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Strong pitching from starter Randy Wulff and just enough offense propelled the Milwaukee Brewers to a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the NLCS. With the win, the Brewers evened the series at two games apiece, bouncing back after dropping two-in-a-row to the Cardinals.
Brew Crew Ball seemed happy with the performance in Game 4, calling it a bounce-back game for the team as a whole. Yovani Gallardo struggled right out of the gates in Game 3, but Randy Wolf was solid throughout in Game 4. And the Brewers offense was just potent enough to capitalize on Wolf's strong outing.
Meanwhile, the Brewer offense had just enough tonight to get the job done. They scored a pair of runs in the fourth on Jerry Hairston's double and Yuniesky Betancourt's single, one more in the fifth on a Ryan Braun double, and a final tally in the sixth when a Ryan Theriot error allowed Rickie Weeks to score. Jerry Hairston Jr, Ryan Braun and Nyjer Morgan each had two hits, while George Kottaras and Mark Kotsay were the only Brewer starters held hitless
It wasn't perfect, but the Brewers were good enough on Thursday night. Wolf allowed just two solo home runs in seven innings to earn his first playoff win as the Milwaukee offense gave him a lead to work with and hung onto it. Now the NLCS becomes a battle, with the series tied and Game 6 in Milwaukee guaranteed.
The Milwaukee Brewers stopped the skid on Thursday, taking Game 4 of the NLCS to even the series. With the win, Milwaukee regained the home-field advantage it lost as the St. Louis Cardinals stole game two at Miller Park. Judging by the comments after the game, Thursday's win was a big one for the Brewers, as is the opportunity to head back to Milwaukee for Game 6.
After the game, manager Ryan Roenicke praised his starter, Randy Wolf, while also emphasizing how big it was for the Brewers to at least guarantee a return to Milwaukee.
Real important for us to go back home. I still think we can play good ball on the road but it's important to go back home for sure. Hopefully we'll do it with the lead but if not, we've got two games there.
Ryan Braun shared the same sentiment after the Brewers guaranteed the series would return to Milwaukee for Game 6.
"It feels good to know that we're at least going to get to go back home," said Ryan Braun, who singled home the go-ahead run in the fifth.
For the Brewers, Thursday's win takes a bit of the pressure off. Lose and Milwaukee would have faced an elimination game in St. Louis and the prospect of having to win three games in a row to reach the World Series. Now, after knotting the NLCS, it's down to a best-of-three game series, with two of the three games -- if necessary -- set to take place at Miller Park.
Game 5 gets underway on Friday in St. Louis as Zach Greinke takes the hill against Jamie Garcia.
In Thursday's Game 4, Randy Wolf worked seven sparkling innings, and the Brewers tied the Cardinals in the best-of-seven at two games apiece.
We've said it before, but it's worth saying again now, as the Cardinals try to score at least two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning ...
John Axford is really, really good.
After blowing a save in the middle of April, Axford went the whole rest of the season without a blown save, 43 for 43, and posted a 1.34 ERA all the while. In 67 innings, he struck out 80 hitters, walked 19, and gave up three home runs.
Axford hasn't been quite as dominant in the postseason ... but five innings, seven strikeouts, three hits and two walks? You'll take that, even with the blown save against the Diamondbacks in Game 5 of their Division Series.
With Yadier Molina making the last out in the bottom of the eighth, the bottom of the ninth will feature the bottom of the Cardinals' batting order. With the caveat that Lance Berkman still lurks, available at Tony La Russa's whim. The trick will be getting somebody on base ahead of him.
Gee, that's odd. Tony La Russa has used four different relievers to pitch the last 3⅔ innings. Expect a Baseball Nation exclusive about that on the front page tomorrow.
