With runs hard to come by, NLCS all about pitching
First three contests between Cards and Dodgers demonstrate every hit counts
LOS ANGELES -- If the pitching is sublime, the hitting is, well, ridiculous. This National League Championship Series is led by the St. Louis Cardinals after three games with a .134 team batting average against a Los Angeles Dodgers pitching staff carrying a 0.92 ERA.
How is this even possible? Let the stat guys figure it out. No clue here in the aftermath of the Dodgers' 3-0 Game 3 decision on Monday night at Dodger Stadium in front of 53,940 fans.
The Dodgers are hitting a robust, by comparison, .213. The Cards' team ERA is a relatively inflated 1.50. Neither side has produced a home run, something that never has happened in a NLCS through three games.
"Runs are at a premium in the postseason," said St. Louis leadoff man Matt Carpenter, a NL Most Valuable Player Award candidate hitting .182 in the series.
No kidding. Only twice, in 1918 and '48, have postseason teams combined for fewer than the nine total runs the Cardinals and Dodgers have generated through three games.
|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|
It felt like a cloudburst on Monday night as the Dodgers produced nine hits behind Hyun-Jin Ryu and the back end of the bullpen, Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen. The Cards pointed out that several of those hits were of the flare-and-fluke variety, but in a series like this, you take whatever you can get.
"All the breaks were going their way," Carpenter said. "Broken-bat hits, perfectly placed balls by [Mark] Ellis. We figured this was going to be a battle. You can't get comfortable. You've got to keep pushing."
Dealing seven scoreless innings and holding the Redbirds to three hits and one walk, Ryu was superb on the heels of a substandard performance (three innings, six hits, four runs) in his postseason debut against the Braves in the NL Division Series.
Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals' veteran ace, was touched for two runs on six hits in seven innings. One of those hits was an RBI double by Adrian Gonzalez, whose arrival at second base came with the Dodgers' now-standard slap of the hands and gesture initiated by Juan Uribe months ago.
Wainwright called it "Mickey Mouse," but Gonzalez didn't seem to mind if his maneuver made the big right-hander a little goofy.
"We are in L.A.," Gonzalez conceded. "Mickey Mouse is only an hour away."
Their offensive funk seemed to carry over to the Cards' normally polished defense and baserunning. Jon Jay was unable to glove four balls in center field that figured in the Dodgers' runs, and a gaffe on the bases by Daniel Descalso was damaging after singles by David Freese and Matt Adams opened the fifth.
Running for Freese, who experienced tightness in his thigh, Descalso was doubled off second when Carl Crawford ran down Jay's soft liner to left-center.
"I thought he got jammed more and it was going to fall," Descalso said. "I just misread it. That's a terrible feeling any time it happens."
The Cardinals did not get another runner to second. Jay led off the eighth with a single, but Wilson struck out two men around a groundout.
"The regular season is more or less an audition," said the bearded one, a World Series champion as the Giants' closer in 2010. "This is the show now. I don't know what anyone else feels, but this is time for your 'A' game. It's final."
The Cards' leader, Yadier Molina, was a champion in 2006 and '11. He was not in a good mood after this loss.
"The first few games [in St. Louis], everything went our way," Molina said. "Tonight was the opposite. We know we've got a good offense. We showed it all year. They've got good pitching on that team. They're tough. Right now, we have to find a way to get back on track."
The Cardinals' premier clutch hitter, Allen Craig, will not play in this series, and St. Louis clearly misses him. But the Dodgers are without Matt Kemp, who as recently as 2011 was the best player in the sport.
There were upbeat developments for the Dodgers, notably in the presence of Hanley Ramirez at shortstop with his fractured rib and the stroke of Yasiel Puig. Ramirez singled twice in four at-bats, driving in a run, and Puig tripled and singled, driving in another. Along with the graceful Gonzalez and Andre Ethier, these are the guys who make the opposition perspire.
Lashing his run-scoring triple off the fence in right in the fourth following Ellis and Gonzalez doubles, Puig looked like the self-assured sensation who tore it up in June and July -- not the overmatched kid who was 0-for-10 with six strikeouts in St. Louis.
"I noticed in St. Louis I was trying too hard, something my teammates and I talked about," Puig said through a translator.
A hitter trying too hard usually is looking to launch. When Puig is staying back -- not overswinging through sliders away -- and spraying bullets to the opposite field, he's a menace to the opposition.
Even with the series lead, the Cards might be in trouble if Ramirez can stay functional and Puig doesn't try to hit everything 500 feet. Matt Holliday is 0-for-12, Carlos Beltran is 2-for-11 and Adams is 1-for-10. The Dodgers are tying up the Cardinals' big boppers.
"The four teams that are left have gotten to this place because of pitching -- pitching and defense," Gonzalez said. "We all know in the playoffs pitching dominates."
Yes, but you also need a few runs now and then to win. There's nothing Mickey Mouse about it.