This is it, folks. A 162 game season comes down to a do or die at Wrigley Field today for the St. Louis Cardinals. Most of you won’t get to see the game, and for that some should be thankful. Just listen to the cubicle next to you. Listen for the screams, cries and excitement. Baseball is a game of endurance and stress trading spots on a bus heading towards the brutal cold of winter.
After dropping Games 2 and 3 to the Cubs, the Cards are against the wall, scratching for space. Things started swimmingly on Friday night and suddenly took a detour away from Pleasantville. Things went terribly wrong. For once, the bats escape blame and the pitching is the culprit. How things have changed for the team with the most wins in baseball and best overall pitching staff.
While Game 2 was a breakdown in fundamentals, Game 3 was a launching pad. A Michael Bay film instead of a dynamic chess duel in the vein of The Hunt for Red October. A stunt sequence. The Cubs hit six home runs Monday night off Cardinals pitching, including three off Michael Wacha and one off Adam Wainwright. Yes, the Waino that some wanted to see start for Wacha. No pitcher went unscathed last night. Everybody had a stain on their shoulders.
Sure, Wacha’s 5th inning was ill fated. He got through four innings while allowing only two runs to a dangerous lineup but Mike Matheny sent him back out there for a third trip through the order. Even though he was hanging his curve and couldn’t locate his changeup. Wacha went out there and Kris Bryant hammered a two run home run. Kevin Siegrist came in for the 182nd time in 2015 and served up a blast to Anthony Rizzo.
After the bats drew the game to 5-4, Seth Maness came in, recorded an out and allowed a scratch single. Suddenly, Matheny wanted to bring in Wainwright. Why? I have no idea. The Cards needed a groundball and Maness is the best at getting those. Everybody wearing blue at Wrigley knew Wainwright throws a first pitch fastball. He did and Jorge Soler hammered his second home of the series, a blast that would prove to be the game winner. Just look at Waino’s face after Stephen Piscotty’s meaningless two run home run in the 9th. The heartbreak was deafening.
Here they are. Tuesday afternoon. Down 2-1 in the series and desperately needing to get this series back to Busch Stadium for a winner take all Game 5. Can they make it happen? Can the Cards pull out a victory at Wrigley?
The ball will be handed to John Lackey on three days rest. By now, more than a few people have told you his stats on this kind of rest. Two decent starts. Both taking place over ten years ago. Expecting anything more than 5-6 innings out of Lackey today is crazy. He’s 36 year old and pitching in a sandbox with high winds. If he keeps the Cards in the game, fans should be grateful.
This game will come down to the bullpen doing a good job. The Cards bats aren’t full throttle wrecking balls this series but they have a pulse. Jason Hammel is a hittable pitcher whom the Cards have beaten up this season for seven earned runs in 10 innings of work. Runs will be pushed across the plate but can the pen protect a lead?
Jonathan Broxton shouldn’t be allowed to pitch. He’s good for a home run or two baserunners per inning these days. Adam Wainwright should only START an inning. If needed, Lance Lynn should be used today. He was supposed to pitch anyway and can give the Cards big innings if needed. Tyler Lyons is down there somewhere and can be valuable. Jaime Garcia SHOULD NOT pitch. He’s never pitched out of relief and making his first time happen in a raucous environment against a power crazy team wouldn’t be wise. Save him for Game 5.
Can the Cards bullpen hold the Cubs off if they are handed a lead? That is the story heading into Game 4. Watch if you dare!
This do or die status is nothing new for the Birds. In 2011, they were down 2-1 against Philadelphia and came back to win game 5 in that classic Carpenter-Halladay showdown. They were down 2-1 against Pittsburgh in 2013 and came back on the road in Game 4 to force a Game 5 at home which they won. It’s not impossible and a situation the team has grown quite comfortable in.
The brutal part is the idea of losing to the Cubs but ladies and gents, this is a 97 win team. They aren’t a band of scrubs. They are good and will be for the foreseeable future. Get used to these battles in the NL Central. This NLDS is a preview of things to come.
Just don’t count the Cards out yet. The Cubs won’t be doing that after seeing their untouchable ace pitcher, Jake Arrieta, allow four earned runs Monday night for the first time since mid June. Both of these teams are great. For all the offense that has been on display this week, it will come down to which bullpen can be more effective. That’s it.