The reliever he chose for the top of the eighth was Fernando Salas, who was the closer for a bit this year:
|2011 - Fernando Salas||5-6||68||0||0||0||24||6||75.0||50||20||19||7||21||75||2.28||.95|
The curvy little number under the BS column gives you an idea why he isn't a closer any more, but he had a fantastic season out of the bullpen for the Cardinals. Between Octavio Dotel, Jason Motte, and Salas, the Cardinals' relief corps is a legitimate strength in October. Remember this is a team that started the year with Ryan Franklin blowing saves.
On the other side, the Brewers have the luxury (a really pricey one) of going to Francisco Rodriguez in the eighth. K-Rod is still a goofball, but he's probably overqualified for the setup role. His first task was retiring Albert Pujols -- who hit into the right-handed shift that Ron Roenicke loves to employ -- and after a David Freese single, Matt Holliday grounded to third, with a great scoop from Prince Fielder to complete the play for the second out.
Yadier Molina made the final out of the eighth by striking out on a slider in the dirt, and the Cardinals are down to three outs. All that stand between them and a comeback is a man with a silly mustache -- always a tough thing to overcome.
Now it gets tough for the Cardinals.
Wolf's probably finished, having thrown 107 pitches. Which isn't any reason for concern if you're Roenicke, because of course Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford are generally safe as houses in the eighth and ninth innings.
Even worse for the Cardinals? Roenicke's gone to his defensive lineup, with Carlos Gomez taking over in center field, Nyjer Morgan shifting from center field to right, and (yes, 41-year-old) Craig Counsell replacing the hobbled Rickie Weeks at second base.
Oh, and one more good thing for the Brewers? With Wolf retiring No. 2 hitter Allen Craig to end the seventh, No. 3 hitter Albert Pujols will lead off the eighth, powerless to do anything but draw the Cardinals just a bit closer. At this point, my only questions are ... When do we see Lance Berkman? And will it matter?
Octavio Dotel is a trade-deadline punch line at this point -- he's usually what teams get when they acquire one reliever at regular price. He's pitched for 12 different teams, which ties an MLB record, and he's pitched for five different teams over the past 18 months. He's also 37, so his career is probably winding down.
Unless he's getting better, that is.
|2011 - Octavio Dotel||3-3||29||0||0||0||2||0||24.2||16||10||9||1||5||32||3.28||.85|
Those are his stats with the Cardinals, and they represent a super-low walk rate and a strikeout rate that's higher than his career average. It's one of the best stretches of pitching in his career.
The real answer? Probably small-sample chicanery. But all reliever evaluation is small-sample chicanery to some extent, and a better answer might be that Dave Duncan is an honest-to-goodness pitcher whisperer. After all those teams, Dotel finally won Duncan roulette.
In Randy Wolf's first postseason start this month, he lasted three innings against the Diamondbacks, allowing two homers and seven runs. In other words, he got bombed, and tonight, he allowed two more homers in the first three innings. He looked better, but he didn't look *great*, and one would've reasonably expected the Cardinals to touch him up for more.
Still waiting. In the top of the sixth, the Brewers added a critical insurance run to push their lead to 4-2. Then in the bottom of the sixth, the Cardinals, facing Wolf, couldn't respond.
They tried to. Matt Holliday ripped the fourth pitch of the inning for a leadoff double. That was a good start. Holliday advanced to third on a fly ball. That put the Cardinals in good position to get at least the one run back. But Ryan Theriot struck out swinging, and then Jon Jay lifted a can of corn into center. Wolf, then, kept the score where it was.
Wolf now has a walk and five strikeouts through six, with 65 strikes and 28 balls. Put less numerically, he has been very, very good, which the Brewers needed him to be.
This is bad.
For the Cardinals, anyway.
Tony La Russa yanked starter Kyle Lohse in the fifth inning, which wasn't anything new; La Russa's been yanking his starters early in games throughout this series, and it's been working pretty well for him.
Until Game 4, anyway. Mitchell Boggs replaced Lohse in the fifth, and was greeted by Ryan Braun's go-ahead single. Boggs did escape more damage with an inning-ending double play, but Fielder ripped the ball and only second baseman Ryan Theriot's acrobatics kept the Brewers from a big inning.
