How often did we see it this season? A great game or a couple of nice games followed up by a stinker, the momentum of a late comeback killed by the next day’s starting pitcher. That was the standard of the season (and, you could argue, the last few seasons) and it showed up in the postseason last night.
If you are going to try the pitching-and-defense route to the World Series, there are two things. One, you better really commit to it because two, there’s little margin for error, no pun intended. The ball had barely landed in Jon Jay‘s vicinity in the fourth last night before the outfielder was pillaged on Twitter. While some of it was over the top, the outpouring was understandable because given the way this series was going, one run could (and did) decide a big game.
While Jay had a significant errorless streak this season, other metrics and some visual inspection don’t rate his defense quite as well as such a streak would indicate. Jay had other issues last night, perhaps rattled by his major miscue, and while I expect he’ll play again this evening, the last two games of this series, assuming they are Game 6 and 7, will be against lefthanders. I expect that Jay has shown his defense isn’t worth the difference between him and a right-handed Shane Robinson when a lefty is on the mound.
It wasn’t all Jay, of course. Even if he’d caught all the balls coming to him, the Cardinals still had to score. That didn’t happen, most tellingly when Daniel Descalso was doubled off second in the fifth. That was a great chance for the Cards to get at least one run back and make a game of it, but instead it fizzled out and nothing came along to take its place.
So while St. Louis has the lead, the Dodgers are well back in this series and might even have the advantage. It’s hard to believe that the team behind could be in better position, but there’s a very strong argument that’s the case.
I like to be optimistic about things, but as you saw in yesterday’s post, I’ve got to curb unreasonable homerism with some conservative thought. Baseball is a humbling game, so if you don’t stay humble on your own, you’ll be humbled later on. Which means that there’s a bit of a war going on in my head.
Point: The Cards are up 2-1 and if they can win tonight, it’s 3-1 and two of those games are at home and one of them would showcase Adam Wainwright, who was not the problem at all last night.
Counterpoint: As we saw last year, 3-1 isn’t a guarantee if the pitching isn’t going your way. The Dodgers would run out Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu, which gives them three really good chances to win.
Point: But St. Louis already beat Greinke and Kershaw and the difference in another Ryu/Wainwright battle could be the home field.
Counterpoint: You think the Cards could beat Greinke AND Kershaw again? If they lose tonight, they are going to have to win two of three against those pitchers, which is a very tall order once, even harder to repeat.
Point: This is the best offense in the National League. There are good pitchers going for the Dodgers, sure, but they’ll eventually figure it out and start putting up some runs and with this pitching staff, just a couple of runs could be all they need.
Counterpoint: Overdue might work for the long season, but there’s nothing to say the Cardinals couldn’t hit .140 for the series. Small samples happen. So far St. Louis has played 31 innings. They’ve scored in three of them. That’s not good and it’s not likely to get significantly better against those starters. Plus David Freese left last night’s game with a calf issue–if it’s serious, that weakens the lineup and bench that much further.
Point: Still, if the Cardinals win tonight, all they need is one game against those three pitchers. Ricky Nolasco goes for LA and he was so bad in September that they pitched Kershaw on short rest against the Braves to be able to skip him.
Counterpoint: There was a lot of talk about Ryu struggling recently as well. Sure didn’t see that last night. Nolasco faced the Cards twice this season and gave up one earned run in 12 innings. There’s no guarantee that Nolasco won’t show up again.
Point: One earned run. He gave up four total, but three were unearned in the five-inning stint he had in August in Busch. The Cards probably would have won that game had they not been in their August malaise–plus that was the game Shelby Miller got knocked out after one pitch and Jake Westbrook came in. Westbrook won’t be pitching in this one. Historical numbers indicate that Nolasco’s struggles could well continue tonight also.
Counterpoint: If the wrong Lance Lynn shows up, it might not matter. We might see more offense in one inning out of these two guys than we’ve seen in entire games during this series. Lynn did have a stronger September, but it was against weaker opponents. His start against Pittsburgh didn’t inspire anyone with extreme confidence–so much so that many expected Miller to be making this start.
Point: Lynn did throw two scoreless innings against the Dodgers already this series and his one start this year against them was in Los Angeles, where he threw six scoreless innings back in June, striking out nine. The historical numbers work in his favor as well.
Counterpoint: You never know what kind of Lynn you are going to get, though. In this series, one mistake could be fatal and Lynn’s not known for mistake-free outings. Plus he can’t afford to compound any blunder behind him with slumped shoulders and a lack of focus, things he’s been accused of in the past.
Point: You could say that about any pitcher in this series, Dodger or Cardinal. The Dodgers got nine hits last night, but a number of those were because of the faulty defense. If it was tighter last night, that number would have been much lower–point being, while LA has put more runners on, they’ve not exactly lit it up either. If Nolasco gave up a run or two early, that could be all she wrote.
No matter how you come down on the argument, there’s no doubt tonight is almost a must-win game for the Cardinals, which seems weird given the fact that they are up in the series. As noted, beating the big three pitchers of the Dodgers once going forward is reasonable. Beating two of them might be more of a stretch.
This series isn’t over yet. Hopefully tonight it will be much closer to a positive resolution!