Game 2 of the National League Championship Series seemed like a repeat of the opener. A New York Mets starter was great, with Noah Syndergaard replacing Matt Harvey. An excellent Chicago Cubs starter didn’t seem to pitch badly, but left with a mediocre line. This time it was Jake Arrieta, rather than Jon Lester, who gave up four runs. And most of all this Game 2 sequel was about the character who didn’t change and that’s Daniel Murphy.
Let’s put the Met second baseman’s career in perspective. He’s been in the majors since 2008. His career numbers are a .331 on-base percentage and .424 slugging percentage. Those aren’t bad, given he plays a position where offensive production isn’t required. He’s not a power hitter, with 62 career home runs in the regular season. There was nothing to suggest the power outburst we’ve gotten from him in October.
In the Division Series, Murphy homered off Clayton Kershaw for the first run of the series. He homered off Zack Greinke for the winning run of the series. Murphy homered off Jon Lester to get the scoring started in the NLCS on Saturday night. And he took Jake Arrieta deep last night for a two-run blast—after first just missing a home run to the right of the foul pole, he came right back and hit it fair.
The power surge against great pitchers is just the most visible part of a postseason that’s seen consistent hitting, defensive gems and heads-up baserunning. Murphy is a free agent in the offseason and the cash register is ringing while lasting memories are being created for Mets fans.
New York’s 4-1 win gives them a two-zip series lead as this series shifts to Chicago for Tuesday night. How you feel about the series right now depends on whether you think homefield advantage or pitching alignments matters most. If you’re a homefield believer, then you just see it as the Cubs’ time to answer in Wrigley Field. But if you look at pitching matchups, you see the Mets set up with ace Jacob de Grom to go on Tuesday while the Cubs have failed to win with Lester and Arrieta.
I focus on the pitching matchups and therefore the Cubs are in serious trouble. It’s about more than just Tuesday night. It’s not like I think winning one game against de Grom in Wrigley Field is a Herculean task. But even if they do, New York is just one win away from guaranteeing another de Grom outing—at the very least, a Game 7 which would be back in New York. And if I’m a Mets fan (which I’m not, though I am pulling for them in this series), that’s the scenario I would have been aiming for when the series began.
The American League Championship Series resumes tonight in Toronto (8 PM ET, Fox). It’s another case of a team going home down 0-2 and having to beat their opponents’ ace. Kansas City sends Johnny Cueto to the mound to put a stranglehold on the series. In Toronto’s case, their rotation depth is better than Chicago’s though, and they can answer with talented young righthander Marcus Stroman.
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 MLBcoverage 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.
The end of the road in the National League was anti-climactic last night in San Francisco, but no one in Pac-Bell Park was complaining. The rains pounded the field in the top of the ninth and St. Louis batted, and everyone just hoped the Giants could get the clinching outs without an interminable delay. Finally, Matt Holliday hit a towering pop-up that ended up, appropriately enough, in the glove of Marco Scutaro and San Francisco’s 9-0 win was complete.
San Francisco’s comeback in this series—winning three straight after being pushed to the edge—wasn’t quite as surprising as when they turned the same trick against Cincinnati in the Division Series, given that all three of the wins over the Reds had to come on the road.
But the complete dominance the Giants showed in Games 5 thru 7 of the National League Championship Series was surely striking. San Francisco won those games by a combined score of 20-1, a drubbing that brought back bad memories for Cardinals’ fans—in the 1996 NLCS, they lost the final three games to Atlanta by a combined 32-1.
Game 7, as the score suggests, isn’t one that left fans with a lot of what-ifs. San Francisco did everything right from the outset, while St. Louis just struggled to play clean baseball. The Giants got a run on an early infield out when Cardinal starter Kyle Lohse seemed to struggle with getting the ball out of his glove and had to go to first, rather than come home. Lohse ended up leaving in the third inning with the score 2-0 and the bases loaded.
Then came the at-bat for Hunter Pence. He was panned in this space for his Game 3 struggles (though I modified my criticism later after Game 4). Pence came through here with the right combination of good play and good luck. He hit the ball hard, but it seemed to be set up for a room-service 6-4-3 double play. But Pence’s broken bat but a lot of English on the ball and it seemed to change trajectory in mid-flight. Cardinal shortstop Pete Kozma looked like a defensive back in football, momentarily deked out of position and the one step the wrong direction prevented him from getting back to the ball. Then centerfielder Jon Jay booted the ball in center, the bases cleared and the game was all but over.
