The Los Angeles Dodgers avoided a 3-0 deficit in their National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals by picking up a 3-0 win in Game 3 Monday night, but it was just the first step in a long journey to a comeback.
Hyun-Jin Ryu was masterful, and Puigmania made its long-awaited NLCS debut, but what else is it going to take for the Dodgers to win three out of the next four to advance to the World Series?
It will take more than simply "score more runs" or "keep pitching shutouts." Here is Los Angeles' five-step plan to success.
*Unless noted, all statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com, FanGraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com and are accurate through the start of play on Oct. 15.
Entering play on Monday, Carlos Beltran's .740 career slugging percentage in the postseason was the fifth-highest of all time before it slipped to .725 following Game 3. It was slightly lower than Babe Ruth's (.744) and slightly better than Lou Gehrig's (.731). Those are pretty decent names to be mentioned with.
By comparison, the rest of the Cardinals are chopped liver.
Allen Craig was one of St. Louis' better sluggers during the regular season, but a broken foot kept him off the NLCS roster. Matt Holliday's 22 regular-season home runs trailed only Beltran for most on the team, but he is batting just 34-for-144 (.236) with four home runs in his postseason career with the Cardinals. Matt Carpenter led the team in batting during the regular season but went just 1-for-19 in the NLDS against the Pirates and has only two hits thus far in this series.
If an opposing wide receiver was destroying your football team, wouldn't you double-team him and force the other team to beat you some other way? The same principle applies here. The Dodgers can't intentionally walk Beltran every at-bat, but they also can't afford to keep giving him pitches to hit.
The Cardinals won the first two games of the series, but was that really a surprise? Both games were played at Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals went 54-27 this season. Only the Atlanta Braves had a better home record during the regular season.
Now Los Angeles needs to do its part.
The Dodgers went 20-11 at home over the second half of the season and have won all three of their home games thus far in the postseason. If they win both of the remaining home games in the series, they can at least send this thing back to St. Louis needing to just win one out of two.
Winning any game in St. Louis is no easy task, but it's much less daunting than the initial task they faced of needing to win four out of five to make a comeback.
As of midnight on Monday, the Cardinals hadn't yet officially named any starters beyond Game 4. But whether it's Game 5 in Los Angeles or Game 6 in St. Louis, Michael Wacha is going to get at least one more start in this series.
Thus far in the postseason, Wacha has a line of 14.0 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 17 K.
The rookie pitcher had a pretty respectable regular season as well, posting a 2.83 ERA in nine starts, excluding relief appearances.
In his two less than stellar starts during the regular season—outings in which he gave up more than five hits—the opponent got to him early and often. On June 4 in his second career start, four Arizona batters reached base their first time through the lineup, as the Diamondbacks scored four runs by the time their 17th batter had stepped to the plate. On Sept. 19, five of the Rockies' first nine batters collected hits to score four runs after just 13 batters.
Late rallies simply aren't in Wacha's DNA. If Dodgers batters expect to do any damage against him, they had better do so in their first at-bats.
A.J. Ellis is one of the most under-appreciated catchers in the majors. He has a great glove and arm behind the plate and always seems to come up with clutch hits despite a mediocre career batting average.
However, it's time to find out if a different catcher might be more useful in this series for the Dodgers.
Before the series began, Ellis was 3-for-36 with 15 strikeouts in his career against pitchers who had made St. Louis' NLCS roster. The Cardinals also stole fewer bases during the regular season than any other National League team.
Even though he is currently 3-for-11 in the NLCS, Ellis' bat is unlikely to help the Dodgers, while his arm probably won't be necessary.
Why not at least see if Tim Federowicz has better luck against the Cardinals pitching staff? Federowicz doesn't have a ton of major league experience, but over his last three seasons at Triple-A, he went 181-for-574 (.315) with 25 home runs.
After going 8-for-17 in the NLDS against the Braves, Yasiel Puig was 0-for-10 with six strikeouts in the first two games of the NLCS against the Cardinals.
To be fair, it's not as if he went up there and hopelessly hacked at anything.
In his 10 at-bats over the first two games against St. Louis, he saw 56 pitches. He took 23 pitches for balls and at least saw the ball well, even if he wasn't hitting it well to match. Even in his four non-strikeouts, he only hit the ball out of the infield once, and that came on an opposite-field flyout on a 2-0 pitch.
Based on his .319 batting average during the regular season, it's safe to say we were all expecting Puig to eventually break out of that slump.
He did so in a big way on Monday night with an RBI triple that nearly broke Twitter. He went 2-for-3 on the night and saw a total of 16 pitches in his at-bats.
It would be silly to ask for a game-altering three-bagger every night, but in a series between such closely matched teams, a little Puig could go a long way for Los Angeles.