October 09, 2011
The St. Louis Cardinals pulled off the most shocking divisional series upset, beating out the heavily favored Phillies. Tony La Russa's club has been living the improbable for the past six weeks, overcoming a 10 1/2 game deficit to win the NL wild card.
Regular season matchups don't often translate to the postseason. In the case of the Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers, there's really not much to go on as the two teams split their 18 head-to-head games. But if St. Louis can accomplish these five objectives, they could be playing for their second World Series championship in six years.
1. Pounce early: In the two NLDS games the Brewers lost, the Arizona Diamondbacks jumped out to early leads, forcing Milwaukee to play catch-up.
Obviously, that won't be easy against the likes of Zack Greinke(notes) and Yovani Gallardo(notes). But Shaun Marcum(notes) looks highly vulnerable right now, having allowed seven runs in his past two starts. Randy Wolf(notes) doesn't inspire much confidence either, giving up four runs or more in his past three outings.
Gallardo was excellent in his two NLDS starts, allowing one run in each game. But he'll be matched up twice against Chris Carpenter, who pitched the best game of the postseason thus far with a three-hit shutout of the Philadelphia Phillies in Friday's Game 5 clincher.
2. Score more than three runs: This might apply against any team the Cardinals face, but in six of their regular season wins over the Brewers, St. Louis scored four runs or more. In the other three victories, the Cardinals held Milwaukee to one run or less. That seems unlikely to happen more than once, if at all, during this series.
Most importantly, St. Louis failed to score more than three runs in eight of their nine losses to the Brewers. For them to have a chance to win, the Cardinals have to clear that four-run hurdle.
3. Role players need to roll: The Brewers did a nice job of shutting down Albert Pujols(notes) and Lance Berkman(notes) in their regular season matchups. Pujols hit .250/.303/.471 against Milwaukee, while Berkman posted a .196/.274/.304 slash average.
So someone else in the Cardinals' batting order will have to come through with some key hits. Could that be Matt Holliday(notes)? His return from a hand injury should help, but is he really healthy enough to make a contribution?
Jon Jay(notes) (two RBI in Game 2) and David Freese(notes) (four RBI in Game 4) were unlikely heroes in the Cardinals' NLDS wins. Skip Schumaker(notes) and Ryan Theriot(notes) each hit .600 or better during the series. Schumaker will likely miss the NLCS with an oblique injury, but anything the Cards can get from Theriot will be welcome. And maybe that Pujols guy will help out, too. He only drove in one run and didn't hit any homers during the NLDS, but batted .417 (7-for-17).
4. Sit the table-setters down: Ryan Braun(notes) and Prince Fielder(notes) figure to get their hits during this series. But if the Cardinals can keep the batters in front of them — Corey Hart(notes), Nyjer Morgan(notes), Jerry Hairston Jr.(notes) — off base, the Brewers' big bats will do less damage. Don't let them be disruptive on the basepaths and don't give the middle of the batting order anyone to drive in.
5. Keep providing relief: Good starting pitching was a big reason for the Cardinals' NLDS victory. However, it was their bullpen that maintained leads and prevented the Phillies from late-inning rallies.
Marc Rzepczynski(notes) and Mitchell Boggs(notes) were lousy in Game 1, allowing five runs in 1 2/3 innings. But after that, the St. Louis relief corps clamped the Phillies down. In Games 2 through 4, the Cardinals allowed one run and three hits in 11 innings. That included bounce-back outings for Rzepczynski and Boggs. If they do that again, the Brewers will have to put some runs on the board early if they want to win this series.