Jason Motte and Yadier Molina celebrate Game 3 win
The St. Louis Cardinals patiently waited out the rain and then efficiently finished off the San Francisco Giants in Game 3 with a 3-1 win. As has been their custom, the Cards had another unlikely member play hero. This time, it was rookie Matt Carpenter, whose go-ahead two-run home run in the bottom of the third inning was the difference.
Carpenter's home run ultimately made a winner out of Kyle Lohse, who was not razor sharp, but managed to wriggle out of jams time after time before exiting after 5 2/3 innings of one run ball. This was despite allowing a season high five walks and seven hits. Lohse out-dueled Matt Cain of the Giants, who went 6 2/3 solid innings but allowed the three runs on six hits.
As the series moves to the critical fourth game, not all is well for the Cardinals though. Carlos Beltran exited the game due to an unspecified knee injury after running out a double play ball in the first inning. Ironically, it was Carpenter who entered for Beltran and provided the heroics in his normal spot. But going into tomorrow night's match-up, it is not for certain Beltran will be able to play. Here are four players who will need to step up in his potential absence for St. Louis to win.
Holliday has done more cheering than contributing thus far
So far in the NLCS, Matt Holliday is 2-12 with a pair of singles and a stolen base. As a matter of fact, his biggest 'contribution' was a borderline slide on Marco Scutaro in Game 2. Hobbled by a tender ankle, he has simply not been as effective this postseason.
But if Carlos Beltran is unable to go, expecting Matt Carpenter to repeat his heroics of tonight is extremely foolhardy. Holliday is expected to be one of the big guns of this potent Cardinals' lineup. He has to be loaded for bear Thursday night. That is even more the case if Tim Lincecum ends up getting the start because Holliday's good history (.294 career average in 34 at-bats) against "The Freak".
Wainwright needs to be better than his Game 5 showing in D.C.
Some pitchers just enjoy the home cooking more. Adam Wainwright is one of those guys and 2012 has been no exception. At home this season, he was 10-6 with a 3.73 ERA versus 4-7 and a 4.20 ERA away from Busch Stadium.
That trend continued in the National League Division Series as he pitched more than well enough to win game one against Washington striking out 10 and allowing just one run in 5 2/3 innings. By contrast, he was shelled in the deciding game five, allowing six runs on seven hits in just 2 1/3 innings at Nationals Park.
Unlike Kyle Lohse, Wainwright figures to have just a little more wiggle room whether it is Lincecum or Barry Zito starting. But not much. If he matches his dynamic home start against the Giants during the regular season (August 9th/7 IP, 1 ER, 7 K's), the Cardinals will be in great shape.
Jay will need to set the table for St. Louis' lineup Thursday night
Against a pitcher like Tim Lincecum, it is important to get men on base and make him pitch out of the stretch. In 2012, Lincecum simply was not the same pitcher when men were on base. In a critical Game 4, it would bode well for St. Louis to get an early lead.
To move point A to point B, it starts with the top of the lineup. That means Jon Jay has got to set the table for the Cardinals. In his brief career against Lincecum, he is 2-for-6 with three strikeouts. Getting on base is vital because much of Lincecum's wildness came with men on base. Of his 90 walks in 186+ innings, 49 came with runners on base.
Furthering that point, Lincecum allowed a .248 batting average with the bases empty. That average spiked 21 points to .269 with runners one. In addition, 25 of 27 runners successfully stole on him during the year.
While Jay isn't much of a base stealing threat, having him get on early would do wonders against a surging Lincecum. If he gets in a rhythm early, this could be another very tight, low scoring contest.
So Jay needs to be the one to set the tone and do it early.
His bat and game management will be big Thursday
For everything he will do in Game 4, Yadier Molina is my clear cut choice as the player that must step up biggest for St. Louis to take a big step back towards The World Series. With Wainwright on the mound, Molina will have to be at his game calling best. Buster Posey is hitting .400, Pablo Sandoval .300, and Marco Scutaro .333 against Wainwright.
Pitch selection is vital.
In addition, the still scuffling Molina is the most successful hitter lifetime against Lincecum, hitting 7-for-17, a cool .412 lifetime. The way I see it, if Lincecum is pitching carefully to Allen Craig and David Freese (a strong possibility), it will be on Molina do drive in a run or two in big spots. The combination of that possibility and his need to be rock solid (again) behind the plate makes him the guy who has to come through biggest.
Because yes, he's been better than against Washington, but 3-for-12 is nothing to write home about. A big game tomorrow could very well put St. Louis on the fast track to their second straight National League pennant.
With or without the clutch Beltran, players have to step up
Technically, Game 4 is not a must win for either the Giants or the Cardinals. I don't think either team would be terribly panicked about their situation with a loss on Thursday night. But for the Cardinals, it might be in their best interest to get this series over as efficiently as possible.
With the Detroit Tigers about ready to clinch, the sooner St. Louis finishes, the less of a chance Detroit has to completely reset their formidable starting rotation. Obviously that is very premature and I personally said this series would go seven games. But another Cardinals win gives them a chance to wrap the NL pennant up conceivably a day after Detroit may in the American League.
San Francisco is not going to go quietly, so if any talk about the next round is to become legitimate, these are the four players that have to step forward. The champions have received contributions from unlikely sources, now it is time for some of the steady Eddie's to make their mark.