COMMENTARY | Michael Wacha turned in more than seven impressive innings at PNC Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates to force another game. But unless the St. Louis Cardinals can put away the National League Division Series by winning Game 5 at Busch Stadium, his second near-no-hitter in as many starts will be nothing more than a footnote.
Here are five keys to a Redbirds victory and a spot in the National League Championship Series:
First and foremost, Adam Wainwright needs to give a repeat performance. With Gerrit Cole getting the start instead of A.J. Burnett, runs will be scarce in St. Louis, and Adam needs to keep pace with the Pirates' hurler. An early Buccos lead could be all Cole and a dominant Pittsburgh bullpen need to punch their ticket to the NLCS. Wainwright needs to take control of Game 5 from the first inning on, just like he did in Game 1.
As Chris Carpenter would say, "Give him the ball and get the hell outta' the way."
Matt Carpenter must get on base. In 15 at-bats in this divisional series, the Cardinals' All-Star second baseman -- the man who led all of baseball in runs scored (126), doubles (55) and hits (199, tied with Adrian Beltre) -- has one hit, one walk and six strikeouts. Is it any wonder the Cardinals' offense is limping back to St. Louis?
Carpenter's approach has been off ever since the last week of the season when he tried to tackle 200 hits rather than letting it come to him. The bad habits he picked up have carried over, and now the leadoff hitter for an offense reliant on runners-in-scoring-position success is struggling to recapture that on-base magic. As a result, the Cardinals' RISP average -- historically the best in MLB in decades -- has suffered.
When the Redbirds hitters were driving in runs to the tune of a .330 RISP average, the key contributors -- other than Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter himself -- were names like Matt Holliday (.390), Carlos Beltran (.374) and Yadier Molina (.373). For the most part, these names aren't surprising. The best hitters are supposed to hit the best in RISP situations, right?
But think of it another way.
Without Matt Carpenter getting on base in front of them, these sluggers aren't getting as many chances to hit with RISP. Instead, the bulk of the RISP at-bats in the divisional series are going to guys like the struggling Carpenter and Daniel Descalso, each with four RISP at-bats. The rest of the Cardinals hitters have one or two at-bats with RISP each.
In other words, the Cardinals' RISP problems are primarily centered around failing to get their best hitters in a position to hit with runners on base. That has to change in Game 5, and Matt Carpenter has to change it.
Matt Adams has to forget about the shift. Adams is a big guy with a big swing, but the shift employed by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has Big City so flustered that he's dropped his bat head to bunt twice in this series. Someone has to get a hold of the slugger from Pennsylvania and slap the shift outta' him.
Matt Adams needs to be swinging a big bat with big intentions from the cleanup spot, especially with a starting pitcher on the mound who regularly throws a 98-mph fastball. After all, one could argue that ball hit in the air beats the shift every time.
Carlos Martinez has to hold it together in the eighth inning. Baby Pedro is a promising young rookie with dynamic stuff, but he could certainly have used a bit more polishing time before getting thrown into high-leverage innings in October. The Cardinals had planned to get him that time in part by bringing him to big league camp to hang around with veterans like Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in spring training, but difficulties getting out of his home country on time nixed that idea.
Now, he has to make do with what he has and try to get big outs late in games. His pitches are good enough, and Yadi is doing an admirable job coaching him through games. But he needs to figure out how to get quick outs fast to avoid giving up a lead to aggressive fastball hitters in the Pirates' lineup.
Kevin Siegrist needs to reassert his dominance over Pedro Alvarez. I can't help but think the game, the series and the season could hinge, at least in part, on a single at-bat between Pedro Alvarez and Cardinals lefty Kevin Siegrist late in the game. Siegrist -- among other lefties in MLB -- has owned the Pirates' slugger in 2013 (.180/.252/.256), but a late-inning single off Kevin in Game 3 drove in the go-ahead run for a Pirates victory. Assuming Siegrist gets the call, he needs to treat his last appearance against Alvarez like the anomaly it was and attack the Pirates' home run hitter just as before.
Kevin Reynolds is the author of Stl Cards 'N Stuff and host of The State of the Nation Address podcast at Stl Cards 'N Stuff. He's been writing and podcasting about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2007 and can be found chatting about baseball on Twitter (@deckacards).
- Sports & Recreation
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- Matt Carpenter
- Pittsburgh Pirates
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- Matt Adams
- Chris Carpenter