The National League Championship Series resumes Monday night in Los Angeles, with the St. Louis Cardinals holding a 2-0 series advantage over the Dodgers. The Cards are assured two things–of at least bringing the series back to their home on the banks of Mississippi River. And that their rotation ace, Adam Wainwright, can now pitch them into the World Series with his starts in Game 3 and a possible Game 7.
Each of the first two games have been tense, evenly played matchups, but St. Louis has found a way to win each team, taking a 13-inning marathon in Game 1 by a 3-2 score and then winning a 1-0 grinder on Saturday afternoon in Game 2. Here’s a few thoughts on how the series has unfolded…
*It takes only a glance at the final scores to know how thoroughly pitching has dominated, but the depth and experience of the Cardinal lineup is still finding a way to make the difference. Carlos Beltran was the hero of Game 1. Beltran first tied the game 2-2 with a two-out, two-RBI double early in the game when it appeared the Dodgers had young starting pitcher Joe Kelly rattled. Beltran later threw out a runner at the plate in extra innings and ultimately won it with an RBI base hit in the 13th.
Beltran is a player who has excelled in the postseason. His dominance of the 2004 NLCS–four home runs and a .563 on-base percentage–nearly gave these same St. Louis fans heart failure, before Beltran’s Astros lost a seven-game series.
The stats that TBS is showing where he’s hit more home runs than Babe Ruth in postseason play aren’t to be taken seriously–Ruth didn’t have multi-round playoffs–but Beltran’s postseason slugging percentage being higher than the Bambino is more than a little noteworthy.
*St. Louis only got two hits in Game 2, as Clayton Kershaw was locked in on the mound. But the Cards got a high-quality at-bat from both David Freese, who doubled in the fifth and then John Jay, who hit a sac fly to bring him in. Good hitters maximize their opportunities even if they aren’t getting a lot of them.
*Hanley Ramirez had to miss Game 2 after being plunked in the ribs in the series opener and the shortstop is questionable for the rest of the series. The reports are that he wants to play tonight, and so long as he can get on the field, he’s the best option Los Angeles has. But you have to seriously question if he’ll still be able to hit for power and it’s that facet of him game that separates him from other shortstops.
Ultimately, Los Angeles is just in a lot of trouble. They’ve sent Zack Greinke and Kershaw to the mound and lost both times. As mentioned at the top, St. Louis hasn’t yet used its ace in Wainwright. The Dodger hopes tonight rest on Hyun-Jin Ru, who’s had a nice year, but did not pitch well in his Division Series start against Atlanta.
If you’re a Los Angeles sports fan, you shift the focus away from the pitching matchups and to homefield. You say that St. Louis simply held serve and now it’s LA’s turn to do the same. If you’re old enough, you remember when these teams faced in the 1985 National League Championship Series--the Dodgers won the first two games at home and never won another game after, and you hope fortunes reverse themselves.
Those are reasonable hopes, as whether a series is defined by the shifting of homefield or the shifting of pitching matchups is an interesting debate. I fall on the side of the pitching matchups and I liked St. Louis at the beginning of the series to close it out in six. There’s no reason to change course on that now.
TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage also has an update on the first two games of the American League Championship Series.