NLCS Recap: Cardinals def. Dodgers, 4-2

The St. Louis Cardinals have won the National League Championship Series, 4 games to 2, against the Los Angeles Dodgers, to advance to their 19th World Series.  Let’s look at how the Cardinals defeated a very good Dodgers team pretty handily.

Game 1:  Cardinals 3, Dodgers 2 (13 innings).  The series began with a marathon in this classic Game 1.  The Cardinals’ Joe Kelly and the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke both pitched 2 scoreless innings to start the game, and both struggled in the third.  In the top half, Juan Uribe came up with the bases loaded, and a single scored Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez and gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead.  In the bottom half, it was Carlos Beltran (Mr. Postseason Clutch) who batted in Matt Adams and Joe Kelly with a 2-RBI double, tying the game at 2-2.  Both pitchers were very good after the 3rd, with neither side having more than one base runner in any inning from the 4th until the 8th.  In the 9th, once the game was turned over to the bullpens (Greinke went 8 innings, Kelly went 6), the Dodgers were retired in order by Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, while the Cardinals threatened in the bottom half.  Matt Adams and Yadier Molina drew back-to-back walks off Brian Wilson, and Jon Jay had a chance to potentially win the game, but he flied out to center.  In the top of the 10th, Rosenthal continued on the mound.  Mark Ellis tripled for the Dodgers, and following an intentional walk, Michael Young flied out to right.  When Ellis tried to tag up, he was thrown out at the plate, keeping the game tied.  The Cardinals were retired in order by Ronald Belisario in the bottom half.  The Dodgers threatened again in the 11th, but John Axford struck out Nick Punto to end the inning with 2 on base.  The Cardinals didn’t do anything with a Matt Carpenter leadoff single in the bottom half.  In the top of the 12th, once again it was Michael Young who hit into a double play, although this one was more conventional (groundout).  The Cardinals went down in order in the bottom of the 12th, and the Dodgers did the same in the top of the 13th.  With one out in the bottom of the 13th, Daniel Descalso hit a pinch-hit single, followed by a Matt Carpenter walk.  The Dodgers brought in closer Kenley Jansen to try and stay alive, but Carlos Beltran (once again, Mr. Clutch) singled to left, scoring Descalso to win the game 3-2 in the longest Game 1 in LCS history, and led the series 1-0.

Game 2:  Cardinals 1, Dodgers 0.  Game 2 was another classic, featuring a pitcher’s duel for the ages between Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (the likely NL Cy Young Award winner for 2013), and rookie sensation Michael Wacha, who in his previous 2 starts had seriously threatened to throw a no-hitter, including taking one into the 8th in Game 4 against the Pirates in the NLDS.  This game partnered with Game 1 of the Red Sox-Tigers game for the first ever instance of two 1-0 games on the same day in postseason history.  The scoring summary for this game is simple:  in the bottom of the 5th, David Freese doubled to left to leadoff, and moved to 3rd on a passed ball.  After Matt Adams struck out, Jon Jay hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Freese to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.  That was all Wacha needed, as he would go 6.2 innings, allowing just 5 hits and a walk, with 8 strikeouts.  Kershaw was just as spectacular, as he threw 6 innings, giving up just 2 hits and a walk with 5 strikeouts and the run, which was unearned.  The Cardinal bullpen picked up Wacha, throwing 2.1 innings without allowing a hit, and the Cardinals closed out the Dodgers 1-0 to take a 2-0 series lead going to Los Angeles.  This game was just the 3rd time in postseason history when a sacrifice fly accounted for all the scoring in a 1-0 game, with the last being in 1987 when, ironically, the Cardinals beat the Giants in the NLCS, Game 6.  The Cardinals became the 8th team in postseason history to win a game with 2 hits or fewer; the last had been the 2001 Yankees.  The Cardinals were the 7th team all-time in the postseason to win a 1-0 game in which the only run was unearned, joining, most recently, the 2001 Braves, who did it against the Astros.  Kershaw was the 6th pitcher to throw at least 6 innings without allowing an earned run in a loss.  Wacha joined Bob Gibson (1968 World Series) as the only two Cardinals pitchers to allow 1 run or fewer and strike out 8 in consecutive postseason games.  If you look at the stats for Wacha’s last regular season start and his first two starts in the postseason (including this one), he held batters to a .093 average with a 0.39 ERA in 22.2 innings pitched, with 26 strikeouts.  These facts and figures show how special Game 2 really was.  The Cardinals had their third 2-0 NLCS lead in their history, winning the first two series in 1982 against the Braves and 2004 against the Astros.