But La Russa's relievers, who have pitched so brilliantly, just haven't kept the Brewers off the board in Game 4.
First there was Braun's single in the fifth. Then in the sixth, with Boggs still on the mound, Rickie Weeks singled and Jerry Hairston Jr. doubled. Weeks had to stop at third and couldn't score Yuniesky Betancourt grounded out, but he did score when Theriot, playing in for just such an eventuality, couldn't handle George Kottaras's grounder up the middle. Theriot got an error and the Brewers got a run, and now it's Brewers 4, Cardinals 2 in the middle of the sixth.
Meanwhile, Ron Roenicke has committed to Randy Wolf; Roenicke didn't pitch hit for Kottaras -- Wolf's personal catcher -- and he didn't pinch-hit for Wolf himself, who bunted for a sacrifice.
The eighth and ninth innings are Innings of Death when you're facing the Brewers. But the Cardinals' right-handed hitters still have time to hurt the lefty Wolf.
When the Brewers signed Randy Wolf to the non-coupon price of $28 million over three years, they were hoping he could fix a rotation that spent 2009 messing around with Braden Looper, David Bush, and Jeff Suppan. Just look at those names. It's like a bad fantasy team from 2005.
Wolf was ... okay. He wasn't the kind of pitcher who could support a rotation on his own, which led to the Shaun Marcum/Zack Greinke revamping, but he was okay. As a #4 starter? He's more than acceptable. Enviable, even.
The most surprising thing about Randy Wolf over the last few years, though? His durability. For the first time in his 13-year career, he's gone over 200 innings in three straight seasons. From 2004 through 2007, he was constantly injured, rarely throwing over 200 innings combined in two consecutive seasons.
He hasn't been great -- he certainly hasn't come close to the success he had with the Dodgers before the contract -- but he's been pretty valuable to the Brewers.
Thanks to a pair of solo homers, the Cardinals took an early 2-0 lead on the Brewers, and with Kyle Lohse on the mound, I and they had every confidence that the lead would hold up, and that Game 4 of the NLCS was all but settled.
I and they have turned out wrong, though. In the fourth, as we told you, the Brewers rallied for a pair of runs that evened the score.
Then, in the top of the fifth...well, wait for me to get there. First, in the bottom of the fourth, the Cardinals did nothing against Randy Wolf. Okay, great. Now for the top of the fifth. In the fifth, Nyjer Morgan led off with a double to left. He moved to third on a grounder by Mark Kotsay, and at that point Tony La Russa went straight to his bullpen. The Cardinals' bullpen was perfect on Wednesday, and La Russa figured Mitchell Boggs might be able to wiggle out of the jam.
He probably could have wiggled out of the jam, but he did not. On his fifth pitch to Ryan Braun, Braun shot a grounder right by short and into left field, and Morgan trotted home with the go-ahead run.
Thankfully for Boggs and the Cardinals, that's where the bleeding stopped, thanks to Ryan Theriot. Prince Fielder came up after Braun and drilled a sharp grounder to second, but Theriot made an incredible diving stop and began a 4-6-3 double play. So it's 3-2 Milwaukee, going to the bottom of the fifth.
In the top of the third inning, Ron Darling offered the outlandish opinion that if the Brewers are to vanquish the Cardinals and advance to the World Series, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder will have to get base hits every time they bat with runners on base.
So far, he's right.
With two runners on base in the third, Ryan Braun fouled out to end the inning. Which meant Prince Fielder, rather than coming up with runners aboard, would lead off the fourth. And the Brewers can't win that way.
Well, not unless Prince Fielder leads off with a double, and then Jerry Hairston drives him in with a double, and then Yuniesky Betancourt drives in Hairston with a single. If the Brewers could somehow do that, they just might be able to win the NLCS, even if Braun and Fielder occasionally fail to hit safely with runners on base.