Matt Cain dominated through 5.2 IP, though Bruce Bochy wasted little time in giving him the hook with two on and two out in the sixth in what was still a 6-0 game. Cain foolishly decided to plunk Matt Holliday on an 0-2 count to start the inning. Holliday had been involved in a dust-up at second base with Marco Scutaro in Game 2, a double-play takeout slide that was clearly illegal, but unlikely done with malicious intent to hurt.
Scutaro had let bygones be bygones and deciding to take revenge on the leadoff hitter of an inning where you’re twelve outs form the World Series was, in my view, rather stupid. There’s plenty of time next year to take care of business.
In the end, no one took care of business like Scutaro, who had 14 hits for the series, tying a record held by several players in LCS competition. The second baseman was named NLCS MVP. In yesterday’s post, I indicated an early preference for Ryan Vogelsong. I’ll admit to bias on behalf of starting pitchers who win two games in dominating fashion—it’s tough to argue against a guy who gets you half the necessary wins almost by himself, as Vogelsong did. But upon further review, it’s even harder to argue against someone who ties a record for hits, plays great defense and seems to bring a lot of intangibles to the team. Congratulations to Scutaro and congratulations to the Giants.
The last stage of the MLB playoffs starts Wednesday night, as Detroit and San Francisco commence the World Series, and TheSportsNotebook preview of the Tigers-Giants Fall Classic will be up tomorrow morning.
For the second game in a row, the San Francisco Giants warded off elimination in the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals and for the second time in a row it wasn’t close. The Giants, back in front of a wild home crowd, jumped Chris Carpenter for five runs in the first two innings, then starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong took over from there. Vogelsong worked seven strong innings, won his second game of the series 6-1 and put himself atop the list of candidates for NCLS MVP if his team can close it in Game 7 tonight.
Throughout his career, Carpenter has been a gamer in these kinds of spots—he won winner-take-all games against the Phillies and Rangers in last year’s postseason, and then threw 5.2 IP of shutout ball against the Nationals in Game 3 of the Division Series. But the Giants have had his number two times in this NLCS.
Pablo Sandoval had two hits, including a big double in the first inning that set up an early run. Marco Scutaro—not a bad MVP candidate himself—had a two-hit night that included scoring the game’s first run and a two-run double that broke it open an inning later.
Now we move on to Game 7. Of the six full series (not including wild-card games), this is the fifth decisive game we’ve had. It’s ironic that after going through years of starving for such games, the season baseball implements the wild-card night and ensures itself two winner-take-all games, suddenly all these series go the distance.
Both teams send their aces to the mound, with Frisco giving the ball to Matt Cain, while Kyle Lohse goes for the Cardinals. Both teams have their bullpens reasonably rested—St. Louis manager Mike Matheny wisely ignored the advice of Fox analyst Tim McCarver to pull Carpenter too quickly and instead squeezed two extra innings that could prove vital tonight. Both teams have successful playoff experience under their belt—these are, after all, the last two World Series champs.
What the Giants have is homefield and momentum, and for that reason they are slotted as the favorite to win tonight, at (-135) on the Las Vegas moneyline, meaning you need to bet $135 to turn a $100 profit if you take the Giants.
Every Game 7 has its own unique facets—from pitching matchups, to individual hitter-pitcher histories. But for the time being, let’s just focus on homefield and momentum and run through the eight previous NLCS Game 7s to see if they show any kind of pattern…
1987: Ironically, the first Game 7 was Giants-Cardinals. St. Louis won this one with homefield and were also the team that had won Game 6 to force it. Score one for homefield and momentum.
1988: The Dodgers beat the Mets behind Orel Hershiser on their homefield, though it was the Mets who won Game 6. A split decision and even the homefield has to be considered almost insignificant in light of how dominant Hershiser was that autumn. They could have played the game in New York, with the Mets being allowed 12 times to hit, the Dodgers nine and Orel probably still wins it.
1991: Atlanta beat Pittsburgh on the road two straight times. Score one for momentum, not for homefield.
