Los Angeles Dodgers vs. St. Louis Cardinals: Keys for Each Team in NLCS Game 5
The Los Angeles Dodgers were unable to protect their home field on Tuesday night, losing Game 4 of the 2013 NLCS, 4-2, to give the St. Louis Cardinals a commanding 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.
Will the Dodgers be able to extend the series in Game 5, or will the Cardinals advance to the World Series before this one even has a chance to return to St. Louis?
Here are two factors for each team that could help each win on Wednesday night.
Spoiler alert: I hope you enjoy reading about two-seam fastballs.
*Statistics obtained from ESPN.com, Fangraphs.com, Baseball-Reference.com and Pitchfx.texasleaguers.com
Key for Los Angeles: Reduce Greinke's Use of the Two-Seam Fastball
Zack Greinke is an incredible pitcher, as his 2.63 ERA during the regular season was fourth-best in the National League. Even though that ERA during the regular season hasn't amounted to any wins for the Dodgers in the playoffs, he has been able to carry his success into the postseason.
However, Greinke might be the best pitcher in the entire league if he would just quit throwing his two-seam fastball.
In each of the past two seasons, Greinke's two-seamer (listed by FanGraphs as FT) was by far his least valuable pitch. Opponents had an overall OPS of .663 and .647 against him in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Against his two-seam fastball, those numbers were .748 and .760.
Aside from the two-seam fastball, opponents' worst batting average against any pitch of Greinke's in the past two seasons was his cutter. In 2012, opponents batted .276 against it.
Last season, opponents batted .303 against his two-seamer and raised that average to .310 this season.
And yet, it's still one of the pitches he uses the most in his repertoire. In Game 1 against the Cardinals, Greinke threw the two-seam fastball 23 times. Among those 23 pitches the Cardinals collected three singles, Carlos Beltran's two-run double and two lineouts. Eight of those pitches were put into play, and only two resulted in easy outs.
Greinke throws six different pitches, but Los Angeles' chances of a Game 5 win would be improved if he limits himself to just the other five.
Key for St. Louis: Be Very Careful with Hanley Ramirez If He Plays
Unlike Zack Greinke, the two-seam fastball is Joe Kelly's bread and butter.
In fact, Kelly used the two-seamer more often than any other starting pitcher this season, throwing it 66.2 percent of the time during the regular season. He threw it 58.9 percent of the time in Game 1 against the Dodgers.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, if they aren't careful, the Dodgers happen to have a batter who thrives against two-seam fastballs—Hanley Ramirez
During the regular season, only Bryce Harper and Wilin Rosario had better success than Ramirez against the two-seam fastball.
Kelly neutralized Ramirez in Game 1 of the NLCS by breaking his rib with a pitch in his first at-bat and throwing off-speed stuff on seven of the 10 pitches Ramirez saw in his next two at-bats.
If Ramirez is healthy enough to give it a go after leaving Game 4 early, the Cardinals need to continue giving him a steady diet of off-speed pitches in Game 5. The Cardinals might also want to make sure that Carlos Martinez, Edward Mujica and Kevin Siegrist—who all throw the two-seam fastball around 25 percent of the time—get the same scouting report on Ramirez.
Key for Los Angeles: Don't Be Afraid to Go to the Bullpen
For much of the regular season, the Dodgers bullpen—particularly right-handed relievers aside from Kenley Jansen—was the most blatant concern for Los Angeles.
It's pretty telling that the Dodgers signed Brian Wilson off the street in July, and Wilson is now arguably their second-most valuable reliever.
But against the Cardinals, recent history would seem to indicate that the Dodgers have some solid matchup options.
Jon Jay is 0-for-11 with eight strikeouts in his career against Carlos Marmol, and David Freese isn't much better at 1-for-7 with three strikeouts. Ronald Belisario has held Matt Holliday hitless in seven plate appearances. Carlos Beltran is 0-for-5 with a whiff against Kenley Jansen (in the regular season). Heck, even Edinson Volquez has held Yadier Molina in check, limiting him to three hits in 21 at-bats.
Volquez hasn't pitched since Sept. 26, and Marmol just made his postseason debut on Tuesday night. One can appreciate manager Don Mattinglhy's fear to use them in a crucial situation after three weeks of near-inactivity—and after years of being the butt end of jokes about pitchers with no control whatsoever. However, they wouldn't be on the Los Angeles roster if there was no intention of ever using them.
It's likely that Mattingly will ride Zack Greinke as deep into the game as possible, but if the margin is two or more runs either way after the sixth inning, there's a case to be made for turning the game over to the bullpen and keeping some bullets in Greinke's arm for a possible relief appearance if the series goes the distance.
Key for St. Louis: Get More Production from the 'Matts'
In the first three games of this series, Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday combined to go 3-for-33 with one run, no RBI and 10 strikeouts for the Cardinals. Against Zack Greinke in Game 1, the "Matts" went 0-for-9 with a walk and four strikeouts.
While Game 4 wasn't any more forgiving to Adams (0-for-5 with three strikeouts), Carpenter and Holliday combined for three hits and three RBI in carrying the offense to victory.
Kudos to the Dodgers pitching staff for keeping those guys almost completely out of the box scores for the first three games, but St. Louis is going to need a few RBI from them to win Game 5.
Carlos Beltran is a postseason hero, but there's only so much he can do if Pete Kozma, batting in the pitcher's spot, and Carpenter aren't getting on base in front of him, and Holliday and Adams aren't driving him in when he reaches base.
Adams had never faced Greinke prior to Game 1, but Carpenter and Holliday have gone a combined 9-for-27 with two home runs, two walks and two strikeouts in their careers against Greinke. It would help the Cardinals a lot if they could rediscover some of that success.