For the Cardinals, there is an open opportunity to close the door on the series and begin thinking about the next level – and in the process save Adam Wainwright for Game 1 of the NLCS.
For the Nationals, pardon the cliché, but this is do or die. There isn’t a better way to put it.
A loss will only further question the decision to bench Stephen Strasburg.
Aside from all that, the game’s biggest matchups have a rather interesting breakdown.
Harper: 1-for-15, 6 Ks, .067 BA
Jay: 4-for-16, 4 RBI, 2 SB, .250 BA
Going into the series, the common baseball fan would likely have expected big things from Bryce Harper this week, and many—at least outside of the St. Louis fanbase—may have never heard of Jon Jay.
For at least the last three games, Jay has quite handily won the battle of the young center fielders.
Harper has been completely ineffective in his postseason debut up to this point. When questioned by a reporter after Game 2, he was quick to let his frustration show. If he can collect himself, Thursday's game would be the ultimate opportunity to showcase his abilities.
Jay has been a huge asset for the Cardinals. What he hasn’t done with his bat he’s made up for with his glove. Will he continue to perform in the series?
If Jay keeps it up and Harper continues to struggle, the Nationals could be in for a short October.
Molina: 2-for-14, 2 RBI, .143 BA
Suzuki: 1-for-11, 1 RBI, .091 BA
Arguably two of the best defensive catchers in the game of baseball, both Yadier Molina and Kurt Suzuki have so far been quiet in the postseason with their bats.
While Suzuki is a strong defender, there is little dispute that Molina is the best defensive catcher in the game today.
Offensively, the contrast is much stronger. During the postseason, neither has been very successful so far, but during the regular season Molina was a force to be reckoned with.
Molina (.315/22 HR/76 RBI) has come out of his shell over the last two seasons. Suzuki (.235/6 HR/43 RBI) isn’t comparable offensively.
With that said, Suzuki did a fantastic job on Sunday of catching a wild Gio Gonzales. There’s a strong argument that his skill behind the plate in Game 1 likely saved the game for the Nationals by preventing wild pitches that would have resulted in more Cardinals runs.
In the end, Molina still has the edge due to his combination of solid offense and defense.
Werth: 3-for-12, 0 HR, 0 RBI, .250
Beltran: 6-for-16, 2 HR, 3 RBI, .375
Defensively, the edge in this category goes to Jayson Werth, as he has demonstrated several times already in this series—including a stolen home run from Daniel Descalso. Carlos Beltran is no slouch with a glove, but his knees limit his range.
Offensively, Werth is a solid .300 hitter and has the ability to be dangerous at the plate. He only played about half of the season, so his 2012 numbers are a bit skewed, but he has the ability to carry this team.
Beltran’s average isn’t comparable to Werth over the season following a second-half slump, but his home run (32) and RBI (97) totals are representative of the Carlos Beltran that has long been feared in postseason baseball.
Monday afternoon he showed exactly why he has earned that reputation when he jacked two home runs for three RBI.
If you had to choose one of them?
On September 28, the Cardinals clobbered Ross Detwiler in St. Louis, ousting him before he pitched three full innings.
Despite that, Detwiler has had a decent season, going 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA.
Kyle Lohse, however, has had a considerably better season, going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA. Lohse has been the rock of the Cardinals rotation since April with his steady consistency.
If he does the same on Thursday, the Cardinals have a good chance to close the NLDS out.
The best move the Nationals could make at this point would be to move Gio Gonzales to pitch a day early to even the matchup. As it stands now, again, the advantage is quite clear.
The rookie vs. the old pro—it’s a classic matchup. There is a solid argument for each of these two men for Manager of the Year.
When it comes down to making the big decisions when times are tight, who will win the war?
Does the edge go to the seasoned pro or the sharp rookie?
Matheny has earned respect this season as he juggled players through injury after injury, but has also shown growing pains. Still, he’s also learned quickly from most of his mistakes.
Johnson has made good moves, but in the postseason they haven’t been enough to this point.
With that said, when it comes down to the ninth inning, experience is what you want at the helm, and for that, Johnson will take this category.
While the Nationals spent the majority of the season hauling around the best record in baseball, the road through Game 4 of the NLDS will be tough.
For the Nationals to win, everything will need to go their way. The Cardinals bats will have to quiet. Kyle Lohse will have to struggle. Detwiler will need to have his best stuff.
That’s a lot to ask for.
In the end, it’s difficult to argue against the Cardinals finishing the NLDS in four games on Thursday.
All of the momentum is with them now. The series is theirs to lose and they have two games to do it in—but I wouldn’t expect that. You can never count out the Cardinals if they make it to October.
There is a reason the franchise boasts 11 World Series championships.
Final score: Cardinals 6, Nationals 3