1992: It was again Atlanta over Pittsburgh, this time the reverse. The Braves had homefield, but the Pirates had won the two previous games becoming the first NL team to be down 3-1 and force a seventh game. This, by the way, was also one of the greatest baseball games ever played, with Atlanta winning it on a two-out, bases-loaded hit, down by a run and Barry Bonds was unable to throw out slow-footed Sid Bream from second in spite of the fact Bonds was playing shallow.
1996: St. Louis knows what it’s like to be on the wrong side of momentum. They lost this one to Atlanta on the road after holding a 3-1 series lead, and the Braves then destroyed them in two of the three remaining games, including the finale.
2003: Florida had momentum and it trumped the homefield advantage the Cubs enjoyed at Wrigley Field, with their Game 6 rally being remembered for a fan not allowing an outfielder to catch a ball that drifted in the first row. This fan has taken far too much grief, so we won’t use his name even if it has become a punch line.
2004: Score one for momentum and homefield. St. Louis comes home and beats Houston two straight in Games 6 & 7.
2006: Another situation a lot like this year’s. St. Louis had lost Game 6 on the road to the New York Mets, but win the seventh game in extra innings. It was another epic game, with Yadier Molina hitting a home run. Then, ironically, it was Carlos Beltran, then with the Mets, striking out with the bases loaded to end the game.
You can see from this history that St. Louis is no stranger to this situation. The home-field teams are 5-3, while the teams that won Game 6 have also won five of eight. The only situation where a road team not only won, but reversed momentum was 2006. At least Yadier Molina knows it can be done.
It’s been a long time coming for San Francisco Giants fans to see the kind of performance they got from Barry Zito last night in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Zito, who has been mostly a disappointment since signing a big-money free-agent contract following the 2006 season, reached back and found some of his old self.
The Zito who won the 2002 Cy Young Award or who outdueled Johan Santana back in 2006 when both were still aces in the American League playoffs, made an appearance last night in St. Louis. Zito worked 7.2 IP of shutout baseball with the Giants season on the line and made sure this series will go back to San Francisco thanks to Friday night’s 5-0 win.
Zito not only outpitched, but he outhit and out-fielded St. Louis counterpart Lance Lynn. The Cards had a chance for some runs in the second inning when they loaded the bases with one out. Zito induced Lynn to hit into a double play. Then in the top of the fourth it was time for the Giants’ offense. A crucial throwing error by Lynn brought in one run, Zito dropped a two-out bunt single for another and San Fran’s four-run outburst gave them a lead that would never be threatened.
On the positive side for St. Louis, Carlos Beltran returned to the lineup last night and had a single and a stolen base in the first inning. And even though the Cardinals missed a chance to clinch at home, they can look at the bigger picture and say it probably wasn’t realistic to think they’d go 2-0 with Lynn on the mound, and they’d already bailed out their struggling starter with a Game 1 win.
It’s really Game On in this series right now when the MLB playoffs resume Sunday night out west. Ryan Vogelsong will pitch for San Francisco and he’s been brilliant in two postseason starts, one of them a must-win in Cincinnati, the other in Game 2 of this series.
Chris Carpenter will pitch for St. Louis. His recent postseason heroics need no introduction, although they didn’t include the aforementioned Game 2 when the Giants hit him hard.
And if the series goes to Game 7 on Monday night? Then it’s the battle of aces, Matt Cain and Kyle Lohse. The Cardinal pitcher won the Game 3 battle between the two, but if you’re a Frisco fan, the chance to get Cain on the mound at home in a winner-take-all game is exactly what you would have wanted at the outset of the series.
Miguel Cabrera came to the plate in the fourth inning with one on and one out, as he faced C.C. Sabathia in a showdown of the stars in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. It was already looking like Detroit’s day—though their lead was only 2-0, the Tigers had five this and two walks, while the Yanks’ normally reliable Mark Teixeira had committed an error. Not to mention the Yanks had gone 12-up, 12-down and that 2-zip lead looked as solid as it would in hockey.
But when Cabrera won the battle of the stars by hitting a monster home run into left field, it was all over but the shouting. A series that had been at least closely contested in each of the first three games, turned into a rout as Detroit win 8-1 and completed a four-game sweep for the American League pennant.
