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October 13, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Recap: Cardinals Defeat the Nationals

by R.J. Anderson

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After Game Four, I wrote:

There’s no telling how Game Five will turn out, but let’s hope the series mimics Werth’s at-bat: in trouble early on, aiming to keep alive in the middle, and brilliant at the end. If so, we’re in for a good one.

As it turns out, the Cardinals did mimic Jayson Werth’s at-bat. They trailed by three runs after the first inning and by six runs after three innings. Bit by bit, St. Louis got back into the game. In both the fifth and the seventh, the Cardinals sent the go-ahead run to the plate. But they were unable to tie the game either time, and instead entered the ninth inning down by two runs.

Drew Storen, the Nationals’ closer, entered the game. A leadoff double caused some stomach knots in the crowd, but Storen rebounded to retire the next two batters. Storen got into a two-strike count against Yadier Molina, then walked him on six pitches. He did the same with David Freese. That’s okay, that’s all right, Nationals fans had to be thinking. Due up was the liver of the Cardinals’ order—Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma, and the pitcher’s spot—and Storen just needed to record one more out without allowing two runs.

Storen did get one more out, but not until after the Cardinals had scored four runs and turned a two-run disadvantage into a two-run lead, all with two outs. Jason Motte completed his second inning of work, and the Cardinals advanced to the National League Championship Series.

In trouble early, surviving in the middle, and winning out in the end, the victorious Cardinals are an unusual brand of bird: resilient and up for overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.

  • Expect Davey Johnson use of Edwin Jackson in relief to top the list of decisions suited for second-guessing. Jackson, a starter by trade, worked one inning and allowed just one run—the same as Tyler Clippard, and fewer than Storen—but it was during Jackson’s inning that the feel of the game shifted from, “This is over” to “This isn’t over.”

    That isn’t to say it was a bad move. Johnson had used Jordan Zimmermann in Game Four in a similar situation. In theory, a team’s third-best starting pitcher should be able to handle the seventh inning just fine.
     
  •  Johnson leaving Storen out there for the duration of the ninth inning will be second-guessed as well.
     
  • I picked the Nationals to win in five games, but I’ll admit that I didn’t feel good about the pick entering the final stages of Game Five. The Cardinals had won two games convincingly and lost two games by a run apiece. Maybe it’s wrong to be swayed by run differential over a four-game span, but the Cardinals were seemingly playing the better brand of ball. In the end, that tends to win out. It did here.
     
  • Game One of the National League Championship Series is on Sunday. Lance Lynn will face Madison Bumgarner

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Playoffs,  Nationals,  Cardinals

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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brendan03us

The issue with Edwin Jackson is that he fairly often (not always, but often enough) does not come out of the box strong: http://www.fangraphs.com/statsp.aspx?playerid=1841&position=P&season=2012

He often tends to settle down after the first inning in particular and pitch relatively well thereafter. That really isn't a good recipe for someone pegged for a one-inning relief appearance on one day's rest.

I'm not for second-guessing, but I do think that the expectation of a scoreless inning from Jackson there may have been a bit overblown

Oct 13, 2012 07:35 AM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

I thought at the time that Johnson had made another, critically important tactical error that may go against the grain of some people here: not walking Pete Kozma intentionally to load the bases in the 9th.

This wasn't because Koz has some preternatural late-season powers (although one begins to wonder...), but rather, a recognition of two things. First, a pinch hitter for Jason Motte was going to be required, and with Skip Schumaker and Matt Carpenter and Shane Robinson already expended, the Cardinals bench wasn't nearly as strong. Second, and very important, it got Motte out of the game. The remaining bullpen options (Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Shelby Miller) weren't as strong, or as reliable, as the fire-breathing closer who finished the game off with a 100-mph heater to induce a pop-up. No matter what Kozma and the pinch hitter (presumably Tony Cruz) do, Washington is going to get another chance to bat, and I'm shocked that Johnson didn't gain them the best chance to hit against a less formidable pitcher -- pleased, being that I'm a Cards fan and all, but still shocked.

Oct 13, 2012 07:47 AM
rating: 8
 
BrianGunn
(439)

I still think Tony Cruz with a fresh count is a better hitter than Kozma down 1-2. What's more, once the bases are loaded Cruz is more likely to get a pitch in the zone, and he has more ways to drive in a run (walk, HBP, etc.). I also think you're playing up Motte's effectiveness - he certainly didn't look like a lights-out fire-breather to me in the 8th inning last night (and he had already thrown 21 max-effort pitches, so perhaps he was wearier than usual). Certainly debatable, but I think Johnson made the right move there.

Oct 13, 2012 08:03 AM
rating: 3
 
brendan03us

The decision not to force a PH for Motte is going to be second guessed to beat the band, I agree.

Oct 13, 2012 08:03 AM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think Davey Johnson kept Gio Gonzalez in there too long. I seriously can't believe it took him that long to get pitchers warmed up.

Oct 13, 2012 08:55 AM
rating: 2
 
BrianGunn
(439)

I think both managers left their starters in too long. By letting Wainwright get roasted for 6 runs (when even the outs were hard hit) clearly Matheny did not learn anything from La Russa's handling of the postseason last year.

Oct 13, 2012 14:58 PM
rating: 0
 
SC

The decision not to call a third strike on the slider on which Molina checked his swing but was also a strike is the one that will haunt Nats fans.

Also: Strasburg.

Oct 13, 2012 09:31 AM
rating: 1
 
WaldoInSC

The decision to allow the Cardinals to outscore them by eight runs after the third inning is the reason Washington lost. If you can't hold a 6-0 lead for six innings it's really irrelevant what your manager does.

Oct 13, 2012 15:04 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Are you saying that if a pitcher is exhausted and can't throw the ball over the plate and when he does, he isn't effective, that what the manager does or doesn't do is irrelevant?

Oct 14, 2012 11:54 AM
rating: 0
 
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