St Louis Cardinals Top Los Angeles Dodgers in NLDS Game 4, Advance to NLCS

On Tuesday night, the St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS. The Cardinals led the best-of-five series two games to one at the start of the contest, putting themselves in position to advance to their fourth consecutive NLCS with a victory.

Standing on the brink of elimination, the Dodgers sent Clayton Kershaw to the mound, hoping their all-world ace could keep their team’s season alive.

Kershaw, who is expected to win his third Cy Young and perhaps the NL MVP award this year, was coming off an uncharacteristically bad start, giving up eight earned runs in 6.2 innings of work in Game 1 on Friday. For as historically great as the 26-year-old southpaw has been over his young career — becoming the first pitcher to lead the major leagues in ERA in four straight seasons — he has not been immune from running into trouble in the playoffs. Entering play today, Kershaw had a record of just 1-4 with a 5.20 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP in the postseason.

Pitching on three days rest, he appeared to be cruising along today, though, tossing six shutout innings and racking up nine strikeouts, seemingly making a statement. Then came the seventh, however, when Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams belted a three-run homer, which would ultimately prove to be the death blow for the Dodgers as they would ultimately lose the contest by a score of 3-2. Kershaw now falls to 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in the playoffs.

Some may be tempted to compare Kershaw’s October struggles to those of David Price, another terrific left-handed starting pitcher who has strangely enough encountered a similar string of tough luck in the postseason.

That said, Kershaw has at times shown that he can indeed be his dominating, brilliant self in the postseason. With the exception of the Adams’ home run, he threw a great game today, and he posted an 0.69 ERA with 18 strikeouts in two starts against the Atlanta Braves in the 2013 ALDS just a year ago.

Considering the extraordinary talent that Kershaw possesses, it should be safe to say that at some point, he will indeed find success in the postseason once again.

St Louis Cardinals Win Slugfest Over Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1: Quick Hits

To think you know baseball is to be a stupid, stupid fool.

No one understands this game, or why things happen how they happen, particularly when everyone expects exactly the opposite. That is why you watch in October. That is why jaws can routinely be picked up off the floor with a snow shovel in the autumn.

It is why the sport is beautiful, because the seemingly impossible can always trump perfectly sound reason.

It is why the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers left the baseball-watching world speechless and in disbelief Friday night at Dodger Stadium. This was an outcome nobody saw coming before Game 1 of the National League Division Series started, or even more than halfway through it.

In a game started by the two best pitchers in the league, the Cardinals won, 10-9. It wasn’t that the Cardinals won that was so stunning, but it was the way they got down and then came back, and the fact that Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright combined to give up 14 runs, every single one of them as earned as earned can be.

Simply stated, this game was shocking, and if the rest of the series is anything close to this, predictions be damned. This is going to be wild.

“That’s baseball. Anything can happen,” Dodgers right fielder Matt Kemp said after the game, attempting to brush aside the fact that this game was ridiculously nuts.

Kemp then paused for a few seconds before offering some candidness.

“Maybe I was a little shocked.”

The part that was so crazy was that the starting pitchers came in as the best the NL has to offer at that position, with Kershaw being the most dominant pitcher in the world during the regular season. Yet Wainwright was smacked around by a surging Dodgers offense that took errant fastball after errant fastball and locked in on his breaking pitches.

When Wainwright did miss in the zone with hard stuff—fastball, sinker, cutter—the Dodgers tagged him for eight hits. And when the curveball found the hitting zone, three hits, not including a laser of a liner by Hanley Ramirez that was caught for an out.

 “My fastball command was absolutely atrocious. Awful,” Wainwright said. “When they realized it, they sat on the slow stuff.”

By the end of all the contact, Wainwright had allowed six runs on 11 hits and Dodger Stadium transformed from sporting venue to all-out house party. A five-run lead with Kershaw on the mound—he started the game 67-0 when the Dodgers gave him at least four runs—was plenty reason to start the celebration while the Southern California sun still beamed.

Tsk, tsk. As Kemp so plainly noted, this is baseball. More specifically, postseason baseball. Very little goes as plotted.

After Kershaw allowed a first-inning home run on a curveball—the third-ever home run he’s allowed on that pitch in 1,423.1 innings—he put away 16 consecutive Cardinals hitters and seemed to be cruising. Everything was working. The fastball, the curveball, the swing-and-miss slider and the changeup, all of them working seamlessly together to create Kershaw’s latest masterpiece.

