Confident Cardinals unfazed by facing Arrieta
Cubs' ace unbeaten in his last 14 starts entering NLDS Game 3
CHICAGO -- Fans, media, almost everyone, it seems, already has credited the Cubs with a Game 3 win before a single pitch has even been thrown. Jake Arrieta tends to have that effect.
Even the game notes the Cubs provided for those covering Sunday's team workouts at Wrigley Field appeared to, at first glance, jump to the same conclusion. Plastered atop the page, it read: St. Louis Cardinals (1-1) vs. Chicago Cubs (2-1).
That second win, as was later clarified, was included to reflect the Cubs' Wild Card victory over the Pirates that preceded this National League Division Series. Others, though, might glean that the Cubs' typist was simply making the same assumption so many others have: When Arrieta pitches, as he will in Game 3 on Monday on TBS at 6 p.m. ET, the Cubs win.
And while that has been the case in each of Arrieta's last 14 starts, perhaps folks have forgotten that when it comes to the Cardinals facing aces in October, regular-season results serve as an inaccurate harbinger.
"The thing with us is when we get to the postseason, we don't care who is pitching," Kolten Wong said. "We understand that Arrieta is a good pitcher and has been doing amazing things the whole year. But in the postseason, you never know what's going to happen."
That's because the Cardinals have seen the improbable happen too many times in past Octobers to be intimidated. They've faced the best in October before and have, repeatedly, beaten them, too. Execution will dictate whether they can do it again, but if recent history is any indication of what might happen as Wrigley Field hosts its first postseason game since 2008, the Cards are likely to make things more interesting than many anticipate.
"I swear it feels like it's déjà vu, we're just facing a different guy," Matt Carpenter said, noting how he fielded the same questions a year ago when the Cardinals prepared to face Clayton Kershaw in the NLDS.
"[Kershaw] won the MVP and won the Cy Young, and we have a guy that we're going to face tomorrow that could be the same thing, arguably. It's going to be very similar. We're going to have to go out and have tough at-bats. Everybody in our lineup is going to have to put tough at-bats together."
The challenge ahead is a certainly daunting. Consider Arrieta's number over his last 13 starts, which included a Wild Card shutout to set up this NLDS meeting: 97 1/3 innings, four earned runs, 100 strikeouts, 14 walks, .139 opponents' batting average, 0.62 WHIP and 14.3 pitches per inning.
To call it historic is not an understatement. His 0.41 ERA over the final two months of the regular season was the lowest by any pitcher during that span since ERA became an official stat in 1912.
Similarly, Kershaw soared into the playoffs last year with a 1.77 season ERA. The Dodgers had won 23 of his 27 starts and were ready to have him pitch twice in a best-of-five series. He would lose both games, as the Cardinals manufactured seventh-inning rallies in both to stun the Dodgers ace.
He had, of course, not forgotten just losing to the Cardinals twice in the 2013 NL Championship Series. Kershaw won the Cy Young Award both years.
The key to unraveling the game's best again?
"We're going to have to catch a break," Carpenter said. "When you get into those moments in the game where everybody knows this could be the chance you break it open, you have to break it open. That will make the difference. … We have to get him worn down and maybe in the seventh inning when he's between 80-100 pitches, if we can get a big swing off of him, maybe it's one that changes the game."
It's not just Kershaw that the Cardinals have solved in October either. Going back to 2011 -- the start of a five-year run as postseason participants -- the Cardinals have routinely beaten their opponents' best.
En route to a championship in 2011, they won games started by three pitchers -- Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Yovani Gallardo -- who went on to finish in the top seven of the NL Cy Young Award voting. That was before they then toppled Texas' C.J. Wilson to open the World Series.
A year later, games started by Braves ace Kris Medlen, Nationals ace Gio Gonzalez and San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner went the Cardinals' way. In 2013, they battered Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole in an NLDS elimination game before beating Kershaw (twice) and Zack Greinke in the NLCS.
Even Bumgarner, amid his incredible postseason run in 2014, was on the ropes in his Game 5 NLCS start against the Cardinals. It took the Giants scoring four times in the final two innings to steal that game.
"We've gone up against a number of teams and a number of pitchers where everybody kind of ruled us out and said you can't do this or that, and I think this team has responded well in the past," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I think more so than anything else, I think it keeps our club from being overwhelmed by maybe all the noise that comes along with a matchup like this."
In some cases, it wasn't as much battering the best as it was outlasting him. The Cardinals stole some wins that way during the regular season, as well. Of the five pitchers in baseball with an ERA+ above 150 (meaning they were at least 50 percent better than league average at preventing runs) in 2015, the Cardinals faced four -- Arrieta, Kershaw, Houston's Dallas Keuchel and Toronto's David Price. The Cards went 4-3 in those games even though the four pitchers combined for a 2.09 ERA.
In comparison, those pitchers combined for a winning percentage above 70 against everyone else.
The Cardinals, it should be noted, faced Arrieta four times, all before the All Star break. He posted a 2.42 ERA against them. The Cubs won only two of those games.
"You go this long, history says you're due for something not good to happen," Carpenter said. "It's just the way you work. You can't hit 1.000 as a hitter. You can't throw a perfect game every time you go out and pitch. If anything, he's due for the opposite."