The Division series is upon us folks. The Cards and Dodgers open up play Friday night and all the pregame chatter will stop and the pitchers will wind and fire. Are you ready? How has the baseball free week been treating you? For me, it has stayed close. No matter how hard I try to disconnect, the game of baseball doesn’t let go until December. Since I was a kid, the game has taken a hold of my resistance forces and slammed them on the ground. It’s always connected. With that in mind, I thought I would examine 5 ways the Cards can win this series. Throw out the regular season statistics. For Cards fans, they are all pretty scary for St. Louis. It’s not David versus Goliath, but it’s close if you just look at the stats. So let’s look at a few things that could swing the series back in the Cards direction.
1.) Waino Being Waino
It’s simple. Adam Wainwright will pitch Games 1 & 5. If he comes out and gets ripped by the Dodgers on Friday night, the rest of his brilliant 20 win season will be forgotten and that will loom large. Remember last year between the Cards and Sox, when Jon Lester outpitched Waino twice and that propelled Boston to the win? This series is similar, in that each team has their aces lined up to start and finish, if necessary, the series. The series will more than likely go five games. Waino will pitch two times in Los Angeles. When right, the man could pitch on the 50 yard line of a sold out Comcast Field with Seahawks gawking around the mound. He could throw to Yadi anywhere in the world when right. Everyone knows the Cards have found ways to beat Clayton Kerhsaw in the past but that doesn’t bode well for this year. He could throw an absolute gem against the Birds, who are prone to using cold bats against lefties, righties or anyone with a decent appendage in 2014. It’s a tossup but I can tell you this. If Waino is bad or off in Game 1, the Cards are in trouble. He is the heart in this series.
2.) Make Good Use of Opportunities on Offense
The Cards hit singles like no other. They can draw walks and get on base. It’s actually scoring that seems to be the hard part. The Cards were only +16 in run differential this season, which is mind boggling for a division winner. The Cards must take advantage of their opportunities. If they get a runner on third and have one out or less, score him. Sacrifice flies, well placed ground balls or the old good double or home run will do. If the Cards put two on with less than 2 out against Kershaw and come up empty, a bruise will show up on the box score. They get on base and can load them up, but far too often the left on base box score will loom larger than the hits and runs. If that happens this week, cancel the Cards’ NLCS trip plans.
3.) Rosenthal Efficiency
This is another given fact of course, but it can’t be said enough. In last year’s playoffs, Trevor Rosenthal walked 3 batters in 11.2 innings and struck out 18. The Cards will require that kind of efficiency from Rosenthal if they want to advance. Rosenthal was one of the rare great things all around about the World Series in 2013 as well. He was lights out up until the last batter. This year, he has been a walking timebomb. He only blew 6 games on the season but it seemed like every other outing he would put 2 runners on base and raise the anxiety levels across the Midwest. He isn’t easy to watch and favors free passes to goners but the fact remains about his abilities in the postseason. He has been very good and he can remove all the nervous feelings about his 2014 regular season with a reliable postseason. I expect there to be a lot of 1-3 run games this series. The closer’s will loom large. Kenley Jansen had a great year for LA. He converted 44 of 49 saves and only walked 19 in 65 innings with only 5 home runs allowed. One could presume the series hinges on the aces and the closer’s.
4.) Mike Matheny‘s In Game Judgement
The haters and critics will think of this paragraph as a joke but I am simply skeptical. I made a comment on Twitter last night that Ned Yost is still making the wrong moves during baseball games that doomed him years ago. Matheny has only been at this thing for 3 years, so a reasonable Cards fan should only ask for a man to learn from his results. This time of the year, Matheny’s loyalty and his judgement will be tested. Can he manage the bullpen accurately? He won’t be able to go to Jason Motte or Justin Masterson in a close game since the rosters won’t allow it, but will he insert the right man for the job. How many innings will Seth Maness pitch? How often will Carlos Martinez pitch? Can Randy Choate just face lefties? Matheny also has to resist pulling starters late in games for pinch runners? I like the speed as much as anyone but I don’t want to see Matt Holliday exit a game early unless his leg falls off. Matheny has to grow in this series. His pitching is strong but may be leaking and his lineup seems to struggle to put runs across the plate. It won’t be as easy as 2012 or 2013. Can Matheny out-manage Don Mattingley?
5.) The Holliday Touch
I don’t mean to apply extra pressure on the Hulk of Stillwater, Oklahoma, but he seems to be the catalyst for this lineup to explode this year. When he has a big day, the Cards seem to score a bunch of runs and wins ballgames. Remember the lineup coming to life at the beginning of September and throughout the month? Holliday was there. He is a reliable clutch fellow. Love or hate the stat, but over 155 at bats in 2014, Holliday hit .361 with runners in scoring position. That counts of something. If runners are sitting there with 2 outs, Holliday can get the hit. He came up with several of them down the stretch. You either like the use of that stat or you just say it balances out over the course of a season. Well, over a whole season, in that situation, Holliday was there and produced. His bat makes this lineup tick, because he sits in the three hole and will get plenty of chances with Matt Carpenter drawing walks and Jon Jay getting plunked by pitches in front of him at the very least. Can he come through with a few more big hits?
Bonus Way–John Lackey showing up as the October bulldog that his resume casts him as. Lackey owns 104 innings pitched in the playoffs and sports a 3.03 ERA. He closed out the Cards last year and that was the main reason John Mozeliak handed over Joe Kelly in the trade this summer. Lackey’s ability to pitch in big games. John isn’t fancy about his pitches. He stands tall, gets the ball and throws it with the same windup and expression. He mixes a fastball with a slider and sometimes cuts the heater a bit. A curve occasionally makes an appearance. He either has enough of the plate or covers WAY too much of it. You know it by the first inning. The Cards need Lackey to be great in what looms as a big Game 3 start at Busch. The sea will be red and the stakes will be high. Was Lackey worth the squeeze or not? Forget about August and September as well as 2015, do it now Big John.
That’s all I have. For now. Come back for more spontaneous combustion via the Italian written word later in the week and have a good night.