For as lights-out as Kershaw has been over the last four seasons, not even he could duck the total wackiness of this game. Going into the seventh inning, Kershaw had allowed two baserunners, both of which hit solo home runs, and gave the Dodgers zero indication he was about to implode.

It started innocently: Matt Holliday lacing a single up the middle to start the inning, putting Kershaw into the stretch for the first time. Then Jhonny Peralta the same thing. Then Yadier Molina the same thing to load the bases, nobody out. Two more singles wrapped around a strikeout and suddenly it was a two-run Dodger lead.

Then a three-pitch strikeout and it seemed Kershaw was back. Furthering the assumption, he got ahead of Matt Carpenter 0-2, but the at-bat turned dim for Kershaw. He could not put away Carpenter, who worked to see six more pitches before thrashing a middle-middle fastball for a bases-clearing double.

Just like that, an entire country, an entire Twitter universe and entire baseball world was turned on its throbbing head. Stunned euphoria in certain parts of that world, stunned silence in others.

“If I don’t get in the way tonight,” Kershaw said, “we have a pretty good chance to win this.”

Just the thought of two of the best pitchers in this galaxy saying they got in the way of their teams’ chances to win a playoff game is absurd. But that’s how this night went.

What wasn’t so unexpected is that the bad blood between these two clubs started to boil in this first game. It also signaled the start of Wainwright’s meltdown when he hit Yasiel Puig with one of those catch-me-if-you-can fastballs.

Puig calmly strutted to first base, but Adrian Gonzalez, usually the calmest of the men in uniform, confronted hot-tempered St. Louis catcher Molina.

“We’re not going to start this again,” Gonzalez claimed to have told Molina.

“You have to respect me,” Gonzalez claimed was Molina’s response.

For Molina’s part, he said he couldn’t hear Gonzalez, but that he was screaming.

“I told him, ‘If you’re going to scream at me, get ready to fight,’ ” Molina claims was his actual response.

he dugouts emptied, the bullpen gates opened, but officials quickly restored order. Molina and Gonzalez seemed to be the only two fired up enough to raise their voices.

Wainwright and Puig found each other, spoke a few words and called it a day, the latter finishing the exchange with a friendly pat on Waino’s backside.

“It kinda woke a sleeping dog,” Carpenter said, acknowledging the Dodgers went bonkers after that, scoring six runs in the next three innings off Wainwright.

This beef between the Cardinals and Dodgers started last postseason, when the ninth pitch of Game 1 of the NL Championship Series stuck in Hanley Ramirez’s side, snapping one of his ribs and taking him out of the series. Two games later, Gonzalez doubled in a run off Wainwright and gestured toward the Dodger dugout to fire up his team. Postgame, Wainwright described Gonzalez’s behavior as “Mickey Mouse.”

In July of this season, the fireworks went off again when Cardinals flamethrower Carlos Martinez hit Ramirez with a fastball high on his shoulder. In the bottom of that inning, Kershaw plunked Matt Holliday. In the ninth inning, St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal hit Ramirez again, this time on the hand, knocking him out of the lineup for a few games.

“It happened during the season, and it’s a trend,” Gonzalez said of the Cardinals hitting Dodgers players. “They can deny it as much as they want. They are going to say it’s not on purpose, but we all know (it is).

“If that’s the way they want to go at it, we’ll make adjustments.”

So that’s where we stand, in a completely unpredictable series that could erupt into punches at any moment. Or not.

This is baseball, though, and none of us knows what will happen next. So let’s just enjoy the drama as it unfolds.

Can The RedSox Fix Allen Craig?

At the time of the deadline deal with St. Louis involving John Lackey, Allen Craig was a complete mystery. After posting a weighted runs created of at least 134 in each of the previous two seasons, Craig was slumping badly in 2014 to the point where the Cardinals deemed him expendable. The Red Sox had interest in him as a buy-low candidate that could potentially add some thump to the lineup. The only problem so far is that Craig has been much worse in Boston than he was in St. Louis. Much (.100/.250/.200), much (36.7 K%, .148 BABIP) worse (.278 wOBA, 74 wRC+). So what exactly is going on with Allen Craig, and can the Red Sox ever expect him to get back to being the middle of the lineup force he was with the Cardinals?

