such an advantage vs a team like the Cards who have playoff experience and who are professional.

C70: How similar is this team to the 2012 squad that the Cardinals lost to?

SFGB: Not similar at all. As you know, they’re missing Pagan, Cain, Timmy, Scutaro, Romo (as a dominant closer) and a few other guys I can’t think of right now. In terms of general team comparison, I think the 2012 team had better pitching and significantly better hitters. And I don’t think getting Morse back will be that big of an upgrade but he’s certainly better than what they’ve been trotting out to LF in his absence.

C70: What’s likely to be the rotation for the series?

SFGB: I don’t think there will be any surprises—Bum, Peavy, Hudson and then either Voggy or back to Bum on short rest if need be. Bochy doesn’t really have too many options after Bum and Peavy (the only 2 SP’s I trust on this staff).

C70: If there’s one player beyond the obvious that you want up with the tying run on second and one out, who would it be?

SFGB: Tough one. Our hitters stink. But if I had to choose one, ignoring RISP averages, I’d go with Brandon Crawford vs a LH or a RH. He battles and he almost always gives you a good at bat.

C70: What, if anything, does Bruce Bochy do regularly that drives the fanbase crazy?

SFGB: Nothing. Bochy is widely acknowledged by smart Giants fans to be the best manager in the game. Don’t listen to any of that Yahoo noise you might read in the comment sections of those articles. Any mistakes he does make get lost in the many, many free passes he’s earned since 2010. And he saves his best stuff for the playoffs. Bochy walks on water in the eyes of true Giants fans who understand the game.

C70: What worries you about facing the Cardinals?

SFGB: The fact that they’re better than we are. But I thought the Pirates and Nats were better than us too, so I’m not really sweatin’ that ☺. Seriously, the Giants are on borrowed time this post season. This is easily the worst of our last 3 playoff teams. But we’re along for the ride for as long as Hunter and the boys have their foot pressed on the gas pedal.

C70: Given the recent history of the Giants, the fact that they tend to win it all if they make the playoffs, how would this year be considered if they were to end their season in the NLCS?

SFGB: As I responded above, I’m good with what they’ve accomplished so far this year. No more expectations. We have 2 World Series wins in the bank since 2010 so our fan base isn’t desperate for a WS win the way the Royals or the A’s or the freaking Dodgers are. I honor the heart and soul that this team has displayed to make it as far as they have this year. If they advance and/or win the WS they will have won it with their GIANT sized heart.

C70: How long do you expect this series to go? I know better to ask you who you think will win!

SFGB: I’ll say it goes 6 games and I’m not making a prediction on who will win or not. I could see either team winning.

C70: What was your favorite Hunter Pence sign? And bonus question, are we going to find out 20 years from now that he’s gone completely off the deep end?

SFGB: To a man, every fan I know thought the sign phenomenon was the dumbest thing ever. As soon as they got off that road trip the sign craze died immediately at AT&T. I know there were a few signs shown last night but those were just people trying to get on tv. Trust me, NOBODY has been doing the Hunter Pence sign game at AT&T since they came off that road trip in August (when it was going crazy on the road).

Hunter’s eyes may be crazy and his swing is a little cockeyed and he throws like I did in the 6th grade, but he’s as sane as they come. In 20 years he’ll probably own the team. Or he’ll be mayor of SF. Giants fans love him almost as much as they love Timmy (and yes, despite his disappearance this year, Timmy is a god to those at AT&T).

Appreciate Craig taking the time to answer these questions.  It really seems that this series is going to be a tight, close matchup, great for the cardiologists who need a little extra cash.  Should be fun!

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My lack of vocalization saved me $35.  At least temporarily.

When Matt Adams, or as we call him due to his myriad of nicknames around the Internet, Big Fill-In-The-Blank, stepped to the plate in the seventh inning with a blank on the scoreboard but two runners on the pond, I almost remarked to my wife, “If he hits a home run here I’m buying his t-shirt.”  Mainly because my wife only has a casual interest in baseball and it would have taken more explanation than it was worth, I didn’t say anything.  But I kinda felt it coming.  (Sounds like I wasn’t the only one.)

A pitch later, 47,000 in the park and many more watching at home broke out dancing as the blank on the scoreboard got filled in the biggest and best way.

Because that’s the way the Cardinals do it in October, right?  The big guy who has struggled against everyone recently and against lefties for his whole (major league) career yanks a pitch from the best lefty currently active over the wall to give his team the lead.  That could be a defining highlight for some organizations.  The Cardinals have to squeeze to find room for it.  (I mean, it’s big, but it’s not bigger than home runs by David Freese, Jim Edmonds or Albert Pujols….and that’s just in the last 10 years!)

They say baseball is a game of inches and the seventh inning proved that axiom true yet again.  As big as that home run was by Adams, he’d have probably been up with the bases empty and two out had the batter prior to him, Jhonny Peralta, hit his ball half an inch farther left.  Hanley Ramirez got his glove on it, but it wasn’t solidly enough and it bounced off the lip of the glove into the green grass of the outfield.  If that ball is caught, we’re probably talking about Game 5 right now.

