Yasiel Puig holds the Dodgers' NLCS future in his hands.
The Los Angeles Dodgers looked finished after a depressing performance in Game 2 against the St. Louis Cardinals, but after a big win in Game 3, a World Series trip is a real possibility—if some things go right.
Despite batting just .134 for the series, the Cardinals have looked unstoppable at times.
They’ve gotten a few clutch hits, but it’s their starting pitching that’s been dominant, whether it was Joe Kelly or Michael Wacha.
But the Dodgers stayed alive last night in an impressive 3-0 win, and they’ll need some of the trends they established last night to continue.
The Cardinals have been the beneficiaries of some exquisite pitching performances throughout the playoffs, and the Dodgers will need to match them on the mound to win the NLCS.
In the first two games, it’s not as if Los Angeles’ pitchers were terrible.
After all, Clayton Kershaw struck out five batters and didn’t allow an earned run in the first game, while Zack Greinke recorded a whopping 10 strikeouts over eight innings.
But both had their shortcomings; Kershaw put a strain on the bullpen by only throwing for six innings, while Greinke allowed two runs.
It may seem like an impossible standard, but the Dodgers need to expect perfection from the pitching staff, since that’s pretty much what St. Louis has gotten from theirs.
Just look at last night as an example.
Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched seven innings of shutout baseball, and even though Adam Wainwright had a good game with five strikeouts over seven innings, it wasn’t quite enough.
Game 4 represents a particularly interesting quandary for the Dodgers and manager Don Mattingly. Ricky Nolasco is slated to start, but is perfection a reasonable goal for a player with a career 4.37 ERA?
Grantland’s Jonah Keri perfectly explains the Dodgers’ dilemma.
As of now, the Dodgers are saying they'll start Ricky Nolasco in Game 4, thereby going with the weakest of their four starters, a right-hander who projects as a favorable matchup against the Cardinals' righty-mashing lineup. Whether it's Nolasco, or Zack Greinke on short rest, the Dodgers likely come in as either an even-odds bet or possibly slight underdogs tonight.
No matter who ends up taking the mound, they’ll have quite the high bar to meet.
The bullpen has been up to the challenge, as it has only allowed four hits total in the series, and it’ll be up to the starters to match that standard.
Injured Player Production
Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez didn’t deliver the biggest offensive performance in Game 3, but it was good enough for a win.
The pair is dealing with some tough injuries at the moment—Ethier has a fractured ankle, while Ramirez has a broken rib.
But their contributions to the team extend beyond simply some big hits.
Instead, their willingness to battle through injuries served as inspiration, as the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke explains.
They spent the game beating back obvious, wearying pain. It stifled them, but it didn't stop them, and in the end, they not only played through it, they shined through it.
While they were hobbled, they still had some important trips to the plate.
Ramirez had two hits, including a pop up to advance Mark Ellis and help him score the game’s first run, while Ethier went hitless, yet recorded a grounder that moved Adrian Gonzalez to third in the fourth inning.
But those hits were undoubtedly a struggle to get. Ramirez’s knocks were both fluky and could’ve been caught by more capable defenders.
Yet, if they can keep battling and even deliver the occasional spark to the offense, then the Dodgers will have enough to win the series.
Ramirez in particular has a huge effect on the team’s performance, as ESPN Stats & Info explains.
Dodgers with Hanley Ramirez in lineup this season-- 54-28 (including playoffs). When he doesn't start, they are 41-45— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 15, 2013
But as important as the injured duo is, there’s one star that is absolutely crucial for the Dodgers.
Yasiel Puig’s bat has carried the Dodgers since he was called up to the majors, so it’s no surprise that the squad has struggled when he has.
After striking out in his first at bat in Game 3, Puig was 0-for-11 in the series with seven strikeouts.
That all changed with this huge triple in the fourth inning.
Puig earned some more criticism from baseball traditionalists for the way he celebrated the hit, but he’s not wrong to react strongly to the hit.
The Cuban import went 2-for-3 in the game, and if he can keep leading the team with a combination of offensive production and youthful exuberance, they can win this NLCS.
If he regresses to his old ineptitude, the Dodgers will be forced to lean on its injured stars or Adrian Gonzalaz, who broke out of his own 1-for-17 slump in this game.
But if he stays potent in the middle of the lineup, Los Angeles has a chance.
Make no mistake, even with the series at 2-1 the Dodgers still have an uphill climb to go the World Series.
Lance Lynn is a formidable starter to face in Game 4, considering he hasn’t had to pitch since October 7.
But if they can nail this combination of perfect pitching and an offense that’s just good enough with the help of Ramirez, Ethier and Puig, they can edge the Cards.
It might still be a long shot, but the Dodgers are a dangerous team, and they’ll be out to prove it in Game 4.