One of the anomalies of Craig’s struggles is that his batted-ball profile has very little year over year variation. Craig’s linedrive (21.4%), groundball (46.4%), and flyball rates (32.1%) with the Red Sox are almost identical to his career rates (22.8%, 46.6 %, and 30.6% career, respectively), so there is really nothing there to be concerned with. As mentioned above, his BABIP and strikeout rate with the Red Sox are abysmal, and this could be playing a role in the off year. During his productive years with the Cardinals, Craig posted unusually high BABIPs (.334, .368), so some regression should have been expected. However, there has to be something else at play here than just a ridiculously low batting average on balls in play.

Could there be something in the way pitchers are attacking Craig in the American League? When compared with his career marks to date, it seems that pitchers in the AL have a different gameplan against Craig than those in the Senior Circuit. With the Red Sox Craig is seeing fewer fastballs (47.9% with Red Sox, 55.3% career), roughly the same amount of sliders (17.1%, 17.5%) and changeups (9.2%, 9.5%), and many more splitters (5.1%, 1.6%). The splitter has been a serious problem for Craig this season, as he is currently half a run below the average hitter (-0.5 wSF) against the splitter on the year. Craig has also been below average against the slider (-2.2 wSL) and changeup (-0.6) in Boston, giving him little advantage in the box. This breakdown makes it pretty clear why Craig has been seeing fewer fastballs in Boston.

Baseball is a game of adjustments, and it is no different here. While it is much easier said than done, Allen Craig needs to adjust to the different way he is being pitched with the Red Sox. Craig is seeing fewer fastballs because he has been bad against offspeed stuff in 2014. Pitchers notice this trend and feature splitters and changeups and breaking stuff; Craig needs to adapt. Pitchers have adjusted to him, now he needs to adjust to how he is being pitched. Along with that, the strikeouts need to come down as well, but that can be addressed if Craig gains a better understanding of how he is being pitched. With a few tweaks to his approach, there is reason to believe Craig can be at least a productive hitter for the Red Sox at some point in the future.

Can the Oakland A’s Win the AL West?

Although the game is under protest by the Oakland A’s and manager Bob Melvin, as it stands now, the LA Angels own a 4-3, 10th inning walk-off win against their division rivals. This translates to an 80-53 record for the Angels and a two-game lead over the A’s at 78-55.

The game is under protest due to a ninth inning obstruction call that went against Oakland and was upheld by umpire Greg Gibson and crew chief Gerry Davis. Howie Kendrick collected the game-winning RBI with a sacrifice fly in the 10th off A’s reliever Ryan Cook (1-2).

The A’s did put up quite a fight in the game, typical of their outstanding season. After struggling through the first three innings, staff ace Sonny Gray retired the next 12 batters to finish with seven innings, allowing three runs off six hits and three walks. Gray’s season record is an impressive 13-7 with 3.03 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 178 innings pitched.

But the A’s are struggling as a team since the All Star break. They are 19-19 since the break and have lost 11 of their last 17. The A’s still maintain a 5-1/2 game lead on the top Wild Card spot over Detroit and Seattle. LA has won seven of ten and appear to be the hot team right now, although the loss of staff ace Garrett Richards could diminish their chances of staying on top.

Although the acquisition of starter John Lester from Boston has certainly improved the A’s pitching staff and their team overall, the loss of Yoenis Cespedes has hurt the offense. In 24 games with the Red Sox, Cespedes is batting .280 with four doubles, four home runs and 20 RBI’s. Although not staggering numbers by any stretch, the A’s could use his bat right now.

Derek Norris is leading the team offensively with a .270 BA. Josh Donaldson is leading in power numbers with 26 homers and 88 RBI’s, but is only batting .255. The offense will have to pick it up in September to support the pitching staff if they want to challenge the Angels for the AL West crown.

