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The St. Louis Cardinals are one game away from the World Series after topping the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night by a 7-1 margin. The Brewers offense struggled, but the defense, working behind Zack Greinke, was just as poor. And the breakdowns proved costly, putting the Brewers' backs against the wall as the series heads back to Miller Park.
Greinke pitched well, even if a peek at the scoreline shows the Brewers gave up five runs while he was on the mound. After the game, manager Ron Roenicke praised Greinke's performance, saying he threw the ball well.
Yeah, Zack threw the ball well. I know he didn't get the strikeouts but he still only should've given up one run if we make the plays for him. So I like the way he threw it, his fastball was good today. His breaking ball, he couldn't get it down in the dirt when he wanted to get one down he couldn't bounce it and that hurt him, but I thought he threw the ball well.
But there were those errors. Milwaukee committed four errors on the night and Greinke gave up three unearned runs. Roenicke had the following to say about the defense.
No, we weren't. We still had some opportunities to score offensively even though we gave up the runs for Zack. (If) We put the ball in play a couple of times, score two runs when we have a runner on third and less than two outs and it's a 5-3 game. So I still would've felt good there. We had opportunities with people on base, we swung the bat ok today. But defensively, yeah, we gave up some runs.
Still, the Cardinals offense put up seven runs in the win, and pasted the Brewers' pitching en route to the blowout. The errors were bad, but St. Louis helped itself out quite a bit while scoring in spurts to take a 3-2 advantage in the NLCS. And all the Cardinals have to do now is win one of two in Milwaukee to book their ticket to the World Series.
Let's be real: when the Cardinals protected their 5-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth, the Brewers were pretty much doomed. Four runs? Three outs? Unlikely. The Cardinals didn't really need to score more runs of their own.
But the Cardinals went ahead and scored more runs, anyway. Two of them, off Marco Estrada. There was one on and two out when Estrada threw away a pickoff attempt, and Jon Jay moved from first to second. Then Lance Berkman drew a walk. That brought up Matt Holliday, and in a 2-2 count, Holliday turned on a low fastball out of the zone and ripped it into left field for a double. Jay scored, and pinch-runner Adron Chambers came all the way around from first to score as well, extending the Cardinals' lead to 7-1.
That was all they'd do, but two runs were plenty, and probably unnecessary. Neat fact: Albert Pujols got a standing ovation before what could have conceivably been his final home at bat as a Cardinal. He struck out.
With the Brewers trailing the Cardinals 5-1 in the bottom of the seventh, at least Kameron Loe didn't make things any worse. He certainly tried to - he allowed two singles and a walk - but the first single was erased by a double play, and the second single and the walk were erased when Lance Lynn struck out looking. That's St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Lance Lynn, who came in with five career plate appearances. I don't know why Tony La Russa allowed him to bat, but whatever.
To the eighth we went, with the Brewers running out of time to rally. Facing Lynn, Corey Hart got things off to a good start when he grounded the first pitch into left for a single. Jerry Hairston Jr. followed with a five-pitch walk, and suddenly the middle of the Brewers' order was coming up, with the tying run on deck.
Ryan Braun couldn't do anything, though. He grounded a ball to Rafael Furcal, who stepped on second base for a force out. Then Marc Rzepczynski came in to face Prince Fielder, and Rzepczynski picked up a four-pitch swinging strikeout.
So it was down to Rickie Weeks and Jason Motte, as Tony La Russa kept mixing and matching the way he always does. Motte got ahead, and Weeks grounded an 0-1 low fastball to third. Daniel Descalso threw to first for the out, and the inning was over.
Still 5-1 Cardinals going into the bottom of the eighth, and this one looks over. The Brewers have put ten runners on base, but just the one of them has scored, and Braun, Fielder and Weeks have combined to leave 11 guys on base.
The Brewers last had life in the top of the fifth, when they scored a run and had two on with two out. Then Tony La Russa went to his bullpen, and the Brewers have all but flat-lined since. Octavio Dotel picked up a strikeout to end that jam, then turned in a perfect top of the sixth.
The Cardinals added a run to go up 5-1 in the bottom of the sixth, and La Russa sent Lance Lynn out to pitch the top of the seventh. How did the Brewers do? Not great! As implied like just a few seconds ago.
