SERIES: NL Division Series; Cardinals lead 2-0.
The pitcher that started last year’s dreadful World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals now could play a role in helping them get back to the NL championship series.
If Woody Williams performs as poorly as he did in his last playoff outing for St. Louis, and the San Diego Padres get off to another bad start, his former team could be headed for a three-game sweep of this NL division series.
A spot in the NLCS will be taken by the Cardinals if they can beat their former teammate and put an abrupt end to the postseason for a team that many felt never belonged in it. San Diego won the NL West with an 82-80 record, finishing with the lowest winning percentage of a division winner since 1969.
“It’s not over, you have to win three games, we’re going home,” Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. “We’ve got to stay optimistic here, that’s the only way to approach it.”
St. Louis finished the regular season with 100 wins and the best record in baseball following its trip to last year’s World Series, an appearance that got off on the wrong foot thanks in part to Williams.
The 13-year veteran started Game 1 against Boston and failed to get out of the third inning, getting ripped for seven runs and eight hits. The Red Sox went on to win 11-9, sparking a four-game sweep, and Williams left St. Louis as a free agent.
The Padres can’t afford to have Williams struggle in such fashion, considering they could not overcome early deficits in Games 1 and 2. They fell behind 8-0 by the fifth inning of the series opener and trailed 4-0 after four innings Thursday.
“We’re a team that obviously has to have a sense of urgency,” Williams said. “We need to go out and execute a fundamental game plan.”
The right-hander lost his only outing this season against his old team, giving up four runs and nine hits in six innings of a 4-2 loss. However, that game came on July 26, and Williams has been pitching well lately. Excluding a bad outing at Coors Field, he went 3-0 with a 1.84 ERA in September.
The starter that replaced Williams in St. Louis’ rotation lifted the Cardinals to victory Thursday, with Mark Mulder throwing shutout ball into the seventh inning of a 6-2 win that put San Diego on the brink of elimination.
“We held home field advantage,” Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein said. “One thing we’ve got to do, we’ve got to stay aggressive. We can’t wait to get over there.”
Matt Morris, the longest tenured Cardinal who has been with the team since 1997, goes to the mound looking to start atoning for an awful 2004 postseason. In four starts, he went 0-2 with a 5.91 ERA and 14 walks in 21 2-3 innings. He has only one victory—in the 2002 NLDS against Arizona—in 13 career postseason appearances, including nine starts.
The Cardinals could use a solid outing from Morris because their bullpen has looked shaky. All four relievers used in Tuesday’s 8-5 victory gave up at least one run and two hits, and Julian Tavarez allowed a run and two hits in his only inning Thursday.
The Padres have blown plenty of good scoring opportunities. They left nine men on base Thursday, stranded 10 on Tuesday and have grounded into seven double plays.
“We’ve put pressure on that team, we just haven’t come up with the big hit yet,” Brian Giles said. “We’re playing for our lives now.”
If the Padres stay alive, Game 4 will be on Sunday. Otherwise, the Cardinals will host Game 1 of the NLCS on Tuesday.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Cardinals - NL Central champion. Padres - NL West champion.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Cardinals - SS Eckstein (.294, 8 HRs, 61 RBIs, 90 runs, 11 SBs), CF Jim Edmonds (.263, 29, 89, 88), 1B Albert Pujols (.330, 41, 117, 129, 16), RF Larry Walker (.289, 15, 52), LF Reggie Sanders (.271, 21, 54, 14 SBs), 3B Abraham Nunez (.285, 5, 44), 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.294, 8, 59), C Yadier Molina (.252, 8, 49), P Morris (.088, 0, 2). Padres - CF Dave Roberts (.275, 8 HRs, 38 RBIs, 23 SBs), 2B Mark Loretta (.280, 3, 38), LF Ryan Klesko (.248, 18, 58), RF Giles (.301, 15, 83, 92 runs, 119 BBs), 1B Mark Sweeney (.294, 8, 40), 3B Joe Randa (.276, 17, 68), SS Khalil Greene (.250, 15, 70), C Ramon Hernandez (.290, 12, 58), P Williams (.152, 0, 3).
CARDINALS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Morris (14-10, 4.11 ERA). The right-hander opened the season 10-1, but had an inconsistent second half and went 0-5 in his final seven starts. His worst outing during that skid came in his last start in a 7-5 win over Cincinnati on Sunday, when he gave up five runs and eight hits in three innings. However, his only appearance against San Diego this year was a good one as he gave up two earned runs in seven innings, though that came on May 5 and he did not get a decision in the 8-3 loss. He’s 4-1 with a 2.55 ERA in 12 career appearances against the Padres.
PADRES PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Williams (9-12, 4.85 ERA). His best start down the stretch came in his most recent one, allowing a run and three hits in seven innings of last Friday’s 3-1 win over Los Angeles. Williams had a 3.72 ERA at home this season and opponents hit .252. Before last year’s World Series outing, Williams was 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA in five postseason starts.
SEASON SERIES: Padres, 4-3.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cardinals - Sanders has eight RBIs in eight at-bats this series after totaling five RBIs in 68 previous division series at-bats. … Nunez, who has two hits and two walks in the series, has hit .526 (10-for-19) against Williams. … St. Louis is looking to win an NLDS for the fifth time in six tries under manager Tony La Russa. Padres - Giles has gone 10-for-24 (.417) against Morris. … Klesko, who has hit .360 (9-for-25) against Williams, should return to the lineup after coming off the bench in Game 2 because the Cardinals started LHP Mulder. Klesko hit .200 with no homers against left-handers this season, compared to .262 with 18 homers against RHPs. … San Diego has yet to win a postseason game from St. Louis, having been swept in the 1996 NLDS in the teams’ only previous playoff matchup.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cardinals - 50-31 on the road in regular season. Padres - 46-35 at home in regular season.