Game 3:  Dodgers 3, Cardinals 0.  Leading up to Game 3, it looked questionable that the Dodgers wouldn’t go down 3-0 in the series, as Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright was facing the Dodgers Hyun-Jin Ryu, who had struggled in Game 3 against the Braves in the NLDS.  Instead, Ryu outdueled Wainwright, and the Dodgers cut the series lead in half.  The game was scoreless through 3 innings, and there had only been 1 hit between the two teams.  Doubles by Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez and a triple by Yasiel Puig in the bottom of the 4th gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead, while Ryu had still not allowed a hit.  The no-hitter ended in the 5th, as David Freese and Matt Adams hit back-to-back singles, but Ryu got out of the inning after pinch-runner Daniel Descalso was doubled off second on a flyout and Pete Kozma grounded into a fielder’s choice.  An AJ Ellis triple led off the bottom of the 5th, but Ellis was stranded at 3rd base.  Neither side got a man past 1st base through the end of the 7th.  In the 8th, after 2 singles, Hanley Ramirez got an RBI on a groundout, extending the Dodgers lead to 3-0.  Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the 9th, giving their Dodgers their first win of the series and some much-needed momentum.  Ironically enough, the Cardinals, at .134, had the lowest batting average ever for any team through 3 games of an LCS (for a day; the Red Sox broke the record the next night at .133), yet they still led the series, 2-1.

Game 4:  Cardinals 4, Dodgers 2.  After the sensational pitching matchups this series had produced, the Lance Lynn-Ricky Nolasco matchup for Game 4 felt like an undercard, as Kelly-Greinke and Wacha-Kershaw awaited for Games 5 and 6.  However, both pitchers threw a perfect first inning.  In the second, Nolasco allowed a walk, and Lynn allowed a hit and 2 walks, but the game remained scoreless.  In the top of the 3rd, the Cardinals opened up the scoring.  Daniel Descalso hit a leadoff single, and was bunted to second by Lynn.  After a Matt Carpenter double scored Descalso to make the score 1-0, Matt Holliday hit a two-run homer to give St. Louis a 3-0 lead.  In the bottom of the 3rd and the top of the 4th, both lineups were retired in order.  In the bottom of the 4th, Yasiel Puig and AJ Ellis both had RBI singles, making the score 3-2.  Both sides stranded a base-runner in the 5th, and repeated the procedure in the 6th.  In the 7th, Shane Robinson came up to pinch-hit for St. Louis.  Out of nowhere, he homered, making the score 4-2 and giving the Cardinals some breathing room.  He had just 2 HR in the regular season, and just 5 for his entire career, before Game 4.  In the bottom of the 7th, Nick Punto, who was in the game for the injured Hanley Ramirez, doubled, but the Dodgers momentum stalled when he was picked off at 2nd.  The Cardinals got 2 on in the 8th, but they were stranded, and the Dodgers were retired in order in the bottom half.  Matt Carpenter was stranded at 2nd in the top of the 9th, and closer Trevor Rosenthal came in for a shot at the last 3 outs.  After Andre Ethier singled to lead off, Yasiel Puig represented the tying run, but he grounded into a double play.  Juan Uribe struck out, and the Cardinals were up 3-1 in the series, and were a win away from the World Series.

Game 5:  Dodgers 6, Cardinals 4.  The Cardinals were a win away from the Fall Classic, but if they wanted to get there in Game 5, they would have to beat Zack Greinke.  In the top of the 1st, it didn’t look like it would go well for Greinke, as the Cardinals loaded the bases with nobody out.  When Matt Adams struck out, and Yadier Molina grounded into a double play, Greinke was out of the jam.  No one reached base until the bottom of the 2nd, when Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Juan Uribe, and Zack Greinke all singled, scoring 2 runs to give the Dodgers the early 2-0 lead.  The Cardinals answered; Matt Carpenter singled, and was hit in by a triple by Carlos Beltran, who was hit in by a Matt Holliday double, and the score was tied, 2-2.  In the bottom of the 3rd, the Dodgers answered with a solo homer by Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 3-2 lead.  No one reached base for either side until the top of the 9th, with the exception of 3 solo homers:  Carl Crawford, AJ Ellis, and Adrian Gonzalez (again) in the 5th, 7th, and 8th, respectively, made the score 6-2, Dodgers.  In the top of the 9th, Kenley Jansen struggled, allowing RBI singles by Matt Adams and Pete Kozma to make the score 6-4, and the tying run was at the plate.  Adron Chambers, pinch-hitting for the Cardinals, struck out looking, sending the series to Game 6 in St. Louis, as the Dodgers narrowed the gap to 3-2.