Delmon Young was one of seven Tigers to have a multiple-hit game and it wrapped up ALCS MVP honors for the designated hitter. With the series being dominated mostly by starting pitching and no starter getting more than one outing because of the sweep, there weren’t a ton of great candidates for the award, but Young was a logical pick. He’d also hit a key home run in Yankee Stadium, had some big RBI base hits and only reliever Phil Coke came anywhere close to impacting the series as much.
As far as yesterday’s game per se goes, there’s really not a lot to say since it was complete domination by Detroit. It reminded me of the clinching game in last June’s NBA Finals. You might recall in that series the Miami Heat led 3-1 in games, but all four had been close, compelling games. But in the finale the roof fell in for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Heat won going away for the home fans.
What’s perhaps more surprising is that the Thunder were a young team and the Yankees are a veteran one, presumably less immune to the complete collapse. And the nature of baseball, with its emphasis on the starting pitcher, should have said that a Sabathia matchup with Max Scherzer should be a win for the Yanks—at the very least a good game. But the big fella didn’t have it, Scherzer tossed five perfect innings before coming out in the sixth, Jhonny Peralta and Austin Jackson tacked on home runs after Cabrera’s big blast and it’s time for Detroit to celebrate.
Because it’s time for Detroit to celebrate, I’m not going to participate in the speculation about what happens in New York this offseason. Yes, it’s an interesting story and important in the bigger picture of baseball in 2013. No, it’s not nearly as important as one team clinching a pennant and getting a shot at its first World Series title since 1984.
Yesterday was about the Tigers continuing their late-season push into the team a lot of people thought they were in March. Congrats to Jim Leyland and his staff, and to Justin Verlander, whose three dominating starts in the postseason over Oakland and New York are lifting him to a new level of greatness.
The late afternoon in Detroit gave way to prime-time in St. Louis yesterday in the MLB playoffs, and the Cardinals moved one win closer to creating a rematch of the 2006 World Series. St. Louis got a great performance from Adam Wainwright, while their own bats chipped away at San Francisco starter Tim Lincecum, then opened it up against the Giant bullpen en route to an 8-3 win.
You can’t blame the leadoff hitters for San Francisco. Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro had two hits apiece in the table-setting spots, but the middle of the order came up short. Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hector Sanchez went 1-for-12 and the one hit was Sandoval’s two-run homer in the ninth inning of a game long decided.
Sanchez was the starter behind the plate last night, as Posey moved to first base and the switch cost San Francisco a run. Pagan, who played even better defensively than he did at the plate, had made started a relay that appeared to have Matt Carpenter gunned at the plate by a decent margin. But Sanchez did not make the play, the Cardinals took a 3-1 lead and the rout was slowly on.
One San Francisco player that deserves some kudos is Hunter Pence. TheSportsNotebook was quite hard on him yesterday for his failure in a couple key at-bats in Game 3. Pence apparently shared the view, telling the media he was a goat and he came out and hit an early home run.
I felt a little guilty over my panning of Pence yesterday, since I wonder if I’d have had the guts to say the same things to his face (answer: probably not). And hearing the player call himself out made me respect him for the effort, even if we can’t ignore the struggles in performance. It was good to see him succeed yesterday.
But no one succeeded like the Cardinals and Wainwright, who went seven strong innings and gave up just one run, exorcising the memory of his poor start in the decisive game of the Division Series against Washington.
Both teams send questionable starters to the mound tonight, with Barry Zito getting the ball for San Francisco, while Lance Lynn goes for St. Louis. The Cards may be up 3-1 in games, but all it takes is one win to push the series back west. San Francisco then has Ryan Vogelsong, who’s been brilliant in two postseason starts and ace Matt Cain would get the ball for a Game 7.
For St. Louis tonight, the question is how much urgency will Cardinal manager Mike Matheny show if Lynn struggles early, like he did in the series opener? With a travel day to reset the bullpen, the guess here is that Matheny doesn’t hesitate to treat it like a Game 7 .
