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An Unexpected Position

Posted on October 22, 2012 at 6:55 AM
Filed Under: San Francisco Giants | St. Louis Cardinals
Well, this isn't where we thought we'd be in the afterglow of Thursday, is it?

Sadly, it was foreseeable.  After all, Barry Zito is one of those lefties that, no matter how much the Cardinals should be able to hit him, he gets out of jams.  When they weren't able to break through in the first couple of innings, after plenty of opportunities, you knew that chances were it was going to be one of those nights, one of those frustrating nights that we've seen way too often this season.

That brought us to Game 6, and the way Ryan Vogelsong has been dominating the Cardinals recently, it was going to take an exceptional game by Chris Carpenter to match that.  Carp didn't have that in him for this one, though that was to be expected given his physical condition.  Maybe the results would have been different with a fully functional Carpenter, rather than one making just his sixth start of the season, but Vogelsong really has had St. Louis's number so it might not have mattered either way.

So, just like a 3-0 count can quickly wind up to be a strikeout, so too has this 3-1 lead from Thursday evaporated like the morning dew.  Now, again, it's winner-take-all this evening.

There are a lot of streaks and numbers that are out there.  The Cards have won six straight winner-take-all games, with their last loss being in Game 5 of the 2001 NLDS.  The Giants have won five straight elimination games this postseason, which has to be a record for one October.  (Actually, I see that the Royals won six such 1985.  Not a good omen there.)  All time, the Cards are 11-4 in Game 7s, the Giants 0-5.  14 times a team has won a Game 6 at home to force a Game 7, and thirteen times that team has won.  It's been 40 years since a team has lost in the situation the Giants are in.

Then there's the fact that the only time St. Louis has had a 3-1 lead in the NLCS was 1996.  We know what happened there.

I left out 1968 in Friday's post, so there have been three times in the Cardinals history where they've been up 3-1 in a postseason series only to lose.  I don't know how many times that's happened overall, but the Cards have a disproportionate share of that history.

Good or bad, history isn't going to take that field tonight.  The Giants don't get an extra run because of their recent run in elimination games, the Cardinals don't get any bonus tallies because of last year's Game 6 or this year's Game 5 rallies.  It's all on this one game.

Honestly, I don't feel real good about it.  Which may be a good thing--I didn't feel good about the Cardinals facing Gio Gonzalez in Game 5 in the NLDS.  Which, to be fair, Gonzalez did do a pretty good job and if Davey Johnson hadn't done the inexplicable a couple of times in that game, we might not be talking about this situation.  However, they did win that game, so I'm perfectly happy to have them negate any negative feelings I have about this one.

Still, it's a rematch of the rainy Game 3.  Kyle Lohse has been superb for most of the season, but what Lohse does tend to do is put runners on.  In Game 3, he changed his name to Harry Houdini because out of seven hits and five walks in less than six innings, only one scored.  That doesn't even seem to be physically possible and, obviously, you can't count on that happening again.  Lohse will have to have his A Game going---and Mike Matheny can't be slow with the hook.

Matt Cain is, well, Matt Cain.  The Cards have beaten him before, they've been able to put together rallies against him, but he's still a very good pitcher who will have the adrenaline of Game 7 in front of the home fans going for him.  He's going to want that game very badly and will be pitching like it.

The Cardinals have to do two things in this game, in my mind.  Score early and keep San Francisco out of the big innings.

Scoring early accomplishes two things.  It helps take the crowd out of the game, at least to an extent (and, obviously, multiple runs work better for that than a single tally) and it improves the mindset in the dugout.  The last thing we need to see is a scoreless game into the seventh or the Cards trailing by one anytime after the fourth or fifth.  The opportunities for a comeback are going to be small, if only because the Giants know what the Redbirds are capable of.

When you look at San Francisco's offense this series, one thing stands out: if you can ever stop the bleeding, you can shut them down.  Game 1, they scored all four of their runs in the fourth.  Game 2, they scored four of their seven in the fourth.  Game 5, four of the five came in the fourth.  Last night, they did it early, as four of their six runs came in the second.

While the Giants have added on here and there, getting that elusive third out and stopping a rally could be huge tonight.  Unless they've already scored six or seven, St. Louis can not afford to have the Giants put up another four-spot somewhere along the line.

If I were Mike Matheny, I'd be tempted to turn this into a bullpen game.  Let Lohse go for three or four, Trevor Rosenthal for two, Joe Kelly for two, then Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte.  Don't let the Giants get comfortable with Lohse when you've got flamethrowers, especially if they are able to get a lead.

I always try to look at games as a part of a storyline.  What's the way the papers are going to look tomorrow?  Seems like about the time the media jumps on an angle, that's when that angle is going to be destroyed.  What's been the angle so far this postseason?  That the Cardinals can't be killed, that they are this unstoppable force.  Which means the irony of the Cardinals getting beat like that, by a team that was down and out but rose from the dead to win, is going to be some rich fare for the sportswriters.

Are the Giants guaranteed a win tonight?  Of course not.  The Cardinals have a lot of weapons, but the bats are going to have to get on track.  It's interesting to see some of the comments coming out of both clubhouses.  Lance Berkman says that you dispense with the aura of Game 7 and that heroic moments are just guys playing naturally in a big spot.  Bruce Bochy says that "there's no tomorrow", which seems to add to the stage.  Does that play into St. Louis's favor?  Who knows?

It sounds like Matt Holliday's back will likely keep him out of Game 7 as well, so the starters are going to have to do this.  Matt Carpenter was about the only guy on the bench that could be expected to do anything in a pinch-hitting role and he'll be in the outfield or at first base when the lineups are posted.  Holliday could perhaps pinch-hit, but would you really expect much out of him if he can't go with a back issue?  You could get a Kirk Gibson moment but you don't want to rely on that at all.

Whatever happens tonight, I hope the Cardinals don't regret anything, don't leave anything out there.  I hope they have a good approach at the plate, I hope they play a clean game.  If they lose after that, you tip your hat to the Giants.  If the Cardinals play a game like that, though, there's a strong chance the grounds crew at Busch will have to get those World Series logos down on the field quickly.

Let's Go Cardinals!

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1 Comment | Leave a comment

Love the Royals factoid. Keep up the good work.

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Rick Ankiel 83.9%
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