2012 NLCS: 5 Cardinals Who Must Step Up ASAP to Help Carlos Beltran
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The game plan for the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS likely didn't involve Carlos Beltran providing the team's only offensive production.
Yet after two games against the San Francisco Giants, that's essentially how it's played out for the Cardinals. St. Louis lost Game 2 of the series, 7-1, on Monday night with only Beltran showing a pulse. He batted 2-for-3, accounting for nearly all of the team's offense. (Chris Carpenter drove in the Cards' lone run with an RBI double.)
Beltran has been excellent thus far through the postseason, compiling a .414/.500/.897 triple-slash average with five doubles, three home runs and six RBI in 29 at-bats. In the first two games of the NLCS, he's batted .429 with a 1.643 OPS.
This obviously needs to change if the Cardinals are going to beat the Giants and advance to the World Series for the second straight year. The team should probably consider itself fortunate to be heading back to St. Louis with the series tied 1-1. If not for a Madison Bumgarner meltdown, San Francisco might have a 2-0 lead.
The Cardinals have the deepest lineup in the National League, let alone the four remaining teams in the postseason. Thus, there are plenty of different candidates who can help carry the offensive load. None of them besides Beltran are currently doing so, however.
For the Cardinals to win this series, the following five players will have to provide some help for Beltran, and they'll need to do it as soon as possible.
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With his controversial takeout slide of Marco Scutaro at second base in the first inning of Game 3, Matt Holliday attracted some unwanted attention. During and after the game, the question of whether or not Holliday's slide was a dirty play was one of the primary post-game topics.
But the Cardinals left fielder could also draw unfavorable attention for his performance thus far in the NLCS. In the first two games of the series, Holliday batted 2-for-8 with no extra-base hits or RBI.
During the postseason, he's batting 8-for-32 (.250) with a .737 OPS, one home run and five RBI in eight games.
Holliday led St. Louis with an .877 OPS and 102 RBI in the regular season, while his 27 homers ranked second on the team. But he slumped in September, batting .226, and has taken those struggles into the playoffs. As the Cards' No. 3 hitter, Holliday needs to begin producing.
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The Cardinals' middle-of-the-order sluggers can't drive in runs if the batters at the top of the order don't get on base.
Certainly, Beltran has been doing plenty from the No. 2 spot in the lineup. But leadoff hitter Jon Jay needs to produce more consistently. In the first two games of the NLCS, he's batted 1-for-9 (.111), dropping his overall postseason average to .152 with a .457 OPS.
Jay was third on the team with a .305 batting average during the regular season. He finished off September with a .294 average and 11 RBI, seemingly going into the playoffs on a strong note. But he hit .200 during the NLDS versus the Washington Nationals, striking out five times in 20 at-bats.
The Cardinals have enough strong hitters that they can probably get by with mediocre production from Jay, especially in a shorter playoff series. But some hits and walks from him would obviously help.
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Allen Craig arguably could have been the World Series MVP last year over David Freese, batting .263 with three home runs and five RBI.
The Cardinals first baseman has hit relatively well during the 2012 postseason, compiling a .276 batting average and .883 OPS with a home run and four RBI. However, he has also struck out eight times in 29 at-bats.
In the first two games of the NLCS, Craig is 0-for-6 with two strikeouts. He hasn't had many baserunners to drive in, but with his inability to hit thus far, any runners likely would have been stranded anyway.
Craig is the Cards' cleanup hitter, the big slugger in the lineup. He's the guy who should be flexing his right arm at second base after hitting a double, not Chris Carpenter. If Craig isn't hitting well, St. Louis will have trouble producing runs. That's certainly what happened in Game 2 of the NLCS.
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For the most part, David Freese has continued his success from last year's postseason.
During the Cardinals' surprise run to a championship, Freese was named the MVP of both the NLCS and World Series. Altogether, he batted .397 with a 1.258 OPS, five home runs and 21 RBI, earning himself a Corvette to go along with that championship ring.
This year, Freese is hitting .310 in the postseason, though he hasn't shown quite as much power. That looked to be changing with a two-run homer in Game 1 of the NLCS. But that's the only hit the Cardinals third baseman has gotten in eight at-bats.
With at least three more games to be played in this series, there is plenty of opportunity for Freese to get back to the form he showed in last year's NLCS. St. Louis could certainly use some of that MVP-level production right now.
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Yadier Molina was the Cardinals' best regular-season hitter and a contender for the National League MVP award during the regular season with a 315/.373/.501 triple-slash average, 22 home runs and 76 RBI.
Thus far through the playoffs, however, he hasn't been the same batter. In eight postseason games, Molina has batted 4-for-29 (.138) with a .424 OPS, no extra-base hits and two RBI.
Molina bats fifth in the Cards' lineup, so he's expected to be a major run producer as well as protection for Allen Craig in the batting order. He's accomplished neither of those tasks with the way he's been hitting (or not hitting, as it were).
Perhaps manager Mike Matheny could consider moving Molina down in the lineup, but he batted fifth or sixth all season long. Besides, it's not like anyone else has shown he should bat ahead of Molina at this point. This is a lineup-wide problem for everyone not named Carlos Beltran.
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