There are a lot of reasons the Los Angeles Dodgers will return home facing an 0-2 hole to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, but the biggest difference in Game 2 was the stellar pitching of Michael Wacha and one mistake from the Dodgers.
Starting with Clayton Kershaw, who didn't make the mistake but got charged with the tough 1-0 loss, this game continued his career-long trend of domination. He was masterful, throwing 72 pitches over six innings with five strikeouts and allowing two hits, one unearned run and one walk.
Don Mattingly removed the likely Cy Young winner for pinch hitter Michael Young when Nick Punto singled with two outs in the sixth, which we will come back to in a few moments.
On the St. Louis side, what more do we say about Wacha? The rookie stood toe-to-toe with the best pitcher in baseball, trading zeroes for five innings before an A.J. Ellis passed ball allowed David Freese to advance to third and later score on a Jon Jay sacrifice fly.
Most impressive was Wacha's poise and guile in working out of a second-and-third, zero-out jam in a crucial sixth-inning sequence. A Kershaw single and a Matt Carpenter throwing error on a Carl Crawford grounder in the hole put the Cardinals in big trouble.
A pop-out, intentional walk and two impressive strikeouts later, and Wacha was once again strutting off the mound as a hero.
This comes one start after Wacha took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of Game 4 against Pittsburgh in the National League Division Series. It's also the second straight game the 22-year-old had at least eight strikeouts and one run or fewer allowed.
As ESPN's Stats and Info team pointed out on Twitter, this mini-streak puts Wacha in fairly exclusive company among Cardinals pitchers:
While you don't like to say that a series is over before it's over, this one looks about as close to over as it can possibly be. Not only have the Cardinals beaten the Dodgers' one-two punch of Zack Greinke and Kershaw, but now Adam Wainwright will take the mound in Game 3.
Finishing up on Kershaw being taken out after six innings for Young: It wound up not mattering in the long run, but the move was yet another questionable move for Mattingly after taking out Adrian Gonzalez for a pinch runner in Game 1.
The Gonzalez move was easier to defend because it was late in a tie game and he runs like he's wearing cement shoes with his feet stuck in mud.
But taking Kershaw out made no sense because there were already two outs, St. Louis brought in left-handed Kevin Siegrist and Young actually hits worse against southpaws than righties.
And Kershaw was cruising. He had thrown 72 pitches through six innings against one of the best lineups in baseball. He didn't even break a sweat in doing so.
Mattingly hasn't named a Game 3 starter yet, though it will either be Hyun-Jin Ryu or Ricky Nolasco. Ryu got lit up against Atlanta in the National League Division Series with six hits and four runs allowed in three innings.
On top of that, there have been whispers about Ryu possibly being injured. According to Paul Casella of MLB.com, he threw a bullpen session prior to Game 2 of the NLDS with the Dodgers' team surgeon and director of medical services watching.
Nolasco was passed over for a Game 4 start in the NLDS with the Dodgers leading 2-1 because he had an awful September with a 6.66 ERA and 33 hits allowed in 25.2 innings.
More important than the starting pitcher for Game 3 is the fact that the Dodgers have stopped hitting. You have to credit the Cardinals for their incredible pitching depth, but the stars who have to carry Los Angeles' offense have completely disappeared.
Yasiel Puig can be as exciting as any player to watch, but he's been way too excited and anxious in the box through two games. He's 0-for-10 with six strikeouts this series, including a golden sombrero in Game 2.
In the biggest spot with the bases loaded, Puig worked the count full against Wacha after being down 0-2. But then he swung at a fastball at his shoe tops for strike three.
The energy Puig brings to the game is fun and makes him as compelling as any player in the game. He just doesn't know how to rein it in yet, which is why you see him look as overmatched as he does right now.
Even though Puig generated all the headlines for the Dodgers after his call-up, Hanley Ramirez was their best player this season. He hit like a superstar in the regular season (.345/.402/.638) and was even better in the NLDS with eight hits in 16 at-bats and six extra-base hits.
But it turns out getting hit by that pitch in the first inning of Game 1 against Joe Kelly was worse than anticipated, as Ramirez was wincing in pain the rest of the night and sat out Game 2 to get X-rays.
Molly Knight of ESPN.com reported that Ramirez's X-ray was negative.
I would be surprised if Ramirez didn't at least try to play in Game 3, but who knows if he will be able to swing the bat with as much authority to drive the ball or move around in the field as well as he normally does?
The Dodgers have been a hot-and-cold offensive team this season. They were solid in the second half, averaging 4.25 runs per game (ninth in baseball), but weren't overpowering teams.
Putting a struggling, overaggressive Dodgers offense against this Cardinals pitching staff is going to lead to 19 straight scoreless innings. They have just 10 hits in 63 at-bats with 21 strikeouts since scoring two runs in the third inning of Game 1.
What's scary for the Dodgers—or scarier, since we have already listed plenty of things that should have them concerned—is Greinke and Kershaw combined for 14 innings, six hits allowed, three runs (two earned), two walks and 15 strikeouts in these two games, yet the team is still down 0-2.
You could also make a very strong argument that the three runs Greinke and Kershaw have allowed were the result of poor defense more than anything they did. Carlos Beltran's two-run double off Greinke in Game 1 was a catchable ball at the wall that Andre Ethier missed. Freese's run in Game 2 came about thanks to a passed ball and Carl Crawford putting himself in poor position to even attempt a throw home on Jay's fly ball.
(For the record, because his throwing arm is bad, the odds of Crawford being able to throw Freese out even with proper positioning were slim.)
Times are tough right now for the Dodgers. They entered this series with such promise after dispatching of Atlanta fairly easily, being able to line up their top two starters for Games 1 and 2. They got great pitching performances, only to squander them with poor hitting and defensive miscues at the worst possible times.
For all intents and purposes, the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers season has come to an end. At least you can say it was always exciting.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
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