Game 6:  Cardinals 9, Dodgers 0.  The Cardinals came into Game 6 still just one win away from the World Series, and Game 6 featured a rematch of the historic Game 2 between Michael Wacha and Clayton Kershaw.  If Cardinals fans were having flashbacks to last year’s 3-1 series lead that was lost by the Cardinals, they were erased in the early innings of Game 6.  Two brief half-innings, the bottom of the 3rd and 5th innings, turned what was supposed to be a close, low-scoring game into a blowout.  In the 3rd, Matt Carpenter fouled off pitch after pitch, seeing a total of 11, before hitting a double down the right field line.  That was the first time all year a left-handed hitter had an extra-base hit off of Clayton Kershaw on a full count.  Carlos Beltran singled to right, scoring Carpenter, and a bad throw by Yasiel Puig moved Beltran to 2nd.  After Matt Holliday struck out, Yadier Molina singled, scoring Beltran, making the score 2-0.  After Matt Adams walked, Shane Robinson, a daring insertion into the lineup by Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, singled to right, scoring two to make the score 4-0, and Robinson moved to second on another Puig throwing error.  After Pete Kozma walked, Wacha struck out, ending the inning.  In the 5th, Yadier Molina and David Freese led the inning off with back-to-back singles.  Matt Adams doubled, scoring Molina to make the score 5-0, and moving Freese to 3rd.  That was the end of the night (and the season) for Kershaw.  After a Shane Robinson fielder’s choice and an intentional walk to Pete Kozma, Wacha helped himself with an RBI fielder’s choice groundout, making the score 6-0.  Matt Carpenter’s sacrifice fly made the score 7-0, and a wild pitch allowed Kozma to score and make the score 8-0.  Wacha scored on a Carlos Beltran single, making the score 9-0.  (At this point, I sarcastically tweeted “BREAKING NEWS:  Multiple sources confirm the Bad News Bears are playing tonight, disguised as the LA Dodgers.  Cards by a TD and a safety.”)  As for Wacha’s pitching, he allowed just 2 hits in 7 innings pitched, with 1 walk and 5 strikeouts.  After Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal pitched perfect innings in relief, the Cardinals had won the game and the series, 4 games to 2, and the celebration that had been going on for a while in the stands now began on the field.

Wacha: 3d rookie in LCS history to win 2 starts, 2d rookie pitcher to win NLCSMVP (L.Hern.1997), 2nd youngest (F.Valen in 1981) to win series clincher in LCS

This will be the 4th trip to the World Series in 10 seasons for the Cardinals.  In 2004, they lost to the Red Sox, and in 2006, they beat the Tigers.  Now they will play one of those teams in 2013.  (In 2011, they beat the Rangers.)  Either way, it will be the 4th time they have faced that opponent, and either way, the Cardinals have won 2 out of the previous 3 series.  The last NL franchise to appear in 4 (or more) World Series in a 10-year span was the Atlanta Braves in 1991-92, 1995-96, and 1999.  The Cardinals are now 9-4 all-time in postseason series against the NL West, including 4-2 in the NLCS.

Michael Wacha became the 2nd rookie pitcher in NLCS history to be named series MVP, after Livan Hernandez with the Marlins in 1997.  He is the 3rd rookie in LCS history (either league) to win 2 starts in a series, and is the 2nd youngest pitcher, behind Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, to be the winning pitcher in an LCS game (again, either league) that clinched the series.

In Carlos Beltran’s 4th NLCS appearance, Mr. Postseason Clutch (of our time, at least) finally won to advance to his first World Series.

The Cardinals will have a few days off before the start of the World Series on Wednesday against the champion of the American League.

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