What? They did do that in the fourth? And the score's now Cardinals 2, Brewers 2 in the middle of the fourth inning?
Please, nobody tell Ron Darling. He might stop opining, and nobody wants that.
Earlier today, I wrote that the Cardinals lineup didn't have any surprises. This is because I forgot about Lance Berkman. It's easy to do -- just ask the Yankees last year. But against a lefty, Tony La Russa sat the National League Used To Be Good But Was Bad Now Is Good Again Award winner, putting Allen Craig in the lineup instead.
In the third inning, Craig hit a solo shot to the opposite field. This is partly because Craig is good, partly because Randy Wolf is going to get hurt if hitters start looking opposite field, and partly because the ball is absolutely jumping out to right.
Oh, forgot about the main factor, which is Tony La Russa's geniusness in getting him in the lineup in the first place. All snark aside, it was kind of inspired, and it paid off early.
Now Kyle Lohse has a two-run lead with which to work, though if there's anything these two teams have taught us this series, it's that they can score a lot of runs. Quickly.
In the bottom of the second, Matt Holliday drove in the game's first run with one of the more embarrassing solo homers that's ever been hit. The ball barely squeaked out down the right field line, and Randy Wolf had to be thinking something. I mean, he had to be thinking something. Have you ever been able to think nothing?
Kyle Lohse then took the mound in the top of the third looking to protect the one-run lead, and he succeeded. He had some trouble, but he succeeded.
Following a leadoff strikeout, Lohse allowed Randy Wolf to drill a line drive the other way for a double. Wolf is a fairly good hitter for a pitcher, but that doesn't mean he's actually a good hitter. Anyway. Lohse then faced Nyjer Morgan, and this was his 0-2 pitch:
Morgan made no effort, but umpires are dumb about that rule, so Morgan proceeded to first base. The jam was on.
Yet Lohse escaped. Mark Kotsay lifted a routine fly to left field, and the much more talented Ryan Braun subsequently popped out. He didn't even pop out - he fouled out, to Albert Pujols. The Brewers got the situation they wanted, but they couldn't cash in, so it's still 1-0 Redbirds going into the bottom of the third.
Matt Holliday's got a hand injury. He says it's fine and Tony La Russa's been writing Holliday's name on the lineup card every day. But the injury's still there.
Coming into Game 4, Holliday hadn't hit a home run in more than a month; to be exact, the 6th of September.
The streak is dead, but just barely. In the bottom of the second, Holliday reached out and poked a Randy Wolf change-up high and deep down the right-field line and -- to the surprise of Holliday and everyone else, and thanks to the wind and perhaps his will -- the ball fell into the first row of seats, a dozen feet fair. You know, like this:
Yadier Molina, next up, went to the same spot but on a bounce, and jogged to second base on the automatic double.
Batting eighth, Jon Jay hit a grounder straight to Prince Fielder, who tagged Jay while Molina held at third. And Wolf escaped the inning by striking out Kyle Lohse. So the error didn't hurt, but the wind-aided pop fly did.
Matt Holliday has a hurt hand. It's been hurt bad enough to keep him out of the lineup for playoff games. Matt Holliday just lunged at a pitch and hit an off-balance home run to the opposite field.
Those two things should be mutually exclusive.
It looked like a foul pop. Holliday thought so too, as he stopped in the box for a second before jogging to first. But the ball caught a jet stream, or a gust, or it was grasped between the claws of a European swallow and carried a few extra feet, because it made it just over the 335 sign in right field.
Maybe Holliday is just really, really strong. Probably that one. It was truly a strange home run. As you'd expect, Randy Wolf's specialty isn't keeping the ball in the park, but I'm not sure you could fault him for that one. He had a right-handed hitter off balance on a changeup. Not much more you can do.