Kudos are due to Shelby Miller as well.  A year after being skipped in the postseason almost entirely, Miller made his first postseason start and did so in fine fashion.  For five innings he matched the reigning and likely repeating Cy Young winner, putting zeroes up on the board and not laboring to do so either.  The sixth was a little different and he was unable to hold the gap at 1-0 with the bases empty, but you can’t fault Miller at all for what he gave the club.  If he can do that and go a little deeper against the Giants, he might pick up his first postseason win.

Speaking of postseason wins, do you think the Cardinals are going to label Marco Gonzales the vulture?  St. Louis won three games in this series and Gonzales got his name next to two of them, pitching three innings in exchange for those two win tallies.  Yes, pitcher wins mean little and especially in the postseason, but I’m betting the rookie finds that pretty cool nonetheless.

As for Clayton Kershaw, that’s a tough way to go out.  Just like in Game 1, he proved that the Cardinals don’t necessarily have him figured out, but they were able to do enough when it mattered, getting to him when he tired.  If Don Mattingly trusted his pen, this might be a completely different series (though, to be fair, it’s unlikely he’d have done anything different yesterday other than maybe starting the seventh with a different pitcher).  Instead, the big money team goes home and the team apparently nobody in America but Cardinal fans wants to see moves on.

A couple of personal observations.  First, I’m loving the emotion that these guys are showing in these big moments.  Both Adams and Kolten Wong on Monday night skipped around the bases, riding that high and not being afraid to show it.  St. Louis gets this reputation as a “no fun” team, that you have to do things “the right way”.  There’s a respect for the game in that clubhouse, sure, but you tell me those guys aren’t having fun.  Watching Adams after that home run, well, you’ll believe a big man can fly.

The other observation goes along with that.  Would a no-fun team think of adding water guns to the mix for a celebration?  That’s got to be the best addition to postseason parties since champagne.  I imagine those guns won’t work all that well after being used to shoot beer across the clubhouse, but I’m thinking they were one-time use anyway.  They’ll buy more to use after the NLCS if necessary!

There will be time to look ahead to the rematch of the 2012 NLCS soon.  No doubt us here at The Conclave will be breaking it down over the next few days and I know it’ll be a topic when Chris Mallonee and I talk on UCB Radio (tonight, 10 PM CDT, Blog Talk Radio).  Right now, though, it’s time to revel in what has happened.  You can’t live in the past, but that doesn’t mean you can’t savor it!

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A true Carpenter and a Carpenter in spirit took center stage in Busch Stadium last night.  When that happens, good things usually result and now the Cards are one game away from their fourth straight NLCS, which as far as I could tell would be the second-longest streak ever, only eclipsed by the eight game run the Braves had in the ’90s.

It’s too bad that divisional series don’t have an MVP, because if St. Louis wins either tonight or Thursday, there is no doubt that title would be bestowed on Matt Carpenter.  We know what he did in Game One (homer and huge three-run double) and Game Two (game-tying homer).  Last night, he hit a home run for the third straight night plus tacked on a double later on.  His homer put the Cardinals in the lead and, while they would eventually relinquish it, it still was a huge moment.

Some Cardinal fans took to Twitter before the game and expressed the opinion that John Lackey “had a little Chris Carpenter in him”.  That bulldog mentality, that ability to rise to the biggest of moments, all that we were accustomed to getting out of a New Englander.  (Sure, Lackey is from Texas, but he PLAYED in New England!)

That came through last night.  Lackey threw seven innings, allowed only five hits and one run, and struck out eight in a masterful performance.  As we’ve said before, the postseason is what John Mozeliak made that trade for and right now, it’s looking like a smart deal.  No matter what Joe Kelly and Allen Craig may do in the future, if Lackey pitches well and the Cards win the title, it’s a win for St. Louis.  Flags fly forever, as you know.

And yet the biggest moment didn’t come from either of these guys, but a guy that needed his own brand of redemption.  Kolten Wong will never fully erase being picked off in the World Series, but more moments like last night’s home run will force that pickoff to that curiosity corner of his career rather than front and center, defining him.  I didn’t get to watch the game until the very end, but seeing the replays of him joyously going around the bases, the emotion he had coming into the dugout, all of that was such a great thing to see.  Nobody will remember he hit into two double plays in this game.  That home run will likely be part of his legacy forever.

The Cardinals had a number of chances to tack on after Wong’s home run, having the bases loaded later in the seventh as well as in the eighth, but they were unable to capitalize.  They probably could have in that latter instance had not J.P. Howell made an outstanding play on Wong’s liner up the middle.  If that gets past the pitcher, there’s a good chance Wong could have at least beat it out and a run scored.  Instead, it went 1-2-3 and that left a two-run lead for Trevor Rosenthal to try to close out.

If you are going to give the save to anyone, perhaps you should give it to the grounds crew.  Rosenthal got the first out, then gave up a solid single to Hanley Ramirez, which is understandable.  After all, Ramirez had three hits in the game including that one and tends to be able to hit the Cardinals (as well as most other teams) well.  He then got ahead of Carl Crawford, but Crawford eventually just stuck his bat out and hit a flare over Wong’s head.  Two on, one out and stomachs are churning all over Cardinal Nation.  (Fair disclosure, I turned it on around Wong’s double play and watched the ninth.  I think I’ll try not to watch any of today’s game, make sure it’s not me.)