The question for San Francisco is more intangible—we saw how the prospect of getting a series back home did nothing to motivate New York. Will the Giants feel any differently? I’m not saying that a loss means they didn’t try, but given the lack of soap opera drama around this team, the guess here is they at least come out and give tonight everything they’ve got. Right now though, I don’t know that the effort alone is going to be enough. St. Loo just seems to be feeling it.
Ryan Vogelsong has to be enjoying these MLB playoffs. In his first start of the postseason, the veteran pitcher was brilliant in winning a pitcher’s duel in Cincinnati that kept the San Francisco season alive. The stakes weren’t quite as high last night, but they were close. The Giants were a loss away from going to St. Louis in an 0-2 hole in the NLCS and the veteran Cardinals weren’t as likely as the Reds to give up a series on their homefield. And Vogelsong’s opponent for the crucial Game 2 happened to be Chris Carpenter, no stranger to October heroics.
But it was Vogelsong who dominated. After giving up an early run—driven in by Carpenter—the Giants starter settled in and gave seven innings of one-run ball. Carpenter struggled. He only last four innings, gave up five runs and San Francisco rolled to a 7-1 win that evened up the National League Championship Series.
Angel Pagan, the San Fran centerfielder, got the offense going when he hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first. After Carpenter had tied it up, the Giants broke it open with four in the fourth. Officially, three of the runs were unearned, but it was Carpenter’s own throwing error that opened the floodgates. Marco Scutaro hit a two-out bases-loaded single that quickly scored two runs and then cleared the bases when Matt Holliday made an error in left.
St. Louis never got back into the game and took the opportunity to rest their best relievers. Offensively, only Carlos Beltran, who had two hits, did anything notable.
The health of Scutaro is a key question right now. He injured his hip when Holliday took him out on a double-play ball. The X-Rays came back negative, but he’ll still have an MRI before being cleared to play. For Scutaro’s sake, it’s good that the teams have today off to travel to the Midwest where the next three games will be played in St. Louis.
Detroit sends Justin Verlander to the mound in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series in what’s sure to a raucous Comerica Park in Detroit. The Tigers obviously couldn’t ask for anything more, but they need to step on the Yankees’ throat right now.
If New York wins tonight—and all they need to do is stay close, get Verlander out after seven and see if they can hit the bullpen—then C.C. Sabathia would get the ball tomorrow with a chance to even up the series. Its Phil Hughes the Yankees send to the mound tonight with their season close to being on line.
A key player who struggled in the Division Series and had to be lifted early saw his chances for redemption in the League Championship Series go by the boards, at least for now. I’m not talking about Alex Rodriguez or anyone in the New York Yankee lineup, but San Francisco Giants’ starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who turned in his second straight shaky outing of the playoffs in a Game 1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals that begins our recap of Sunday’s action in the MLB playoffs…
St. Louis 6 San Francisco 4: With the Cards starting Lance Lynn, this needed to be the game the Giants could exploit their starting pitching depth. It didn’t work out that way and not because of anything Lynn did. San Fran’s offense chased the St. Louis starter in the fourth inning, but by that point they’d already dug a 6-0 hole and the four runs scored off Lynn were the last of the night.
David Freese looks ready to make a run at his second straight LCS MVP honor, as he started the scoring with a two-run homer in the second. In the St. Louis fourth, they knocked out Bumgarner with a two-run blast by Carlos Beltran being the big blow. Daniel Descalco also had two hits, including a double that continued what’s been a little postseason power surge for the normally light-hitting second baseman.
San Francisco came back, first scoring one run and having two men aboard when Gregor Blanco tripled, then Brandon Crawford doubled, and suddenly the score was 6-4 with more than half the game to play.
Bullpen length is another area that was supposed to be a Giants’ advantage coming in, but it didn’t work out that way. Not through any fault of their own pen, as Tim Lincecum again gave two quality innings in relief and led an effort that shut down St. Louis the rest of the way. But the Cards’ relievers were equal to the task, with arms like Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal delivering in the middle innings and the closing tandem of Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte locking down the final six outs.
This series continues tonight with October veteran Chris Carpenter taking on Ryan Vogelsong. It’s not the most ideal of circumstances for the Giants to try and get their first home win of the playoffs, and I wouldn’t count on a sudden turnaround like they had against Cincinnati. Also, the last three games played involving these two teams (last night, plus the Game 5s each had in the Division Series) have seen someone get out to a 6-0 lead. Wonder what the odds are for doing four in a row?
