MLB Coverage: National League Championship Series Returns To St. Louis
The Los Angeles Dodgers came off the canvas in the National League Championship Series, winning two of three games, including a virtual must-win in Game 3 and a literal must-win in Game 5. And while the Dodgers can feel good about still being alive, the Cardinals can feel like they did their job in the middle three games out west–got one win, and now have two shots to wrap up a National League pennant at home.
TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage reviews the three games from Los Angeles, and then looks ahead to Friday night, and possibly Saturday night in St. Louis…
Game 3: This was the game where the pitching matchup dictated that St. Louis could deliver a knockout blow, with Adam Wainwright getting the ball against Hyun-Jin Ru. Wainwright delivered the kind of outing that can do just that, pitching seven innings and giving up just two runs.
But just as Michael Wacha upset Los Angeles’ plans to win with Clayton Kershaw in Game 2, Ru spoiled St. Louis’ hopes with Wainwright. Ru was brilliant, throwing seven innings of three-hit ball and the Dodgers got back in the series with a 3-0 win.
The big hits came from Adrian Gonzalez, who hit an RBI double, and Yasiel Puig who hit an RBI triple off the wall in right. Wainwright and Carlos Beltran were heard to express disgust with the celebrations of both players, but the Dodger players did nothing wrong. It was just exuberance in front of the home crowd, neither one got in the face of a St. Louis player, and as ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said the following day on Pardon The Interruption, “this isn’t a banking convention…this is sports…if you can’t celebrate in front of your home fans, when can you celebrate?”
Game 4: A Lance Lynn-Ricky Nolasco pitching matchup gave both offenses a chance to do something ,and no one did more than Matt Holliday. The Cardinal left fielder hit a long, towering two-run homer early in the game that staked St. Louis to a 3-0 lead, and they won 4-2. By the standards of the League Championship Series going in both the AL & NL, this qualified as a major offensive outburst.
Game 5: St. Louis had the bases loaded with no outs in the first and runners on the corners with one out in the third. Both times Yadier Molina hit into a double play. Consequently, a game where the Cards could have coasted into the World Series, turned into a 2-2 tie after three innings.
Then Zack Greinke got settled down and the Dodger hitters opened up. Adrian Gonzalez hit two home runs, with Carl Crawford and A.J. Ellis each going deep. The Cards made it interesing against Kenley Jansen in the ninth, but Los Angeles closes a 6-4 win.
I again watch this game wondering why Shelby Miller, a 15-game winner with a 3.06 ERA in the regular season, hasn’t done anything more consequential in this postseason than occassionally warmup. Cardinal manager Mike Matheny stuck with starter Joe Kelly even when it was apparent Kelly wasn’t sharp. If you bring in Miller in the fourth when the game is 2-2, maybe you have a better shot when the bullpens take over late.
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS
If this were the NBA, I’d feel much better about St. Louis right now, with two games at home to win once. But the MLB dynamic is different, and the first of those games is against Kershaw. If the presumptive Cy Young winner gets a victory on Friday night, then the pressure really shifts to St. Louis for Saturday’s Game 7. Remember, the Cardinals lost a 3-1 series lead to San Francisco in 2012, and the noose will tighten if they miss their first two chances to clinch again this year.
The flip side is that even though Ru outdueled Wainwright in Game 3, I think any St. Louis fan would have reasonably taken a scenario at the beginning of the series that involved their ace getting the ball at home for Game 7, and Kershaw and Greinke only able to watch for Los Angeles. By that standard, the odds still clearly favor the Cards to wrap this up.
If we’re looking at potential series MVPs, Gonzalez has emerged as the clear front-runner for the Dodgers. He had five hits in the three middle games, had a big hit in Game 1 and had his best game when his team was on the ropes in Game 5. The only other candidate would be Ru, since a Los Angeles pennant means the team would win both his starts and presumably Ru would have to pitch exceptionally well in a potential Saturday night game for this to happen.
On the St. Louis side, no hitter is really a candidate. Carlos Beltran had the big hits that won Game 1, and had a loud triple off the top of the wall in Game 5 that got St. Louis back in the game afte falling behind 2-0. But right now, the candidate that should be on the mind of Cardinal fans is Michael Wacha.
If Wacha beats Kershaw a second time on Friday night–on top of dominating a must-win game against Pittsburgh in Game 4 of the Division Series–then forget NLCS MVP. That’s aiming too low. Just give the rookie his statue outside Busch Stadium right now.
Game 6 starts at 8:30 PM ET on TBS on Friday. A Saturday finale would be the same time and channel.