posted on October 13, 2011 01:00
Game Three: Rambling Observations...And Stuff
Man, I'm telling you...as that game played out last night, I was certain the Cardinals were going to lose it. I'm quite happy I was wrong.
All it took was the walk to Mark Kotsay in the top of the first for it to be clear that Chris Carpenter just wasn't on. He didn't walk one Philadelphia hitter in The Epic Showdown with Roy Halladay last Friday night. And, after facing three hitters Wednesday night, Carpenter had walked Kotsay and hit Ryan Braun on a two-strike pitch.
But, courtesy of Kotsay's bad baserunning getting the Cardinals out of a jam in the top of the first, and courtesy of Kotsay's bad defense playing a role in the Cardinal rally in the bottom of the first, it looked like the Redbirds could blow the Brewers off the field and really drain their bullpen.
When you're talking about a playoff series...and you're talking about back-to-back-to-back games with no off days...and you're talking about a team in the Brewers who have really questionable starting pitching at this moment, it would've had the potential to impact Games Four and Five to get into the Milwaukee bullpen and drain it.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen as Gallardo settled down and the Cardinals missed opportunities.
But, had the Brewers would've been able to come back and win that game after falling behind by four in the first inning and doing it against Carpenter, that would've been beyond devastating.
Instead, the Brewers will have to win with either Randy Wolf (who has allowed 17 ER in his last 14.2 IP) or Zack Greinke (who has a 4.70 ERA on the road...and will probably be tortured mercilessly by a Friday night Busch Stadium crowd).
And, even if they are able to pull that off...they still will have to win with Shaun Marcum...or they'll have to beat Chris Carpenter in Game Seven.
Now, we saw the Phillies seemingly take control of the NLDS by winning a ballcrusher last Tuesday here...and then lose the next two. So, it isn't the end-all/be-all win for the Cardinals, but it's a huge, huge win to take Game Three and force either Wolf or Greinke to win in St. Louis.
-That's five straight games in which the Cardinals have scored in the first inning. Really---unfortunately---impressive that the Brewers kept it at four runs, because that place was ready to explode and turn that thing into a laugher. But, either way, Milwaukee has fallen behind in every game so far this series in the first. That can't be too pleasant of a way to play the most critical games damn near all of the Brewers have ever experienced.
-Now, usually, when you give Chris Carpenter a four-run lead in the first inning, you can pretty much shut it down and chalk it up as a victory. But, for those of us who enjoy baseball nerding, it was obvious after the first that something wasn't right.
-The fact that Carpenter only allowed three runs is a) a credit to him and b) something I'm sure the Brewers are kicking themselves for. After being damn near unhittable on full rest over the last month, Carpenter was vulnerable...and Milwaukee missed a huge opportunity. I bet the Brewers are feeling a lot like the Cardinals did after Game Three of the NLDS...except they can't have as much faith in their starters as the Cardinals did in theirs.
-How about this Cardinal bullpen? What in the world? It's gone from the story in April and May, and to be more specific, the weakness...to a huge strength. They shut down the Brewers final 12 hitters. Salas, Lynn, Rzepczynski, and Motte. That's not Philadelphia's struggling lineup either. That's the real deal. And, the Brewers couldn't get anything going. How about these numbers Fox Sports Midwest dug up on their post-game show? Since the NLDS Game Two for the Cardinal bullpen:
Opp Avg: .128
-A few things that I think are keys to what's happened here:
1. Motte emerging as the closer...six or seven weeks ago. I'm not sure I've written it here, but I know I said it on The ITD Morning After: If the Cardinals are closer than they were back on August 25th, I'm not sure Tony La Russa would've screwed with the bullpen and given Motte the chance to close games out. He may have just stuck with a fading Salas (at least he was fading in the closer role). But, because they were starting to get into "let's see how this works for 2012 mode," Motte got his shot. Without it, I don't think the Cardinals are even in the playoffs...much less up 2-1 in the NLCS.