Detroit 3 NY Yanks 0: Anibal Sanchez joined the parade of pitchers who have been shutting down the New York bats this October. The Yankee offense in the postseason is built around two ninth-inning bursts against closers—one against Jim Johnson in the opener of the Baltimore series, the other against Jose Valverde on Saturday night to open the LCS. Other than that, it’s been dead silent and never more than yesterday when Sanchez and reliever Phil Coke combined on a four-hit shutout.
Hiroki Kuroda continues to excellent work of New York’s own starting pitching, which has now been solid in seven straight postseason games and a reminder of what could happen if this offense can find any life at all. But Detroit chipped over a run in the seventh and then New York couldn’t overcome a bad break in the eighth.
With two outs and a man on first, Austin Jackson singled to right. The baserunner, Omar Infante, foolishly took a wide turn around second, dove back and was clearly tagged out by Robinson Cano. I mean tagged out by a lot, with the umpire right in front of the play. But the call was missed and the inning continued, A bloop single by Avisail Garcia scored one run and then Miguel Cabrera got the second of his two hits for the game by lining a base hit to right. It was 3-0 and the game was all but over.
Joe Girardi was ejected after the game and in the press conference absolved the umpire on the call, while also insisting on instant replay. I agree with everything Girardi said, as well as the tone in which he said it. He acknowledged it might not have made a difference in the game, but that “I’d like to take my chances” when it came to dealing with a relief pitcher down 1-0 instead of down 3-0. I’m not quite as understanding in how the call was blown to begin with, but there’s no reason not to give baseball managers the challenge flag in spots like this.
After a day off today, it’s on to Detroit for the next three games of the series starting Tuesday. Are the Yankees dead in the water with Justin Verlander scheduled for Tuesday? Given that I picked Detroit to win the series so long as they got even one win in the Bronx to open things up I’d be inclined to say yes.
But let’s just spin this from a different perspective. New York throws C.C. Sabathia in Game 4, and all they need to do is either upset Verlander on Tuesday or win Game 5 on Thursday and they at least get the series back to the Bronx. While Detroit would still have Verlander for a Game 7, by that point the Yankees would get him in their home park and all the pressure would be on Detroit because of the way the series began. I’m not ready to predict it, but the Tigers might want to hold the champagne for the time being.
The National League Championship Series starts Sunday night in San Francisco, as the Giants play host to the St. Louis Cardinals. The teams that have won the last two World Series are fresh off winning all-or-nothing Game 5s on the road in the Division Series.
TheSportsNotebook previews the St. Louis-San Francisco NLCS matchup by looking at each team’s ability to get on base and hit for power, along with their starting pitching and bullpen. Finally we round it out with some historical context, the Las Vegas betting angles and a final prediction.
ABILITY TO GET ON BASE: St. Louis has an American League-style lineup, deep with power hitters who also know how to work counts, draw walks and drive up pitch counts. Normally they’ve gotten good on-base work from centerfielder Jon Jay at the top of the order, although Jay was a non-factor in the Division Series win over Washington.
The Cardinal lineup has become even more dangerous with the unexpected offensive surge of late call-up Pete Kozma—only on the team because of a season-ending injury to starting shortstop Rafael Furcal. There’s no real weak point in this lineup, particularly when it comes to grinding out an at-bat.
San Francisco isn’t that good, but they are better than their all-pitch/no-hit image they’ve carried the last couple years. Angel Pagan is a respectable leadoff hitter, Brandon Belt has done a good job getting on base, Gregor Blanco is effective. Marco Scutaro was excellent in his role at second base after being picked up from Colorado for the stretch drive.
None are outstanding, but all come together around Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval—the run producers who also excel in OBP—to form a pretty good offense.
POWER: St. Louis has shown the muscle all year long and the playoffs have been no different. Allen Craig is on fire right now, as is Carlos Beltran. The Cards got a good Division Series showing from David Freese, and his postseason excellence a year ago isn’t going to be far from anyone’s mind. The list continues with Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and even Matt Carpenter off the bench.
Oh, and the bottom of the order? Normally light-hitting Daniel Descalco slugged .591 against the Nationals, including a huge home run in the Game 5 rally.