Carlos Gomez flew out to kick things off. Jonathan Lucroy followed with a ground ball single up the middle, which wasn't exactly a spark, but it wasn't not a spark. It was something. But it was something that was almost immediately erased, because Nyjer Morgan came up to pinch-hit for Chris Narveson, and after falling behind 0-2, Morgan hit a sharp bouncer to third, where David Freese began the inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
So now the Brewers are down to six outs to score at least four runs. Everybody talks about the Miller Park home-field advantage; it's looking like the Brewers are gonna need to count on that.
Zack Greinke has made 197 career regular season starts. He's made exactly 200 big league starts if you include the playoffs (and why wouldn't you?). We can now officially say that Friday night is just the second time in Greinke's career that he's made a major league start and failed to record a single strikeout.
Not one. This from a guy who struck out 10.5 batters per nine innings during the year.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because Greinke was pulled in the bottom of the sixth, setting his numbers in stone. And he was pulled because he allowed the score to get worse.
It wasn't all Greinke's fault. With two outs and nobody on, Rafael Furcal drilled a double. The next batter was Jon Jay, and Jay hit a routine grounder to short. But Yuniesky Betancourt fumbled said routine grounder, and Jay reached safely.
That brought Albert Pujols to the plate, and Albert Pujols didn't miss a 1-2 curveball. He yanked it into left field for a run-scoring single, extending the Cardinals' lead to 5-1 and bringing Ron Roenicke out of the dugout. Roenicke pulled Greinke and called on Chris Narveson, and Narveson picked up the last out.
Greinke's numbers? 89 pitches - 55 strikes - with two walks and zero strikeouts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were also seven hits and five runs. Poor defense did Greinke no favors, but let's not pretend that defense was the difference between Greinke having a good game and Greinke having a bad game. This was a pretty bad game.
So this just came over the transom a few minutes ago:
It's definitely weird news, that the Cardinals are now five games into the League Championship Series and none of their starters have pitched more than five innings.
But is this really bad news? I mean, considering that they've got a three-run lead in the sixth inning of a game which will, if they win, give them a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series?
It's an unorthodox way to win, to be sure. But so far it's working pretty well.
Right? Doesn't this make Zack Greinke different?
I don't pay that close attention, but how many other pitchers cover their mouths with their hands, instead of their gloves?
The Brewers fought so hard to score their first run. Granted, the Cardinals were ahead by four when the Brewers finally got on the board in the top of the fifth, but it was something, and it gave the Brewers some life. With that said, the last thing the Brewers needed was to immediately give that run back, and then some. That could be a potential back-breaker.
They came close in the bottom of the fifth. The 4-1 score very nearly became another, more lopsided score. But it did not.
Two batters later, Matt Holliday shot a grounder back up the middle. Yuniesky Betancourt dove to keep the ball in the infield, stopping Pujols at third, but Holliday beat Betancourt's throw to first. So there were men on the corners.
Then David Freese walked. Loaded, for Yadier Molina, who drove a 1-1 fastball over the heart of the plate deep into center. It was not deep enough, though, as Carlos Gomez made the catch in front of the track.
That was the third out, and the Brewers survived, but only barely. During the year, Zack Greinke struck out 201 batters, or 10.5 batters per nine innings. Tonight, he has struck out zero batters through five innings.
4-1 Cardinals, top six.
The Brewers are finally on the board, thanks to Corey Hart's two-out liner into left field that plated Jonathan Lucroy. And just a moment later, Jaime García, who had pitched so well for four innings, was gone.
Now, don't give all the blame to García, who pitched so well in the first four innings. He opened the inning by striking out Carlos Gomez. Jonathan Lucroy, the Brewers' No. 8 hitter, slapped a line drive toward right field. Albert Pujols, one of the game's best-fielding first baseman, timed his leap perfectly and had the ball carom out of his glove. The official ruling was base hit but Pujols makes that play 90 percent of the time.
Zack Greinke bunted Lucroy to second base. No sweat, right? Two outs, man on second, 4-0 lead?
Except Corey Hart drove that liner into left. And Jerry Hairston shot a grounder into left field for another single.
And you know Tony La Russa. He doesn't trust García and he loves his bullpen, and so La Russa brought in Octavio Dotel to face righty-hitting Ryan Braun, who of course was perfectly capable of tying the game with one swing.
Tough darts for García, who will again fail to earn his first postseason victory.
La Russa's sitting pretty, though. Before tonight, Dotel had faced Ryan Braun nine times, and struck him out seven times.
