Dodgers Have Fighting Chance Despite Hostile Road Environment
The urge will be resisted here to make any puns about a certain classic film, but the National League Championship Series is, in fact, headed back to St. Louis.
With their 6-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers kept their season alive for at least one more game. If they're going to do that again on Friday, when this matchup returns to where it started, the Dodgers will have a tough task.
Not only does L.A. have to get past hotshot rookie right-hander Michael Wacha, who fired 6.2 shutout innings with eight strikeouts to win Game 2, but the club also will have to take two straight at Busch Stadium to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1988.
That's not easy, as ESPN's Stats & Information Twitter feed points out:
The Cardinals registered a 54-27 record at home during the season, which was good for second best in baseball. They also allowed only 3.4 runs per game at Busch Stadium—third best in Major League Baseball—compared to 4.0 on the road.
Looking ahead to the challenge for Dodgers: Cardinals haven't lost consecutive home games since dropping 4 straight, August 7-10— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 17, 2013
Hey, we said it wouldn't be easy.
The Dodgers, though, are perhaps somewhat surprisingly well-equipped to handle this scenario. Their 15-game road winning streak from July 7 to Aug. 5 was a franchise-best and the third longest in MLB history.
Catcher A.J. Ellis, who hit one of L.A.'s four homers in Game 5, said during the streak, per USA Today, "I think we kind of thrive on that us-against-the-stadium-type mentality, where we really come together as a ballclub. It really brings out the best in ourselves."
Will the Dodgers' success on the road help them force a Game 7?
All of that road winning helped the Dodgers tie the Texas Rangers for the best record away from home at 45-36.
It's also worth noting that the Dodgers were a much better offensive club away from pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, scoring 4.5 runs per game—a full run higher than they did at home, where they ranked fourth worst in baseball.
So while the Cardinals pitch better at home, the Dodgers also hit better on the road.
Meanwhile, L.A. won three of four at Busch during the season, with the lone loss being the one that ended the 15-game streak. And this might fall into the for-what-it's-worth category, but that Aug. 6 loss was charged to—that's right—Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw, of course, will be on the mound for the Dodgers in St. Louis on Friday.
The NL Cy Young favorite shouldn't have a problem putting that blemish aside, considering he threw well on that day (6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 5 K:2 BB) and has continued to in October. Through his first three postseason starts this year, the left-hander has tossed 19 innings of eight-hit, one-earned-run ball with 23 strikeouts against just five walks.
Kershaw, you'll remember, was the loser in Game 2 of this series, but he actually didn't give up a single earned run over six innings in St. Louis. The lone unearned run came when Jon Jay hit a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning after a passed ball charged to A.J. Ellis allowed David Freese to advance to third base with one out.
The Dodgers are still down, 3-2, and only one loss from elimination as they head back to St. Louis, where they fell in the first two games of this series that were both decided by one run. But they also were MLB's top road team this season, and they have the best pitcher on the planet going for them in Game 6.
The way that this incredibly tight NLCS has played out—with the Cardinals having scored 12 runs and the Dodgers 13—would it be any surprise if we reach a Game 7?
It's a little premature to look beyond Friday's Game 6 just yet, but if the Dodgers do force a winner-take-all contest on Saturday, it would bring another rematch. That would be a repeat of Game 3's pitching matchup, in which rookie left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu's seven scoreless frames helped L.A. get past Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright.
Ryu likely would have plenty of help, too, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today mentions:
And manager Don Mattingly has another clutch right-hander to turn to out of the bullpen:
The #Dodgers have bullpen going, and Zack Greinke looks done for the day. He could be used in relief if there's a Game 7.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) October 16, 2013
Plus, despite their current precarious situation, the Dodgers can at least look to the Cardinals' postseason past for some hope:
Brian Wilson: 17 2/3 career IP in postseason, 0 ER— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 16, 2013
That's right. Just last October, St. Louis lost its 3-1 lead in the NLCS against another team from California, as the eventual champion Giants stormed back to win in seven (albeit in San Francisco).
Cardinals: 0-7 in LCS play after taking a 3-games-to-1 lead in series (0-3 in 1996, 0-3 in 2012, 0-1 in 2013)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 16, 2013
Does that mean the same thing will happen all over again? No. But it doesn't mean it won't, either.
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