2. Salas as a middle innings guy looks and performs much more comfortably. He's quite clutch in the middle innings. It's odd, because you'd think if a guy's clutch in one spot, he's going to be clutch in another. At least I'd think that. But, he's been ridiculous in his new role.
3. Rzepczynski has gained much more confidence than he had when he first got to St. Louis. The Cardinals were initially a little creeped out by how tight he got. Well, over the last week, we've seen him come into one-run games against Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder...and strike them out.
4. Lance Lynn, although not a part of the NLDS, is a guy that La Russa and Dave Duncan love. As a matter of fact, when I'd have my bullshitting conversations with people in the know on the Cardinal discussions, anytime I'd talk about Motte as closer in 2012, I'd get reminded that La Russa and Duncan really like Lynn. So, when I heard he was going to be considered for a spot on the NLCS roster, I was thrilled, because a) I knew how he was dealing before getting hurt, and b) I knew his presence in the bullpen would really deepen the roster of pitchers who can come in and handle late inning business.
5. There are some 2006 similarities with this. Young guys coming out of nowhere to either close games out or pitch like it's no big thing in the playoffs. Tyler Johnson. Josh Kinney. Adam Wainwright. And, now this 2011 crop.
-Loved hearing the Nyjer Morgan chant get going once The Journeyman---or as Kyle Lohse called him on The ITD Morning After yesterday, "the part-time outfielder"---entered the game. The fine Americans in the bleachers got on him after he went out there and gestured at them over and over again. My guess is that if Morgan gets a start...and if the Cardinals get a comfortable lead...Morgan will hear it big time from the crowd. It has the potential to be quite lovely.
-Speaking of Nyjer Morgan...and the exact opposite of him...how about when Stan Musial joined Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Red Schoendienst at home plate before the game? I have seen that scene probably dozens of times, but for some reason, it really stood out yesterday to me. The Busch Stadium jumbotron caught a shot of Gibson, Brock, and Musial together...and you just felt like you were witnessing a living Mount Rushmore of Cardinal history. Within the next decade, there will be a few guys who were wearing white today who will be out there in red jackets. The tradition just continues...
-While I'm in awe of Stan, Bob, Lou, and Red, I'm in envy of David Freese. Here's a hometown guy who not only gets to play for the Cardinals, but he's having his national coming-out party in the playoffs by just ripping baseballs all over the damn place. Freese is now hitting .500 in the NLCS. Maybe if he hits .600, he'll get to finish out a game on the field.
-Speaking of someone hitting .600 in the NLCS, Pujols is at .636 after two more hits last night...including a one-handed ground rule double in the first inning. Yovani Gallardo had to be like, "You've got to be fucking kidding me."
-But, if Matt Holliday either continues to struggle...or continues to hit behind Pujols, we're going to see more and more of what we saw in his final two AB's: intentional walks. La Russa has to consider moving Holliday out of either that cleanup spot. Some may say it'd be good to get Allen Craig in there. Holliday is still hitting .300, but he just looked bad last night.
-I wonder if La Russa will move Freese up from the seventh spot. It's nice to have a real force at the bottom of the lineup, but when he's swinging the bat as well as he is, it's almost wasted down there behind Molina.
-Lohse vs. Wolf tonight. Game on. Wolf has struggled as of late, and Lohse had a 1.37 ERA in September. Before the Phillies got to him in the sixth inning of Game One, Lohse was dealing at Philadelphia. Lohse has a 2.37 ERA in three starts against the Brewers this year. Wolf started against the Cardinals five times, and while he won three of them, he has a 5.34 ERA against the Cardinals on the year.
-A 3-1 series lead doesn't end things (ask the 1985 Cardinals or the 1996 Cardinals), but man, if you can have Garcia at home with a chance to clinch...and even if that doesn't work...Marcum on the mound for them in Game Six...and even if that doesn't work...Carpenter in Game Seven, you have to like the Cardinals' chances to appear in their third World Series in seven years.
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