Every postseason, I keep an eye out on JD Mathewson’s postseason odds and percentages over at Rational Pastime. He’s been fairly accurate with them in the past, though not so much that you go to Vegas and put your life savings down on them. They shift after every game, obviously, but save for after Game 1, the Cardinals have been a decided underdog to the Cubs in this series. And while everyone, in theory, loves an underdog, I don’t think the Cards quite fit the mold to let folks cheer for them. Not that it matters, of course. There’s such a thing as winning in spite of folks, after all.
There’s no doubt that the biggest reason for that underdog status is today’s game, with Jake Arrieta on the mound. We all know that Arrieta is on a dominant roll right now and, most likely, St. Louis will be staring at elimination after today’s game. However, my father has always said “that’s why they play the game.” Once the first pitch is thrown, things can go any which way. Craig Edwards tweeted out some stats that will make you feel a lot better about tonight’s game, for instance.
Clayton Kershaw‘s ERA in his last 18 starts of 2014: 1.32 Lost to the Cardinals in the playoffs.
— Craig Edwards (@craigjedwards) October 11, 2015
Kris Medlen‘s ERA in his last 12 starts of 2012: 0.97 Lost to the Cardinals in the playoffs.
— Craig Edwards (@craigjedwards) October 11, 2015
There’s a lot of hope there. That hope is based on the approach of the Cardinals as much as the personnel. They don’t often seem to get caught up in who they are facing, how daunting the task is. This is a group that, on the whole, has been through the postseason fires. They have been forged in the crucible, as it were, and have come out stronger. It’s just another game to them, which can be an advantage in situations like this.
There’s hope in this season’s stats as well. Arrieta started this huge run after he saw the Cardinals for the last time. In July, in Wrigley, he gave up two runs in 6.2 innings in the first game of that doubleheader the teams played. He threw 103 pitches in that span, leaving the game when he gave up three straight hits and the two runs. Had James Russell not struck out Matt Carpenter to end that threat, that game could have easily gone a different way. There was also the May 7 game where he allowed five runs (four runs) in 5.1 innings, throwing 109 pitches. Some might argue that he wasn’t Jake Arrieta then, but he came into that game with a 2.84 ERA, somewhat built on the seven scoreless innings that he threw against the Cards in his season debut.
That’s the kicker. While there is hope, while you can see that the Cardinals have gotten to him before, you can point to as many times where they haven’t been that competitive against him as you can where they have. This is a daunting task for the Cardinals, one that will be made much, much harder if Michael Wacha isn’t the guy that we’ve seen in the postseason before.
Wacha has been frustrating of late, with two different four-inning, six-run outings in September alone. One of those, unfortunately, was against the Cubs, as was a four-run, five-inning start also in September. He also had an ugly July start against them, so you have to go back to the end of June to see him handle the baby bears, allowing just one run over six innings. If we can see the guy that we saw in the 2013 postseason, St. Louis will be right in this one. If September is the new normal for Wacha, at least for this season, we won’t have to hope that the Cards can get into the Cub bullpen. It just won’t matter. We know that extra rest didn’t help Wacha in early September, but I think that was in part because it was unplanned rest. You may remember Wacha didn’t know he was going to be skipped the next day until he was already headed home from the stadium. Wacha’s known when his next start was going to be and now he’s had 12 days off. If fatigue was part of his problem, hopefully that’s been mitigated somewhat with the extra rest.
I jumped straight into talking about tonight’s game, in part because I’m sure that you’ve read your fill about Games 1 and 2, but even though I’ve spent the last two nights talking about it, first on the special UCB Radio on Saturday then last night on our regular Gateway, I still need to address some things, mainly around Game 2. All I need to say about Game 1 is that John Lackey is the man, though I still would rather him pitch Game 5 on full rest in Busch than Game 4 on short rest in Wrigley. I know, I know, you aren’t guaranteed a fifth game and if you save your powder for when you want it, you may have it all winter long unused. That said, who goes in Game 5 if you use Lackey? Do you bring Jaime Garcia back there? (He’s the main thing I want to address.) Does that give you confidence against Jon Lester? Do you use Lance Lynn there? If you are going to use Lynn, why wouldn’t you use him in Game 4? Tyler Lyons? I love me some Ty Ly, as you know, but is that the right place for him?
You have to think that the Cardinals can hit Jason Hammel and therefore don’t need a sledgehammer in that game. Now, granted, St. Louis has a great ability to beat tough pitchers and then let lesser lights shut them down, so that’s a definite threat. They’ve seen Hammel in two starts this year, though, and have scored a combined seven runs in 10 innings. Obviously, there are no guarantees, but I think you can win a Lynn/Hammel matchup (or a Lyons/Hammel tilt) even if Lynn or Lyons isn’t throwing the game of his life. So go with Lackey in Game 5. If Lynn struggles early in 4, you go to Lyons without hesitation. Play like there’s no tomorrow while planning for one anyway.
All right, Garcia. As we know now, he was dealing with a stomach virus when he went out to start Game 2 and Mike Matheny knew about it. In both radio shows, we talk about where the blame lies for this one and, honestly, there’s probably plenty to go around. I don’t fault Matheny too much for going ahead and running Garcia out there, given that it sounds like he found out about the situation very close to game time, but he knew that Garcia was compromised and maybe should have been a bit more proactive in getting him out of the game. That said, if Garcia is able to get one more strike on Jorge Soler, the Cards leave that inning down 3-1 and in much better shape. It’s not terribly surprising that Matheny would feel like Garcia could get that last out and then he could go to the pen. It’s an understandable gamble, but one that obviously didn’t pay off.
The bigger issue is that this is a recurring thing with Garcia. We know earlier this season that he didn’t tell the club about discomfort before he was out there running the bases, an issue that led to him missing some starts. We know that he started Game 2 of the 2012 NLDS while have arm troubles he didn’t tell the club about and then was forced to leave after two innings which threw the bullpen into disarray. Matt Whitener pointed out last night on Gateway that Garcia also shut down his season last year to have surgery without notifying or clearing it with John Mozeliak. Time after time, we see Garcia not having good communication with the front office and the managing staff, which is just so key. If you aren’t able to play, don’t be selfish. This is a team sport. Especially this time around, when you are dealing with a virus for two days before your start. Let the club know and, likely, you’ll still appear in the series. Garcia talked about not wanting to miss out on a return to the postseason, but how easy would it have been to just bump everyone back or swap Lynn and Garcia, having him start in Game 4 fully healthy? If the club knows in time, they can make the arrangements. They can’t if they don’t know and adjusting on the fly doesn’t usually have great consequences.
Garcia has an option for 2016 that costs $11.5 million. He built up a lot of goodwill this season, being an outstanding member of an outstanding staff. This, though, really has to make the front office thing. I expect that they’ll still exercise that option, but don’t be surprised if you hear Garcia’s name in trade talks this offseason. He’s a lefty, he’s shown what he can do while healthy, and he has another option year after this one. He’d be a very valuable trade chip and it may be the Cardinals are tired of the head games. That’s just a guess, but it wouldn’t stun me.
With the two American League series still going on after Toronto staved off elimination (and you always stave off elimination, you hardly ever just avoid it), the Cards will play about 5 PM, which means there will probably be some shadows at Wrigley. We have to hope that will help Wacha as much as Arrieta. This is a tough battle, there’s no doubt, but even if you lose this one, the war isn’t over. Remember they were down 2-1 to another media darling in 2013 but they were able to win in that park and then come home to Busch. As Princess Leia said after escaping the Death Star, “It’s not over yet!”