Tonight he made it eight strikeouts, and so it's still Cardinals 4, Brewers 1. And Tony La Russa is still a genius.
The Brewers wasted a double in the first, they wasted a single in the second, and they wasted a pair of runners in the third. Here's the thing about missed opportunities, in particular when you're trailing: you're not only missing an opportunity to chip away. You're giving the opposition a chance to make its lead even larger.
The Cardinals made their lead even larger, in the bottom of the fourth. Jaime Garcia was perfect in the top half, preserving the 3-0 lead. David Freese led off the bottom with just another hit to right field, and then Yadier Molina lifted a blooper into shallow center that Rickie Weeks couldn't run down. There were runners on first and second, and nobody out.
That brought up eighth place hitter Nick Punto, and Punto...dropped down a sacrifice bunt, in front of the pitcher. Garcia, in case you're wondering, is a career .137 hitter. He is a bad hitter.
But he did what he was supposed to do. On the third pitch that he got from Zack Greinke, Garcia bounced a slow grounder, getting thrown out but allowing Freese to score from third. 4-0 Cardinals.
But it's still 4-0, and the Brewers have five remaining innings to beat the odds.
Albert Pujols made a lovely play to end the top of the third inning:
This is not a huge surprise, considering that Pujols has won Gold Glove Awards and has long been one of the league's best-fielding first basemen, according to all the metrics you care to consult.
Yuniesky Betancourt made a similarly lovely play to start the bottom of the third inning:
This is a moderately huge surprise, because Yuniesky Betancourt.
It's funny, when you see Pujols make a play like he made, you sorta think, "Wow, very few other first basemen would have made that play." And when you see Betancourt make a play like he made, you sorta think, "Huh. That looked like a difficult play for him, which means for most shortstops it would have been routine."
Man, is that really unfair or what?
Someday we'll have data that tells us exactly how hard a play really was. Maybe you'll enjoy that or maybe you won't. But it's going to happen.
Meanwhile, both pitchers looked good in the third, and Jaime García just zipped through the Brewers in the top of the fourth and so the score's still Cardinals 3, Brewers 0.
The bottom of the second inning was a problem for Zack Greinke, and it was a problem for the Brewers. The inning started with the score 0-0, and it ended with the score 3-0, the Cardinals surging ahead thanks to some good hitting and some bad fielding.
So it was important, then, for the Brewers to try and respond in the third. Greinke himself tried to get things started with one out, slapping a single through the hole and into left field. The next batter was Corey Hart, and even though Jaime Garcia broke Hart's bat, he sent a flare into shallow right field to put runners on the corners.
That was a run-scoring situation, and Jerry Hairston Jr. stepped in with a chance to make up for his two-run error in the second. He didn't, and struck out instead. That brought Ryan Braun to the plate with two outs, and Braun fisted off an inside 1-1 fastball that he probably assumed would drop in foul territory. It did not drop, as Albert Pujols tracked it down with his back to home plate and made a brilliant catch.
Inning over. Still 3-0 St. Louis. The Brewers have had their baserunners, but none of them have come around.
In Game 1 of this NLCS, Zack Greinke gave up a run in the top of the first inning and Jaime Garcia gave up two runs in the bottom of the first. Then they settled down for a couple of innings before everything started going kerblooey in the fourth, and after five innings there had been 14 runs scored, with the Brewers up 9-5.
Greinke and Garcia are both pretty good pitchers, though, and so one of them has looked pretty good. Ryan Braun did double with two outs in the first, but García got the next guy. Carlos Gomez did single with two outs in the second, but Gomez picked him off cold:
Greinke, though? He's struggling again. After retiring the Cardinals in order in the first inning, Greinke got into some big trouble in the second. He's struggling a lot.
Lance Berkman led off with a line-drive single, and Matt Holliday hit a fly ball to the warning track in right that Corey Hart tracked down. But after Greinke plunked David Freese, Hart couldn't track down Yadier Molina's drive to the wall, with Berkman scoring, Freese landing on third and Molina on second.
The Cardinals' No. 8 and 9 hitters were coming up, which should have helped.
Now Greinke had only to retire García, who shot a grounder right at Hairston ... who let the ball go right between his legs, with two runners scoring on the play. This was the bad Jerry:
Greinke did retire Rafael Furcal to end the inning, but by then it was already Cardinals 3, Brewers 0.