Posey is the main for San Francisco and his grand slam was the big blow of Game 5 in Cincinnati—indeed, probably the biggest hit of the playoffs to date. Sandoval also swung the bat well. Hunter Pence has the ability to transform a series with his bat, but at some point the rightfielder brought in from Philly needs to do something besides given motivational speeches (apparently he’s been doing so in the postseason) and start hitting.
STARTING PITCHING: Jaime Garcia would have likely started Game 1 for St. Louis, but the lefthander has been diagnosed with a frayed labrum, and not only is out for the postseason, but may miss all of 2013. The Cardinals are fortunate in that replacement starter Lance Lynn was in the rotation into the second half of the season and actually won 18 games and made the All-Star team. A late summer slump cost him his spot, but as replacements go, that certainly isn’t bad.
Chris Carpenter showed he’s still got it in October when he worked into the sixth inning throwing shutout baseball in Game 3 against Washington. Carpenter gets the ball on Monday night, and then gives way to 16-game winner Kyle Lohse, whose pitched well in two playoff starts. Then it’s Adam Wainwright, who had been coming on in the second half, but was nearly the playoff goat when he got rocked off the mound in the decisive game against Washington.
On balance this is a good playoff rotation, but with question marks surrounding Lynn and him likely to make two important starts, it’s not ideal.
San Francisco’s ace is Matt Cain, who would pitch Games 3 & 7, having been used in the final game of the series against Cincinnati. The opening starters will be Madison Bumgarner, the immensely talented young lefthander who struggled in his one playoff start. On the other end of the spectrum is Ryan Vogelsong, the veteran who came up with a clutch effort in Game 3.
Question mark time for San Francisco is in Game 4. No starter is announced, and although logic says it would be Tim Lincecum, he was so effective in relief that you wonder if Bruce Bochy will use him the same way Texas manager Ron Washington employed Alexi Ogando last October—to work three or so innings at a crack if a starter shows even a hint of trouble.
The other option is Barry Zito, mediocre during the season and shaky in his one playoff outing. Bochy has good choices here, and he has the security of knowing Cain is ready if this series goes the distance.
BULLPEN: St. Louis has gotten what they needed from their middle relievers, as Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal have pieced together quality work, piecing together six-plus innings of shutout ball. It’s given manager Mike Matheny the depth he often lacked during the regular season—Kelly was in and out of the rotation. Mitchell Boggs looked shaky to start the postseason, although he seems to have settled down in recent outings and Jason Motte is solid at closer, albeit not unhittable.
The addition of Lincecum to the San Francisco bullpen has added an intriguing wild-card to this whole situation and given even more depth to an already stocked group. The Giants built their relief effort around Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo, and then work in Jeremy Affeldt, George Kontos and have Javier Lopez is a lefthander to be used in situational spots. Top-to-bottom they are vastly better than St. Louis, but the Cardinals are a little more stable at the back end with Motte being more reliable than the combo of Casilla/Romo.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT: These teams have played twice in the National League Championship Series, once in 1987 and the other in 2002. They’ve split the meetings with the Cardinals winning a seven-game battle in the ’87 series in spite of the dominance of San Fran outfielder Jeffrey Leonard who won series MVP in a losing effort. Another dominant Giant outfielder—Barry Bonds—was part of a team that won the ’02 pennant, with catcher Benito Santiago winning NLCS MVP.
THE VIEW FROM VEGAS: It’s a tight line, with San Francisco going off at (-120), meaning $120 must be bet to win $100, while St. Louis can only be had for even money. So there’s no real value on either side, indicating a lack of consensus in the market. The guess here would be it’s only the Giants’ homefield advantage responsible for them being a slight favorite.
THESPORTSNOTEBOOK PICK: I share the view of the betting market in that I’m conflicted on this series. I would really like to pick St. Louis. I believe in the top-to-bottom quality of their lineup and I like how their relief pitching has looked. But I don’t like the way Wainwright was shelled on Friday night in Washington and I really don’t like the uncertainty surrounding Lynn.
There’s no spot in the San Francisco rotation I’m worried about and their relief pitching is deeper and has a season-long track record of success. It’s pitching that deserves the benefit of the doubt, and the Giants win a six-game series.