The St. Louis Cardinals have accomplished three goals, thus far, they wanted to realize and their fans expected to see from their team this season:
1 - Cardinals clinched a postseason berth in game 156 of the season for a sweep over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
2 - Cardinals overcame the Milwaukee Brewers to secure first place in the NL Central Division in game 162 at Busch Stadium. A 9-0 shutout orchestrated by starter Jack Flaherty, who gave the Cardinals seven, two-hit, scoreless innings. With Cardinals nine runs coming in the first four innings.
3 - Cardinals fought hard battles in all five-games to overcome a strong NL East Atlanta Braves team to win the 2019 NLDS Title at SunTrust Park. An added plus was their a 10-run first inning of game five for a MLB record, routing the Braves 13-1.
Awesome accomplishments, in my opinion, very much so. And for many doubters, those goals met shut them down for awhile. But, their grumbling has resurfaced now that the Cardinals are in the NLCS and two games back to the Nationals.
Interestingly enough, Cardinals and days-off did not fare so well during the regular season. With 19 off-days, Cardinals were 5-14 in their next day games. In postseason, they are 1-1, thus far.
NLCS 2019 ~ CARDINALS OFFENSE HELD STONE COLD
Now, their current goal #4 seems to be elusive for the Cardinals in the NLCS against the Nationals. Even with Cardinals home field advantage at Busch Stadium.
The Nationals are playing havoc over the Cardinals holding a two-game lead. Today is a day off as they traveled to Washington DC last night. Today an 'off-day' and the series continues on Tuesday with game three.
In the first two games, we have seen four starters turn in excellent stands. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, it was the Nationals who put up five runs in the combined two games vs Cardinals "one".
I feel in this series thus far, pitching duels have been extraordinary. I am one who respects outstanding pitching. And even though against the Cardinals, such work has to be recognized.
Game One: Cardinals Miles Mikolas - 6 IP/1 ER/7 SO for the groundball specialist and maintaining his postseason 1.50 ERA. He faced Nationals Anibal Sanchez, 7.2 IP/1 BB/5 SO who turned in a great outing and his second such outing in his career. I will touch on that, in a moment, * as history was repeated.
Sanchez's soft touch delivery with a "butterfly motion" (per Rick Horton, FSMW) held the Cardinals totally in check.
In the seventh, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt made a triple switch. First up Giovanny Gallegos who made a great grab for his first out on Trea Turner's line-drive, Adam Eaton tripled, and IBB issued to Anthony Rendon. LHP Andrew Miller followed with a K on Juan Soto. Next up John Brebbia to face Howie Kendrick. Second pitch served up, a slider, he was strung with a RBI single to bump Nationals lead to 2-0. Before Michael Taylor flied out for the final out retiring a full log jam, Brebbia had loaded bases with a walk issued to Ryan Zimmerman.
Sanchez held a "no-no" through seven innings. In the eighth, PH Jose Martinez punched out a two-out single to retire the no-hitter. However, Cardinals were not able to overcome the 2-0 Nationals lead and final score. For his two postseason appearances, he now holds a 0.71 ERA.
Nationals closer Sean Doolittle sealed the deal in his 1.1 IP by taking down the four hitters faced.
Game Two: Cardinals Adam Wainwright - 7.1 IP/1 HR/3 ER/1 BB while fanning eleven, faced Nationals Max Scherzer - 7 IP/2 BB and also fanning eleven.
Wainwright did give up a solo shot to Turner in his third. But held the Nationals scoreless into his eighth inning. He got his final strikeout for his day facing top-of -the order Michael Taylor. Then gave up a two singles. The first to former Cardinals Matt Adams, second by Turner. Eaton worked Wainwright to a full count. Next pitched served, a curveball, he slugged out a 2-RBI double. Before being retired with a Nationals 3-0 lead, he issued a IBB to Rendon.
Miller followed taking down his two batters with a pop-out and strikeout to close the eighth.
Ryan Helsley did fantastic in the ninth. Three up - three down, with a fly-out and 2-K's.
Scherzer, also working a "no-no" game into his seventh. But Cardinals Paul Goldschmidt, top-of-the-order brought the no-hitter to an end with a single to reach. He finished his final inning with Marcell Ozuna striking out and Yadier Molina hitting into a double-play.
Once again, Doolittle followed in the eighth inning on Sunday, with two outs on the board, then gave up a single to Paul DeJong. Jose Martinez, pinch-hitting for Miller. He worked Doolittle with nine pitches served up for a 2-2 count and five fouled balls. Doolittle delivered a 81 mph splitter. Jose Martinez sent the two-seamer out deep to center just over the glove of CF Taylor, for a RBI stand-up double. That definitely woke-up Cardinals fans. Hope eternal.
BUT, Doolittle got his final out to close the inning.