P.S. This is what happens when Nick Punto think he's made a big hit, but hasn't:
Come to think of it, that probably isn't the best way to put things. Garcia, after all, didn't throw a 1-2-3 top of the first. But he did well. Let me explain.
Starting against the same lineup that ripped him for six runs in four innings in Game 1, Jaime Garcia came out with a first-pitch strike and a first-batter strikeout, getting Corey Hart to swing through a fastball down and in, off the plate. Jerry Hairston Jr. followed with an out to center, and Garcia was nearly through the frame.
Then the Brewers kind of did what the Brewers do, by which I mean Ryan Braun pulled a curveball for a grounder down the third base line. It went all the way down for a double, giving Milwaukee a runner in scoring position.
But no matter, because then lefty Prince Fielder came up against the lefty Garcia, and after getting ahead 0-2, Garcia eventually whiffed Fielder with a sharp curve. The Brewers got what they wanted - a big bat batting in a run-scoring situation - but they couldn't cash the runner in.
And oh, as I was writing this, Zack Greinke went 1-2-3 through the top of the Cardinals' order. Albert Pujols hit a grounder up the middle that would ordinarily go for a single, but for at least the second time in this series, Ron Roenick had a shift on, and Pujols was played perfectly. So Greinke had an even easier time than Garcia did. Through one, there's no score, with Garcia having thrown 16 pitches, and Greinke having thrown ten.
After staying up all night and sequestering himself all morning, St. Louis Cardinals manager and associate professor Tony La Russa emerged from a sensory-deprivation chamber at 3:17 p.m. Central Daylight Time and posted his NLCS Game 5 lineup, with right-hander Zack Greinke starting for the Milwaukee Brewers.
All those hours were well-spent, as La Russa realized that he could improve his lineup from Game 1 -- also started by young Master Greinke -- by replacing righty-hitting Ryan Theriot with switch-hitting Nick Punto.
Boom. Just wait. Punto will make one great play or contribute a key hit, and La Russa will look like a freaking genius.
Remember, in Game 1 the Cardinals scored six runs against Greinke, but still managed to lose by three runs because Jaime García and the bullpen did even worse and the Cards couldn't touch Milwaukee's relievers.
What are the odds against an exact repeat?
Have you had your fill of veteran outfielder Mark Kotsay? Then, courtesy of Ron Roenicke, I may deliver good news! Kotsay ain't starting Friday night. He ain't starting at all. The players who are starting:
This is a very standard and unsurprising Brewers lineup; in fact, it's the exact same lineup the Brewers used in Game 1. And there's a reason for that - in both Game 1 and Game 5, the Brewers oppose Jaime Garcia. Cardinals southpaw Jaime Garcia, which is why Roenicke is starting the right-handed Gomez over the left-handed Nyjer Morgan (or the left-handed Kotsay). Platoon splits, and all that.
In Game 1, the Brewers lit up Garcia for six runs in four innings. The Brewers are not that good, and Garcia is not that bad, so one shouldn't expect a repeat performance. But the Brewers do have a solid lineup, if an unbalanced lineup, so Garcia will have his work cut out for him, as any pitcher facing the Brewers does.
Yuniesky Betancourt hitting sixth. On a playoff team. It sounds so absurd, but Betancourt does have a career .729 OPS against lefties. Which isn't particularly good, but it's enough.
All of which is worth reviewing, I think, because a) Greinke and García are facing off tonight in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, and b) they've both struggled in their two starts apiece in the postseason; García's got a 7.36 ERA so far, Greinke 8.18.
Yeah, I know: Small Sample Sizes. I'm not particularly concerned for them. But even if you don't want to review the above, this isn't the worst time to look at their performances this season ... graphically.
Both have generally failed to work deep into games this season, but otherwise they're quite different, don't you think? García's actually got fine control, with solid strikeout and walk rates. But of course Greinke's off the charts, with slightly fewer walks than García and a lot more strikeouts. But García compensates by keeping the ball down; Greinke doesn't, not nearly as much anyway.
Of course, both have had problems keeping the ball down in October; García's given up three home runs and Greinke four, which goes a long way toward explaining those bloated ERAs.
Here's a truly non-insightful prediction: Whichever of them allows fewer home runs in Game 5 will last longer, and have a better shot at winning.
The Brewers look to steal another game in St. Louis and take a 3-2 series lead with a pitching rematch of Game 1 of the NLCS
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