The NLCS shows all the signs of a classic series hanging in the balance of every pitch. There are two teams from the same division who know each other so well. The St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers split their 18-game season series 9-9. And let’s just say there is some “built-up intensity” toward one another that adds a bit more spice.
But there are two things that could allow this series to go haywire: Milwaukee’s inept supporting cast in the Brewers’ lineup and St. Louis’ inconsistent bullpen.
It’s no secret that Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder carry the Brewers’ lineup. Add to that Yuniesky Betancourt’s strong postseason and Jerry Hairston’s timely hitting and you have the Brew Crew’s complete offensive arsenal. Yep, those four guys are doing all the heavy lifting.
Non-pitchers not named Prince, Braun, Yuni or Hairston are batting .168 in the postseason. That’s half the lineup over a seven-game stretch, which is a decent sample size. They were 16-91 (.176) in the NLDS vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks and are 5-34 (.147) so far against St. Louis. Milwaukee is operating with half a lineup that can’t make outs and the other half can’t get on base. If the Cardinals are allowed to pitch around these four hitters without the supporting cast capitalizing, the Redbirds could be celebrating earlier than expected.
However, if the Cardinals’ bullpen reverts to its roots of allowing other teams to enjoy big innings, then the Brewers would waste no time dismissing St. Louis from the playoffs.
In the NLDS with Philadelphia, the St. Louis bullpen was very good. In 13.2 innings, the six relievers combined to walk only one batter and struck out 13 while allowing only 11 hits.
Avid Cardinals fans can tell you that those numbers don’t represent what was going on during the season. The Cardinals were second only to Washington in blown saves during the year. And that doesn’t count the numerous one-run leads that turned into multiple-run leads and tie games lost by the bullpen.
Other than Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals starters typically are effective deep into games, putting pressure on the bullpen most every night. That’s been the same in the playoffs. In the seven games thus far, St. Louis starters have gotten through the sixth inning just three times, including Carpenter’s masterful Game 5 performance at Philadelphia.
So what can we expect from the next five games?
The St. Louis bullpen, aided by manager Tony La Russa’s knack for dictating the right matchups, is as deep as it has been all season and has found its groove. Milwaukee hitters like Corey Hart, who had 15 RBIs vs. St. Louis during the season, and Rickie Weeks, who homered in Game 2, won’t stay cold much longer.
The likely scenario says the Cardinals will take two of three in St. Louis leaving them a game up heading back to Milwaukee. Could the Redbirds steal a second victory from the best home team in baseball? Perhaps. But there’s little doubt this baby is going the full seven with a trip to the World Series on the line and aces Carpenter and Yovani Gallardo on the mound.