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Cardinals' reputable offense missing from NLCS

St. Louis squeezed by in Games 1-2, but Game 3 miscues loom large without bats

LOS ANGELES -- At some point in this National League Championship Series, the St. Louis Cardinals will have to rediscover at least a portion of their offense. Game 4 on Tuesday night (7 p.m. CT on TBS) would be a handy time.

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It turns out that as brilliant as the Cardinals' pitching was in the first two games, the Los Angeles Dodgers still have enough punch left to not be shut out on a regular basis.

The Redbirds won the first two games of this series while scoring only four runs, because the Dodgers were held to two runs over 22 innings. That was terrific, but with an offense that holds the potential of the Dodgers, eventually a few runs were going to be scored.

That is what happened Monday at Dodger Stadium. The Cards slipped in stature just a bit, from relentless postseason machine to merely mortal, and the Dodgers had enough life left to take full advantage.

Offense in a funk
Fewest hits by a team through three games of a postseason series
Year Series Team Opp. Hits
1906 WS White Sox Cubs 9
2010 NLDS Reds Phillies 11
1915 WS Phillies Red Sox 11
2012 NLDS Giants Reds 12
1969 WS Orioles Mets 12
2013 NLCS Cardinals Dodgers 13
2001 WS Yankees D-backs 13
1998 ALDS Rangers Yankees 13
1966 WS Dodgers Orioles 13
1911 WS Giants Athletics 13
Courtesy: Elias Sports Bureau

The Cardinals had been hoping to take a 3-0 series lead behind their ace, Adam Wainwright. But the Dodgers' 3-0 victory brought new life into the series for Los Angeles. Wainwright pitched well enough, but the rest of this game was not a highlights reel for the Redbirds.

A fourth-inning fly ball by Mark Ellis to right-center that seemingly could have been caught by either Jon Jay or Carlos Beltran was caught by neither. That went for a double. When Wainwright, next to infallible in his two previous postseason starts this October, then gave up a double and a triple, the Dodgers had two runs in one inning, instead of two runs over 22 innings.

"I never comment on that," said Wainwright of the play that wasn't made behind him. "All I know is that there were a couple of pitches that I didn't make."

"That ball should be caught," Beltran said. "I could have got there. [Jay] could have got there.

"I looked at [Jay], he was almost there, so I went to back up. I think he hesitated."

In the fifth, the Cards had a promising start in the first two at-bats of the inning, getting their first two hits off Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu. But Daniel Descalso, pinch-running for David Freese, was doubled off second on Jay's routine fly to left.

There is no question that Wainwright, giving up two runs over seven innings, deserved to leave this game with a 3-0 record in this postseason. Both of those fourth-inning runs were technically earned, but if that catchable fly ball is caught, this is not a two-run inning.

"It wasn't very characteristic of how we played all season," manager Mike Matheny said. "Our team has done a great job of improving defensively. We just had a lot of balls in the air tonight that hit the ground that normally don't. We're a better club than this."

Mound mastery
Fewest combined runs through three games of a postseason series
Year Series Teams Runs
1948 WS Indians (6), Braves (2) 8
1918 WS Cubs (4), Red Sox (4) 8
2013 NLCS Dodgers (5), Cardinals (4) 9
1972 WS Athletics (5), Reds (4) 9
1950 WS Yankees (6), Phillies (3) 9
1949 WS Yankees (5), Dodgers (4) 9
1998 ALDS Yankees (9), Rangers (1) 10
1920 WS Robins (6), Indians (4) 10
1915 WS Red Sox (5), Phillies (5) 10

But the big thing missing here for the St. Louis club was the offense. The Cardinals led the NL in runs scored this season. Their reputation for run production did not require polishing. Now, they simply need something resembling that offense to show up, at least for an inning here or there.

The Cards have scored four runs in 31 innings in the NLCS. They are hitting .134 over three games, a figure somewhere between unacceptable and unthinkable. It is a small sample size. But it is also a tiny team batting average.

Some of the credit for Monday's offensive struggles obviously went to Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, who rebounded from an inadequate start in the NL Division Series against Atlanta to throw seven scoreless innings against the Cardinals.

And the other two games in this series were started for the Dodgers by pitchers who have won Cy Young Awards, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. So the excuses for not hitting are within convenient reach.

The best thing you can say about the Cards' offense in this series is that it was taken off the hook by absolutely brilliant pitching in the first two games.

Maybe that's the hopeful part of the situation in this series for the Cardinals. They are hitting .134, but they have won two out of three games. This was the best offense in the NL in 2013. It should be better than this, at least slightly. And it must be better than this for this team to make a World Series appearance.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

St. Louis Cardinals