Joe Kelly Makes Solid Red Sox Debut, Red Sox Defeat Cardinals 2-1

There was much anticipation before Joe Kelly’s debut with the Red Sox in St. Louis, in that he was facing both his former team and one of his best friends. St. Louis’s starter, Shelby Miller, was Kelly’s best man at his wedding and the two are reportedly very close, adding an interesting wrinkle to the second of three contests between last October’s World Series opponents. Kelly also received several standing ovations from the grateful crowd at Busch Stadium. Brandon Workman will oppose Adam Wainwright in St. Louis tonight to decide the winner of the three game series. Some more notes from last night’s 2-1 Red Sox win:

  • Joe Kelly made a solid start against his former team. Kelly’s final line on the night came out to 7 IP 3 H 1 ER 4 BB 2 K, while throwing 53 of 97 pitches for strikes. Kelly seemed to struggle with his command early on, as evidenced by the four walks, but he seemed to settle in as the game went on. Those command issues could certainly be reasonably explained by some jitters against facing his old team in their ballpark for the first time. The two strikeouts were also a bit low, especially since Kelly shows plus stuff most times, but he is not a pitcher that lives and dies with the strikeout. Kelly has a career K/9 mark of just 5.97, but his career 52.2% groundball rate (56.6% this season) suggests that he can still be effective without missing many bats, as evidenced by his start last night.
  • Xander Bogaerts had himself a pretty good night on both sides of the ball. Bogaerts made a nice diving play to help get Kelly out of a first-and-third jam and end the second inning, showing much greater comfort and skill at shortstop than he had at third base. Since the trade of Stephen Drew to the Yankees, Bogaerts has been much better defensively, which in turn has seemed to give him a much-needed confidence boost. Bogaerts also drove in both of the Red Sox’ runs in the game; the first on a two-out double to score Daniel Nava in the fourth inning, then he lifted a sacrifice fly to score Yoenis Cespedes and give the Red Sox the lead in the top of the ninth. A surge by Bogaerts would be a huge boost to the Red Sox lineup, as well as set him up for a breakout season in 2015.
  • Even though he wasn’t in the starting lineup, David Ortiz still left his mark on the game when he pinch-hit for Nava with runners at second and third and no outs in the top of the ninth. The Cardinals elected to intentionally walk Ortiz (who was promptly pinch-run for by Jackie Bradley Jr.) and pitch to Bogaerts instead. Looks like they learned their lesson last October about pitching to David Ortiz with runners in scoring position.
  • The Red Sox bullpen was excellent in support of Kelly’s strong start. Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara combined for two shutout innings in relief, with Uehara recording his 23rd save in the process.

Should Matheny Explain Why He Has Miller and Mujica On the World Series Roster?

The St. Louis Cardinals have had a great year. They finished the regular season with the best record in the National League, securing home-field through the NLDS and NLCS. They have reached the World Series and have been involved in a close, hard-fought affair with a tough opponent. The club still has a chance to pull off a world championship, as they are down 3-2 in the best of seven series.

Now, having said all that, time for the second-guessing and criticism. One has to wonder, if the Cardinals should lose on Wednesday or Thursday night, what could St. Louis manager Mike Matheny have done differently? Should Matheny have done something different with the rosters? Are there any in-game decisions that he regrets making? Should he have done something different with the batting order?

Well, I think the one thing that Matheny will get the most criticism for this World Series is placing both Edward Mujica and Shelby Miller on the roster. In the first 5 games of this series, neither has tossed a pitch. In fact, only a couple of times have they even warmed up in the bullpen. Obviously, Matheny has no confidence in Mujica to do anything but mop up. ‘Chief’ lost his closer’s job at the end of the regular season, when he was suddenly getting rocked. The Cards have been going with Trevor Rosenthal as the closer in the postseason.

In the NLDS and NLCS, Mujica only appeared in two games. He pitched the 9th inning of a Game 2 blowout loss to Pittsburgh in the NLDS. He also appeared in Game 5 of the NLCS against the Dodgers. He pitched one inning, allowing a home run to AJ Ellis in the 7th inning of a 6-4 loss for the Cardinals. Since that game, Matheny hasn’t even considered bringing in Mujica, not even to mop up Game 1 of the World Series, which the Red Sox won 8-1.

On the other hand, at least Mujica saw action in the NLCS. Miller hasn’t pitched since appearing in the 8th inning of Game 2 of the NLDS. His appearance in that game ended up indicating that Lance Lynn would be utilized as the 4th starter in that series. Lynn has obviously kept that role in the NLCS and World Series. With Lynn firmly being used as a starter, this should mean that Miller would be available out of the pen, right?

