Following a peculiar fifth game in which each manager engaged in a losing oneupsmanship contest, the Rangers head to St. Louis for a potential deciding Game Six. After splitting the first two games on the road and taking two of three at home, the Rangers are obviously closer to winning the World Series. However, the Cardinals do have home field advantage in their favor once again, and under somewhat comical circumstances given the performances of other playoff teams in the All-Star Game. The Cardinals have home field, after all, due to Prince Fielder (Brewers) belting a mammoth homer off of C.J. Wilson (Rangers) in a game held in Arizona, while two Phillies pitchers did a good job holding the junior circuit at bay for four innings.
The pitching matchup is a repeat of Game Two, with Jaime Garcia opposed by Colby Lewis. The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the seventh in that game behind a very strong Garcia performance. He didn’t allow a run over seven innings, surrendering just three hits and a walk to go along with his seven strikeouts. Lewis matched him, giving up just the one run in 6 2/3 innings. The bullpen game was won by the Rangers, though the deciding factor was the Rangers excellent baserunning, with some credit owed to the defensive miscue on Jon Jay‘s throw to the plate.
There are a few main storylines to consider heading into what could potentially be the final game of the 2011 postseason and a very exciting World Series. Oddly enough, only one of them deals with actual participating players.
Managers – Stop Being So Cute
Game Five was a nightmare of sorts and the video should find itself used by smart organizations to show potential managers what they don’t want. Sure, some of the decisions of both Ron Washington and Tony LaRussa worked out, but since when is the end result an acceptable justification for a questionable decision? The biggest blunder was having the wrong relief pitcher enter the game. Regardless of crowd noise, that is simply unacceptable in a championship game. Our own Bradley Woodrum summed the situation up aptly:
Maybe Jason Motte, having gotten the word late, wasn’t ready yet? Who cares?! It’s the World Series! No more baseball after this! Take a dive on your way to the mound! Feign a heart attack! Bring in the left fielder to warm up like he’s going to pitch and then put in your reliever! Do something to wrest yourself free from the burning vehicle you’re currently in, TLR! It’s Game 5 of the World Series! This one really matters!
I wouldn’t necessarily go to those extremes, but if there was any indication at all that LaRussa’s choice wasn’t heard by the bullpen coach, someone should have monitored the activity and quickly called back to emphasize Motte. If there was any indication on LaRussa’s part that they may have heard him incorrectly, it’s his responsibility to ensure the right person starts warming up. And then once the wrong pitcher enters the game, LaRussa uses him to actually put another runner on base just to take him out? That’s a double-whammy few of us have ever before witnessed.
The intentional walks and sacrifice bunts were brutal as well. Both events have their place, but intentional walks especially were used rather foolishly. As Dave Cameron pointed out, the intentional walk to Pujols issued by Alexi Ogando was just mindboggling:
If we fast forward to the seventh inning, we find Pujols facing Alexi Ogando with Allan Craig on first base and one out in a tie game. Ogando pounds in strike one, getting ahead of Pujols with a good slider. Then, on the 0-1 pitch, we get the “botched hit and run” – Pujols stares at a fastball up and away and Craig is gunned down easily at second base. There are now two outs, the bases are empty, and Ogando has Pujols in a 1-1 count. And Ron Washington calls for the intentional walk.
Both managers obviously want to win the series, but there comes a time when their interventions hinder their teams more than they help. That time was Game Five. Hopefully they have learned their respective lessons and will actually get their heads out of the game a little bit to more effectively manage and make decisions.
From Barry Bloom’s article at MLB.com, on Wednesday’s weather forecast:
Internal forecasts provided by Major League Baseball call for the chance of rain all day on Wednesday with steady precipitation projected at and after the 8:05 p.m. CT start. Weather.com reports that the chance of rain at that time is 50 percent.
Officials would much rather have a full game played under better conditions than risk another Game 5.5 from the 2008 World Series. If Wednesday’s game is cancelled, Game Six would get pushed to Thursday night, with, if necessary, Game Seven held Friday night. Upon learning of the weather there was some initial chatter about the pitching matchup and whether (pun intended) the delay would enable either team to switch their starters. Let’s put a kabosh on that.
Jaime Garcia has been great for the Cardinals, and Colby Lewis now has two years of above average performance under his belt, including numerous solid post-season starts. Obviously his regular season starts are more indicative of his true talent level than his most recent performance, but the Rangers aren’t exactly throwing a fifth starter due to necessity by sending him out there. Even if the Rangers wanted to use someone else if the game is delayed, the three consecutive games in Texas dashed any chance of that.
All a delay would do is potentially alter pitching matchups, or pitcher availability, for Game Seven. And there might not be a seventh game. The weather won’t affect the starting pitching matchup between Lewis and Garcia insofar as both of them remaining the starters. However, it could factor into the bullpen usage as relievers would have an extra day of recovery.
The Cardinals Offense and NL Rules
Mainly, where did it go? Aside from a 16-run outburst in Game Three, the Cardinals have scored six total runs in the other four games. They were literally the best offense in the National League and effectively dispatched the Phillies and Brewers with clout to boot. Yet, against the Rangers, their offensive prowess has dissipated. Clearly, much of the credit goes to the Rangers pitching staff, which is built from top-to-bottom for a playoff series. But some of the problems can be attributed elsewhere as some Cardinals bats have provided absolutely nothing.
Jon Jay is one of those players. He is now 0-14 in the series. Rafael Furcal is 3-20. Matt Holliday is 3-18. Berkman, Pujols and Freese have performed well, but when a big bopper like Holliday and sparkplugs like Jay and Furcal aren’t producing, the Cardinals are not the same team that mounted a terrific comeback in the regular season and advanced to the World Series. Perhaps some home-cooking will get the juices flowing, but the Cardinals certainly suffer from not being able to use a designated hitter here on out.
In Texas, LaRussa could play both Craig and Berkman by using the former in right field and the latter as the designated hitter. Now, he’ll have the tough decision of potentially letting one of his best hitters — Craig — sit on the bench in a deciding game. Holliday and Berkman have to start, but center field hasn’t been as consistent, with the team shifting between Jay and Schumaker. While both provide better defense than Craig, don’t be surprised if LaRussa at least flirts with the idea of putting Craig out there.
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