This year’s Cardinals weren’t supposed to be back in the playoffs. They lost franchise player Albert Pujols to free agency and before the season began, starter Chris Carpenter was placed on the 60-day DL with nerve irritation in his shoulder. Add to that, Rafael Furcal hurt his elbow and was lost for the season in late August and Jaime Garcia was left off the NLCS roster because of a shoulder injury. If the Cards failed to make the playoffs, you’d understand. And if this were last season, or any season prior, they would’ve.
With the second wildcard Bud Selig instituted in his plight to make baseball not like baseball anymore, the Cardinals were able to face the Atlanta Braves in a one game winner-take-all. Even though the Braves doubled their hits, they couldn’t field the baseball and the Cardinals won 6-3. They’d face the Washington Nationals, who had the best record in baseball, in their side of the NLDS. The Cards went up two games to one before losing on a walk-off homerun by Jayson Werth in game four. In the fifth and deciding game, the Cardinals overcame a 6-0 deficit to win the game and the series, breaking the hearts of all Nationals’ fans in the process.
In game one of the NLCS (which I see as the NLCS rubber series) in San Francisco, the story of the game may have been Bruce Bochy’s insistence to let starter Madison Bumgarner pitch out of trouble in the fourth inning with the Cards already up 2-0 after a David Freese homerun. With Tim Lincecum in the bullpen for long relief, Bochy had prepared for the situation, which was similar to game four against the Reds in the NLDS. In that game, Barry Zito had only thrown 2 2/3 innings, but had already given up two earned and it looked like he was going to give up more. Bochy had the quick hook on him and the relievers (including Lincecum) only gave up one more run in their 8-3 win.
Last night, in a similar situation in the fourth inning, Bochy let Bumgarner try to ride it out. With one out, light-htting Daniel Descalso doubled and then lighter-hitting Pete Kozma doubled him in. John Jay singled Kozma in and then Carlos Beltran hit a homerun to make it 6-0. Finally, Bochy took out Bumgarner and the Cards wouldn’t get another hit all night long. Bochy should be second guessed for the way he handled the two situations and some may argue that the game against the Reds’ was an elimination game and you manage that game differently. But Bochy said that he was going to manage this series one game at a time and the fact that he made Lincecum available for the evening showed that. But it also shows that he has little faith in Zito and a lot of faith in Bumgarner.
The Giants made it close, but couldn’t complete the comeback. Cards’ starter Lance Lynn was cruising right along until the fourth inning when Marco Scutaro singled to left. It was the Giants’ first hit of the game. After Pablo Sandoval struck out and Buster Posey flied out, Hunter Pence singled Scutaro to third, extending the inning. Brandon Belt hit a floater into shallow center to plate Scutaro. Gregor Blanco tripled and Brandon Crawford doubled and the Giants were within two and the score was 6-4.In a part of the game that will be overlooked, the Giants could’ve extended the inning had they pinch-run for Aubrey Huff. After Crawford’s double, Huff pinch hit for the pitcher’s spot and drew a walk. Angel Pagan hit a ball up the middle that Descalso dove for and fielded. Huff missed time late in the season because of a knee injury and he’s not fast when not injured. Descalso had an easy out at second and the inning was over. Ryan Theriot, Xavier Nady and Joaquin Arias were on the bench and at the very least, Theriot and Arias would’ve been safe. Bochy decided to save them for pinch-hitting opportunities later in the game, and only Theriot made it in the game.
The Giants wouldn’t get a runner to second base for the rest of the game and it would end at 6-4. It was the third loss in a row in for the Giants at their home park. It’s also quite the different story from their 2010 playoff run which culminated in a World Series championship. In those three playoff series’, the Giants never lost game one. They’ve lost game one twice in 2012. They also went 5-2 at AT&T Park during that run, so they’ve already lost more home games in the 2012 playoffs than they did in all of 2010. On Monday, they’ll have to beat the same Chris Carpenter who was thought to possibly be lost for the season. Carpenter had a rib removed to help with his shoulder pain and returned late in September in the regular season. In game three against the Nationals, he pitched five and two-thirds, though the Nationals had a runner on in every inning. The Giants will send out Ryan Vogelsong to the mound, whose story is a great one as well (and one I’ve documented on this website already).
Unless the Giants need their backs against the wall like they did against the Reds, going down 2-0 with the next three games in St. Louis is probably not the recipe to winning the series. They have some work to do. Game two is probably a must-win.