You would think, but Matheny hasn’t used him since October 4th. Not even in Game 1 of the NLCS, which went 13 innings. Instead, Lynn pitched the end of that game and went on to start Game 4. If Miller wasn’t going to be used in an extra-inning game in the NLCS, and Lynn was going to be used as the 4th starter moving forward, why even have Miller on the roster for the World Series? Was Matheny hoping to have Boston confused on whether or not Miller or Lynn would start? I figure with Miller not starting in the past month that John Farrell would know that Lynn was going to be the Game 4 option.

Ok, so who should have Matheny placed on the roster instead of Miller and/or Mujica? Well, it would seem that if you were going to leave both of these players off, you’d at least need to add another pitcher. The other options that the Cards had available to them, in terms of guys who had pitched in September and could have contributes, are pretty limited. The best names would be lefties Sam Freeman and Tyler Lyons and right-hander Fernando Salas. Salas, who at one point in the 2011 season was the Cards closer, spent much of the season in Triple-A. He was effective at times, with a 1.179 WHiP, but also gave up 3 HRs in 28 innings. Matheny would probably have had the same confidence in him as he’s had in Mujica, which is none.

Freeman, who spent most of the year in Triple-A, was very effective in limited action, posting a 2.18 ERA and 1.054 WHiP in 12.1 innings. Lyons was used as a starter off and on during the season. He posted a 4.75 ERA and 1.226 WHiP in 53 innings while striking out 43. Would a third lefty in the pen be useful? Well, it probably couldn’t have been less useful than having two pitchers you won’t utilize. And it also could have presented another option when facing David Ortiz.

Are there any better options the Cards could have used off the bench? Well, we need to be honest here. The cupboard is pretty bare for Matheny. There just isn’t much to choose from. One possibility is that Matheny could have had Adron Chambers available. Chambers was on the NLDS and NLCS rosters due to Allen Craig being hurt. Once Craig was deemed ready for the World Series, Chambers was replaced on the roster. Chambers doesn’t offer much in the way of hitting prowess (.154 in 23 games.)

Chambers is also a left-handed hitter, and the Cards have more than enough of those on their bench as it is, as Kolten Wong and Daniel Descalso are both left-handed, and Jon Jay and Matt Adams give them even more left-handed options if they don’t start due to matchups. Was there another right-handed option? Well, Tony Cruz, the backup catcher, has seen no action as a pinch hitter due to the Cards not carrying a third catcher. Rob Johnson could have been an option. Of course, Johnson did nothing with the bat during his limited time in the majors this year (.171 in 20 games.)

Even if Chambers or Johnson didn’t provide much to be excited about in terms of bench production, either could still have provided more options for Matheny than an unused pitcher. If the Cards lose the World Series, Matheny will most likely have to answer questions about his roster selections. Hopefully, he can give us all a really, really good answer. Because, from the outside looking in, it just doesn’t make much sense.

Shane Victorino Will Not Start For Second Straight Game Due To Lower-Back Tightness

Boston Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino will not be in the lineup in Game 5. He is still suffering from lower-back tightness. Victorino has been bothered by the injury for most of the season, but it has recently flared up. The 32-year-old should be available to pinch-hit if Boston needs him.

Just as in Game 4, Daniel Nava will start in right field and Johnny Gomes will play left field. This move worked out the Red Sox on Sunday night, as Gomes hit a 3-run home run to lead Boston to a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. Prior to that homer, Gomes was 0-9 in the World Series and had looked overmatched.

The Red Sox also are making a couple of changes in the lineup. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia will now bat second and David Ortiz, who will continue to play first base, will move up to third. Red Sox manager John Farrell has moved Gomes into the cleanup spot. Nava, who batted 2nd on Sunday, will now bat 5th. Mike Napoli, the everyday first baseman, will once again sit so Ortiz’s bat can be in the lineup.

On the mound, the Cards throw out ace Adam Wainwright. Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA, 1.07 WHiP) was roughed up by the BoSox in Game 1, giving up 5 runs (3 earned) in 5 innings in the 8-1 loss. He faces off with his Game 1 opponent, Jon Lester. Lester (15-8, 3.75 ERA, 1.29 WHiP) tossed 7-2/3 innings of shutout ball while striking out 8 in Wednesday’s win.