After dropping the first two games of the NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Los Angeles Dodgers managed to break through with an exciting Game 3 victory in front of their hometown fans. Riding the dominant left-arm of starting pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu, the Dodgers produced a few explosive runs while keeping the St. Louis Cardinals' bats quiet all night long. Especially impressive was the tenacious attitude L.A. brought to a game that featured arguably St. Louis' best pitcher in Adam Wainwright. By delivering the Cy Young hopeful his first loss of the postseason, the Dodgers pulled within a game of tying the series.
With Game 4 tonight, the Dodgers have a chance to maintain their momentum, and keep their World Series hopes alive. In order to do so, they'll need some huge performances from some of their core players.
On the flip side, the Cardinals look to extinguish the flames of L.A.'s suddenly-hot bats. After leaving four men on base, St. Louis knows it needs to capitalize when given the opportunity. If they can get a strong outing from Lance Lynn, their deep lineup has a chance to swing momentum and title hopes back to their side.
Let's take a look at a few of the potential core performers in tonight's game.
The 26 year-old right-hander needs to set the tone early if his team has a chance to steal one on the road. After starting the season with a 10-1 record, Lynn limped to the finish line with a 15-10 overall posting. However, he still managed to keep his ERA below 4.00, and came awfully close to recording 200 strikeouts. If he can channel his early-season form tonight and keep the Dodgers dangerous bats muted, the Cardinals will have a fighting chance.
The veteran outfielder has struggled at the plate in this Championship Series. After going 6-20 in the NLDS against Pittsburgh, Holliday is yet to record a hit in 12 at-bats against Los Angeles. While that may be more of a reflection on the stellar pitching this series has showcased, Holliday will need to find a way to break through against Ricky Nolasco (if Nolasco does indeed get the nod for Game 4). With 22 regular season home runs, and a .300 average, Holliday certainly has the ability. The question is does he have the timing to produce a clutch core performance in the postseason?
After playing the hero role with a 13th inning hit to win Game 1, Beltran's bat has gone cold. The 36-year-old outfielder has been around long enough to know that momentum is a fickle thing, but can play a key role in the postseason. The 16 year veteran would love nothing more than a crack at a World Series title, and he has the ability to get his team there. If Beltran can find a way to deliver a couple big hits tonight, he can quiet the L.A. crowd and get his team back on track.
After suffering back-to-back losses with their two aces on the mound, the Dodgers look to the back-end of their rotation for some huge starts. While Nolasco was also penciled in for Game 4 of the NLDS, he eventually ceded to Clayton Kershaw. However, as of now it looks as though the midseason acquisition will get the nod. Nolasco has had an inconsistent 2013, but at times has shown glimpses of dominance. If he can keep calm on the mound, and battle through the deep St. Louis lineup, his teammates have the ability to get him a lead in the game.
The rookie sensation had quite a Game 3 last night. Coming into the matchup with an 0-10 mark, the 22 year-old Cuban electrified the crowd with a 2-for-3 performance, including an opposite field hit that Puig was convinced was a home run. Unfortunately, the right fielder had to settle for an RBI triple on the play, but his ability and exuberance were both clearly on display. If the ROY hopeful can contain himself, and channel some of that energy into his at-bats, he could be the spark-plug the Dodgers need to get over this Cardinals hurdle.
After sitting out Game 2 with a broken rib, Hanley re-entered the postseason picture in a big way. Going 2-for-4 with a timely eighth inning RBI, the star shortstop proved once again his value to an already-loaded Dodgers lineup. Arguably the team's MVP during their resurgent run to first place in the NL West, Ramirez has the ability to carry his team deep into the postseason. If he can help even the series with another big game tonight, don't be surprised to see his name race to the top of the NLCS MVP ballot as well.