ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said before Saturday’s game that he wasn’t going to have a knee-jerk reaction after the offense’s one-hit effort Friday night in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Nationals.
But a three-hit effort isn’t much better, and a reaction may be warranted.
After the Cardinals’ 3-1 loss in Game 2 on Saturday at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals are heading to Washington down 2-0 in the best-of-seven series and searching for an offensive fix. Fast.
Nationals starter Max Scherzer held the Cardinals hitless until Paul Goldschmidt singled to lead off the seventh inning. It was the second night in a row that the Nationals' starter had a no-hitter going into the seventh, and it was the second night in a row that the Cardinals wasted a good performance from their own starter -- this time from Adam Wainwright, who allowed three runs (only one until the eighth) and struck out 11 over 7 1/3 innings.
In postseason history, teams taking a 2-0 lead in any best-of-seven series have gone on to take that series 70 of 83 times (84 percent). In all series with the current 2-3-2 format, those winning the first two games on the road have gone on to win 21 of 24 times (88 percent). The last team to drop Games 1 and 2 at home and then come back to take the series was the 1996 Yankees against the Braves in the World Series.
“We’re down 2-0 and that’s why we play a best-of-seven, right?” Wainwright said. “They’re going to bring out all the stops and they have a pretty strong advantage right now. They won two games at our place, we’re going to try and do at least that at theirs and get this thing right again.”
First, the offense must get right again. The Cardinals are 4-for-57 in the NLCS, and they ended a 22-inning drought without a run in the eighth inning on Saturday -- a stretch dating back to the fourth inning in Game 5 of the NLDS -- when pinch-hitter José Martínez hit an RBI double. Of the Cardinals’ four hits, Martínez has two. He also broke up Aníbal Sánchez's no-hitter with two outs in the eighth inning on Friday night. On a team that’s struggling, his results stand out and raise the question of whether change should come to the lineup.
“You can't ignore the fact he's taken good at-bats,” Shildt said. “There would be some contemplation about how we move forward and how we look to compete. I'll look at it from the lens that we always look at it, who is taking the kind of at-bats, who is on time, the matchups, all those different things that we always factor into it.”
Scherzer fooled the Cardinals with his slider and whiffed them with his fastball. It was a different approach than Sánchez’s slow, offspeed pitches that painted the box, but it had the same results. Scherzer struck out 11 and issued two walks in seven innings.
And as the Busch Stadium shadows crept over home plate throughout the afternoon, Scherzer looked more and more unhittable.
“You have to be realistic about what we were dealing with today,” Shildt said. “We were dealing with a guy that had really good command of his pitches, throwing mid-90s with late movement, really dirty sliders, and not the most ideal conditions to go up there and swing the bat. We have to figure a way to be better, that's the bottom line. But I can't sit there and ignore the fact that their guy's pretty darn elite, and you saw some elite pitching today.”
But the elite pitching is only going to continue. The Cardinals will be welcomed to Washington on Monday with Stephen Strasburg on the mound, capable of pitching just as well as Sánchez and Scherzer did on Friday and Saturday.
How do the Cardinals balance the quality pitching they’re seeing with their offensive struggles? The short answer is they can’t. It’s October, and they’re playing for their season.
“There’s no distinguishing,” Kolten Wong said. “We’re obviously struggling. If you get no-hit for seven innings two nights in a row, you’re struggling. It’s common sense. But it’s baseball. You’re hitting a round ball with a round bat, and these guys are dang good at throwing that round ball. So we’ve got to make a little more adjustments, shorten up a little bit and get back to our small ball game. We know we’re a good small-ball team, figuring out how to get in position for the guys to drive us in. We’ve got to figure out how to get on base.”