NLCS Game 1 Reveals The Flavor For The Series

Friday night revealed a Cardinals-Dodgers series flavor.  Think of throwing two different steaks on a grill and seeing which one can stand the burning charcoal beneath longer.  Certain things were revealed and confirmed last night.   Great pitching, timely hitting, brilliant bullpen work and an ability to take advantage of mistakes.Carlos Beltran

Let’s go back and do a little pre series hype and set up.  the Cards are matched up with an even strength team that is full of talent, carries no give and will produce one of the most thrilling series in a long time.  After the Pirates, there is no drop off in opposition for the Cards, gunning for their 4th World Series trip in the last 10 years.  The Dodgers are built by expensive parts and assembled to win a title.  They aren’t put together by home grown talent.  For the crowd preaching that LA bought themselves a pennant chase, that theory carries weight but won’t matter much if they walk away from this series with a World Series ticket.  We can cry all night about a loss there, but all you have at the end of the day is what you gave inside the series and not why you lost it.   Big budget team or not, the Dodgers are deadly up and down the order.  The Cardinals are a team that has slowly raised their payroll to 116 million(100 million below LA’s numbers) but combines home grown talent with acquired skill.   This makes for a matchup between two of baseball’s most storied franchises.   With the two best jerseys in the NL and 18 World Series titles between them, the Cards and Dodgers will create a classy clash of titans.

Now let’s look at Game 1.  The Cards won 3-2 in 13 innings and a tone was set in the process.   A few things that I take away.  Carlos Beltran was the MAN last night and he will get his space later but first let’s look at a few things.

*Clayton Kershaw can be the Cy Young award winner and MLB’s golden child, but he is also a man that suffered two defeats to the Cards this season.   Run support or not, the brilliant lefthander was beaten twice by our club.   The bigger threat to us appeared last night and that is Zach Greinke, the righthanded arm brought in to take the Dodgers rotation from pretty good to excellent.  He kept the Cards off balance for 8 innings and his only blemish was a 3 pitch sequence of hitters that included a Joe Kelly hit, Matt Carpenter walk and Carlos Beltran 2 run double.  Greinke will pitch again in LA in this series and more than likely in Game 5 on Wednesday against Kelly.  He is a man I feared more than Kershaw coming into this series.

*Hats off to Joe Kelly, who pitched a gritty 6 innings and allowed 2 runs.   Kelly got into plenty of trouble but had some gas left in the tank when he left the game and did his usual stressful pitching.  I don’t think he clicks in fully until there are men on the basepaths and like Allen Craig, he is at his best in the biggest situation.   If he fields a ground ball hit by Yasiel Puig cleanly, there is a chance that he could have a shutout heading into the 7th inning.    Kelly got the game 1 assignment and did very well.  Limited the damage and shined in the right moments.

*Jon Jay looked horrible at the plate and in the field.   He left runners on base and took a bad route to a ball hit in the 11th inning that almost gave the Dodgers a go ahead run.  There are days where I think Jay is a fine centerfielder and a great bargain player and then there are days where I think he doesn’t need to play every day.

*Nobody swings harder than Juan Uribe.  I bet he is the guy who jams debit cards into ATM machines, rips apart wrapping paper and violently punches in his pin number at area stores.  He is a deadly bat that has a truly violent swing and is a big time playoff performer.  He is a guy I fear as much as the other big bats in the lineup.

*The Cards bullpen slamming the door on the Dodgers and showing their strength in numbers.  For 7 innings, few hits were allowed and peace was kept.  Trevor Rosenthal pitched two solid innings as well as unwanted man Lance Lynn, who earned the victory with a scoreless yet far from perfect 12th and 13th innings.

*Yasiel Puig is a fine young talent but he can be solved with good pitching.   All night Cardinal pitcher busted him inside and didn’t let him get his arms extended and do any real damage.  A deadly bat that blew up in August yet cooled down slightly in September, Puig is a diamond talent but a player still building his baseball IQ.   He can get careless and swing wild and be fooled by a decent breaking pitch.   While I heavily anticipate his matchup with fireballer Rosenthal, I want to see Adam Wainwright carve Puig up.

*Adrian Gonzalez being pulled in the 8th inning wad a dicey call from Don Mattingly.  Dee Gordon can fly for sure but taking out a lethal bat in a one run game with a good chance for extras hurt the Dodgers.  Mike Matheny easily raised the right hand and passed the dangerous Hanley Rameriz twice afterwards and this decision played a role.   Gonzo’s sweeter than velvet swing is a big threat to a baseball club built on young pitching talent who pound a lot of fastballs into the zone.   Gordon was forced at second on a Puig ground ball and LA was weakened going forward.  This was huge.

*The throw from Beltran to Yadi Molina at home plate did nail Mark Ellis and there was a small tag applied.   He was out and when Ellis ran into Molina, his elbow brushed off Yadi’s glove.  Either way, there wasn’t enough conclusive evidence to reverse the call(for you 2014 replay honks) and The ump decided contact and the ball beating the runner was enough to punch out the runner.  That was huge and Beltran calling off Jon Jay was another reason why the savvy veteran is so important to the Cards.

Finally, let’s talk about Carlos Beltran.   He was a one man wrecking crew last night.   He drove in two runners off Greinke in the 3rd inning, threw out the runner at home plate in extras and slapped a game winning base hit in the 13th off Dodgers closer Kenley Jensen to seal the victory.   He has 34 RBI in his career in the postseason(ranks 5th all time) and more HR in the playoffs than Babe Ruth.  He is a smooth moving ageless wonder who is proving to be vital this postseason.  He is perfect for the #2 hole and shines there.  I expect his bat to be beastly the rest of the month.   Let’s table his offseason contract situation for now and simply enjoy his performance.

Game 2 is today with Michael Wacha facing off against Kershaw at 3pm St. Louis time.   I expect the young righty to keep the Dodgers off balance with his accurate heater and changeup.  This will be another close game where a big blast could decide the game.   If the Cards can manage to steal the first two games before heading to LA, it’s as tough as reinforced steel.  Getting a game one pitching duel is good enough.   The series will happen quick.   By the end of next Saturday, a Game 7 will conclude.   Will it need 7 games?  I prescribed it that much as the first game kicked off last night and can still see it going that way.   For now, enjoy the hours off before the nerves kick in this afternoon.   For die hard fans, these are the days we spend all season sweating to witness.   We are seasoned for this moment and ready to analyze.

Who takes Game 2?  No idea.  The Cards proved in Game 1 they can make up for a lack of payroll with a handsomely groomed farm system full of MLB ready talent.  Who wins the series?  A family or a group of mercenaries?

Thanks for staying,

Dan L. Buffa

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