A more impressive at-bat might have been the one that followed from Yadier Molina. After ten pitches, he lined a double about twenty feet short of where Holliday's home run went out. Man, those kind of at-bats have to annoy pitchers. But after getting to third on a Rickie Weeks error with one out, Molina was stranded at third. You just don't get that many chances against Randy Wolf, with the exception of all those chances, so the Cards should be kicking themselves.
And the last Twins hurrah for Delmon Young, who hit two homers today :
You know there's a Twins fan who doesn't really follow baseball other than the Twins who's hitting his TV or computer right now. "C'mon, stupid technology. Stop being so wrong. Those guys aren't in the playoffs. Give me better information, stupid technology." I'd feel bad for him, but Twins fans had it so easy this year.
Lohse looked great in a half-inning of work, allowing a lunging single to Ryan Braun before striking Prince Fielder out. But Randy Wolf ended the first inning just as impressively, getting Albert Pujols to chase a back-foot slider. It's 0-0 after one inning.
Fact: Kyle Lohse finished the season brilliantly, going 3-0 with a 1.72 ERA in his last five starts, zero home runs allowed.
Theory: Kyle Lohse is better than you think.
You might still be stuck with the pre-Cardinals Kyle Lohse, who posted a 4.82 ERA while pitching for the Twins, Red and Phillies. You might be stuck with the 2009-2010 Kyle Lohse, who did pitch for the Cardinals but wasn't really healthy in either season, and got hammered.
The 2008 and '11 version, though? He's good. Keeps the ball down, strikeout-to-walk ratio around 2.5, which is plenty good when you keep the ball down.
And Kyle Lohse was plenty good in the first inning of Game 4 tonight. He retired Nyjer Morgan on a grounder, struck out surprise right fielder Mark Kotsay with a perfect fastball and, after Ryan Braun singled, struck out Prince Fielder, too.
The last time Lohse pitched, he had one bad inning. But one bad inning don't spoil the whole bunch.
Heading to the bottom of the first, Game 4 is scoreless.
Tony La Russa is thinking about lefty-lefty match-ups right now. He's just staring off into space while a clubhouse attendant is talking to him, thinking about a left-handed pitcher throwing to a left-handed hitter. Sometimes it's his hitter, and he gets all clammy. Sometimes it's his pitcher, and he feels warm and comfortable. This is what he does.
Luckily for him, the lefty-beating lineup he gets to deploy against Randy Wolf is pretty much the standard Cardinals lineup, sans Lance Berkman. It's not like La Russa has to put Joe Crede in place of Jon Jay, or something.
Jay is pretty much the same hitter against lefties when it comes to average and on-base percentage, though his power takes a huge hit. He's hit only one homer off a southpaw in his career, and it was off Brian Matusz this year, which means Jay is tied with me, your Uncle Marty, and Henry Kissinger for home runs hit off Matusz this season.
Everyone else in the lineup? Right-handers, which as you'd expect, hit Randy Wolf well compared to lefties. The Cardinals can hit. But they can really hit against left-handers. The Brewers are right to be a little nervous.
Do you think Corey Hart's pissed off this afternoon?
See, he's just 6 for 33 in the playoffs ... Then again, Mark Kotsay is 1 for 13 in his career against Kyle Lohse. We can play around with these small samples until Bud Selig retires, but to what end? It's fascinating, isn't it, how managers' mind-sets change in October? If Corey Hart goes 6 for 33 over the course of a week and Mark Kotsay has a nice game, is Kotsay getting Hart's spot in the next game?
But in October, managers have little patience; also, being on a larger stage probably makes them, subconsciously at least, a little more eager to show the world how smart they are.
Hey, whatever. As we saw last night, Kotsay's perfectly capable of chipping in with a big hit, and the fact that he did it Wednesday night doesn't make it any less likely that he'll do it again Thursday night.
It's still pretty unlikely, though.
The Brewers will try to even the NLCS at 2-2 in St. Louis Thursday night after falling victim to Albert Pujols and the St. Louis bullpen in Game 3.