Between Nationals Patrick Corbin (0.1 IP) and Daniel Hudson (0.2 IP) Washington won their
second game at Busch Stadium.
*SANCHEZ-SCHERZER MAKE HISTORY TOGETHER AGAIN.
Per the article by Andrew Simon/MLB:
"Entering this year’s National League Championship Series, Sánchez and Scherzer were the only pitchers in postseason history to hold the same team hitless through at least five innings in consecutive games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That was for Detroit in Games 1 and 2 of the 2013 American League Championship Series against Boston."
COMPLAINTS ABOUT STRIKEOUTS IN THE NLCS
In my little corner of the baseball world, of course on Facebook. A few fans were very disgruntled about "all the strikeouts" by our Cardinals. In our Cardinals defense, in the game on Friday, Nationals had 12 SO - Cardinals "6" SO. On Saturday, Nationals 14 SO - Cardinals were rung up 12 times.
Therefore, griping about strikeouts does not necessarily hold a strong argument. However, repeated swinging at first pitches served and trying to swing for the fence sure did. I believe for our Cardinals in these two games, frustration took over and patience for 'the pitch' went to the wayside. They need to concentrate on 'Whitey Ball' ... the small ball play to get their runs. Should they hit a long ball to add runs - so be it.
COOLER WEATHER OR "POSSIBLE JUICED BALL" STORED AWAY FOR POSTSEASON PLAY.
Weather for the NLCS in St. Louis, definitely temps were much cooler. About 40-50 degrees cooler. October 'frosty' definitely affects the flight of a ball.
During the season, with a big increase of home runs in 2019 - Astros Justin Verlander voiced his opinion that indeed baseballs had been juiced. Of course, the MLB denied any such nonsense.
Both leagues combined for HR hits: In 2017 - 6,105; 2018 - 5,585; and, in 2019 - 6,776. [Baseball Almanac]
In postseason 2019 stats by team (ESPN.com): (Comparison - small sample).
And to see this in "black and white" ~ the two top NL teams with the most hits: Washington Nationals (59) and running second, our St. Louis Cardinals (48). But, Cardinals sit last with a .617 "OPS", which has been a nemesis throughout their season. The ability to bring the runner(s) in sitting at second, especially at third, with one out has not been their strong suit.
Washington came into postseason on a Wild Card ticket vs. St. Louis' division win. Yes, the "underdog" Wild Card Nationals are proving to be the strong force which got them into postseason. Coming back strong in their second half during the season. And, they are determined in their mission to advance to the World Series to be among "wild card' teams for a win.
Note: "The following wild-card teams have won the World Series: the Florida Marlins, in 1997 and 2003; the Anaheim Angels, in 2002; the Boston Red Sox, in 2004; the St. Louis Cardinals, in 2011; and the San Francisco Giants, in 2014. Thus, three consecutive titles, from 2002 to 2004, were won by a wild card." [Wikipedia.com]
The Nationals, (AKA: formerly the Montreal Expos - 1 WS win 1981, in 36 seasons), have never won a World Series since their move to Washington D.C. in 2005 even with four postseason appearances.
CARDINALS 'ARE NOT DONE HERE'
Yes, the Cardinals are two games down. Nationals only need two more wins to advance to the Big Dance. As they take the field Tuesday, 6:38 pm (CST) first pitch, I look for a Cardinals team that will have 're-grouped' and ready to make a difference ~ even against all odds of some Cardinals fans and media, who have already changed their tune in regard to this Cardinals-Nationals NLCS match-up.
Even with that said, I have total confidence in Cardinals Jack Flaherty in game three. He has been stellar, not only the latter portion of the 2019 season, but in postseason. Cardinals defense has been solid, and must remain 'pristine' behind Flaherty. He will face Nationals Stephen Strasburg.
A line-up change? Will Mike Shildt be bold and "shake the tree"? I believe he should. During regular season/postseason ~ Dexter Fowler and rookie Tommy Edman were excellent at the top. Move Kolten Wong down in the line-up giving some power towards the bottom. Bring Bader back into the fold.
Even though some defense given up, put Jose Martinez in right field and Edman back at third base. It has been proven, the more J Martinez plays - the hotter his bat has been. Risky? At this point, give it a go - players can always be switched out. In my opinion, a little shake-up would be a good thing.
POSTSEASON A WHOLE NEW ARENA
As we all know, or should, postseason play is a whole 'different breed' of baseball. Far more pressure and the competition only gets stronger as a team goes forward. The mindset is with more determination to succeed. Dedication is a must by all .... there is no "I" in TEAM. Teamwork at their best is a must, ALL to be on the same page. "Winning".
And, yes, a day off and game day tomorrow. This is the time, Cardinals must have their 'A-Game ON' and ready to succeed in the challenge before them in games three - five. They want to bring this series back to Busch Stadium. Tall order? Not if they collectively decide to get the job done.
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