After throwing wild to go to 2-0 on Juan Uribe, Mike Matheny comes out and gets the grounds crew to fix up the mound a little bit.  Rosenthal then threw five pitches, four for strikes and two of which wound up in the glove of Randal Grichuk.  Perhaps the drying powder they put out there sucked up some of Rosenthal’s messiness as well.  More than anything, the time waiting around seemed to help Rosenthal calm down a bit and come after the hitters a little more.

Beyond a sweep (which was oh-so-close), this is where you’d want to be as a Cardinal fan, but Dodger fans aren’t exactly standing on window ledges.  After all, if you are from LA you are thinking the Redbirds have to beat Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke and it’s perfectly reasonable that those two guys can win back-to-back games, as they’ve done it all season long.

We know the Cardinal history with Kershaw, which is why I was a bit surprised that the Dodgers wanted him to go out there on short rest.  St. Louis has been able to put up runs on a fully rested Kershaw, so what could they do with one that threw just three days ago?  That said, Kershaw also was pretty dominant in that first game for most of it, putting down 16 in a row.  If he does that again, there’s no doubt Don Mattingly will go to his bullpen quicker.  The Cards have done OK on that bullpen so far, however, so that might not be a terrible thing.

Look, today’s a tough game.  Anyone that has followed the Cardinals and seen 3-1 leads disappear isn’t going to be impressed with a 2-1 version.  Thankfully, the Cardinal pitching should be up for the task.  You’ve got a rested Adam Wainwright going in Game 5, if necessary, but today you put it on Shelby Miller.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Adrian Gonzalez 7 7 4 0 0 1 4 0 1 .571 .571 1.000 1.571 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Ellis 6 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 1 1
Andre Ethier 6 6 2 0 0 1 3 0 0 .333 .333 .833 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Dee Gordon 6 6 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .500 .833 0 0 0 0 0
Juan Uribe 6 5 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 .200 .167 .200 .367 0 1 0 0 0
Clayton Kershaw 5 4 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 .250 .400 .250 .650 0 0 0 0 0
Carl Crawford 4 3 3 2 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 1.000 1.667 2.667 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Kemp 3 3 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 .667 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Yasiel Puig 3 2 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 .500 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Dan Haren 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Hanley Ramirez 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Miguel Rojas 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 52 45 17 5 0 2 9 5 9 .378 .442 .622 1.065 0 1 0 1 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/7/2014.

Small sample size of course, but that’s not real encouraging there.  Then again, Crawford owned Lackey, we said yesterday, and he went 0-3 last night against him.  Miller’s seen the Dodgers twice this year, but they were not part of that late season run of good starts, so whatever adjustments Miller has made may counteract some of this history against him.  Miller gave up six runs in five innings to LA in their park in June, with the big blow a three-run homer by Andre Ethier.  He also pitched a scoreless inning-plus in relief when the Dodgers were in St. Louis right after the All-Star Break, but even that was shaky as he gave up a hit that was erased on a double play, then started the next frame with a double and a walk before being pulled.  What we have to hope is that the new and improved Shelby Miller, the one we saw from the end of August on, will be the one that shows up tonight.

It’s as close to a must-win as you can get when you are leading a series.  Going back to Los Angeles and having to figure out Greinke isn’t exactly how we’d want to see this end, even with Wainwright on the other side.  Let’s hope by tonight we’re watching the Giants/Nationals game as a scouting trip!

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No Lack-ey Of Drama Tonight

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.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Matt Carpenter 10 10 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .200 .200 .200 .400 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 10 9 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 .333 .400 .333 .733 0 0 0 0 1
Jon Jay 8 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .125 .125 .125 .250 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 7 7 2 0 0 0 0 0 3 .286 .286 .286 .571 0 0 0 0 0
Yadier Molina 6 6 2 0 0 1 1 0 2 .333 .333 .833 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Pete Kozma 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 3 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 .667 .667 .667 1.333 0 0 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 3 3 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Seth Maness 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Descalso 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 56 55 13 1 0 1 3 1 15 .236 .250 .309 .559 0 0 0 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/6/2014.

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.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Carl Crawford 50 48 23 3 1 2 9 0 1 .479 .479 .708 1.187 2 0 0 0 0
Juan Uribe 25 25 7 4 0 0 1 0 3 .280 .280 .440 .720 0 0 0 0 2
Andre Ethier 18 16 4 1 0 0 0 1 5 .250 .333 .313 .646 0 0 0 1 0
Adrian Gonzalez 18 17 6 1 0 0 4 1 4 .353 .389 .412 .801 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Kemp 13 13 2 0 0 0 0 0 7 .154 .154 .154 .308 0 0 0 0 0
Yasiel Puig 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Hanley Ramirez 3 3 1 0 0 1 2 0 0 .333 .333 1.333 1.667 0 0 0 0 0
Total 130 125 43 9 1 3 16 2 21 .344 .359 .504 .863 2 0 0 1 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/6/2014.

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!

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