2011 NLCS: Full Breakdown and Analysis of Cardinals vs. Brewers Game 6

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst IOctober 15, 2011

2011 NLCS: Full Breakdown and Analysis of Cardinals vs. Brewers Game 6

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    Albert Pujols reached base three times, Jaime Garcia fanned five without a walk in nearly five innings and the St. Louis Cardinals blew the game open late to take a 3-2 lead in the NLCS over the Milwaukee Brewers.

    The series now heads back to Milwaukee, where Game 6 will take place Sunday at Miller Park.

    Ryan Braun and the Brewers will not go quietly. Manager Ron Roenicke's team won 57 of its 81 regular-season home games and is 4-1 at home thus far in the playoffs.

    It does seem, though, that St. Louis's advantage in depth is beginning to wear down Milwaukee. Game 6 will be pivotal because the Brewers are desperate to get Yovani Gallardo to the mound for Game 7, and if nothing else, the Cardinals would love to have Chris Carpenter ready to go in Game 1 of the World Series. 

    They have to get there first. Read on for a look at Game 6.

Edwin Jackson Is on the Mound for St. Louis

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    Entering the postseason on a roll and with plenty to gain in free agency in November, Edwin Jackson has been good but not great thus far.

    In two starts, he has won once and pitched recorded a no-decision. He has a 3.48 ERA in 10.1 innings, having struck out seven and (perhaps thanks to impatient opponents) walked only two.

    Jackson now gets the ball with the lights brighter than they have been all season, and a strong performance could make a million-dollar difference for him this winter.

    He must be wary of Prince Fielder, as Jackson is very susceptible to left-handed sluggers, but overall, this is a good matchup for Jackson. He needs to not be afraid to run through the bottom of the Brewers' batting order with pure heat, then focus on breaking pitches in order to retire Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and the team's other right-handed hitters.

    Tony La Russa has had a quick hook with his starters in this series, but with a Game 7 on which to fall back, he may be inclined to ask a bit more of Jackson and allow his weary bullpen to recover a bit. 

Milwaukee Turns to Shaun Marcum Again

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    Whereas Jackson was the hardest-throwing starter in the National League in 2011, Marcum was among its most tepid.

    He succeeded most of the year on the basis of his excellent command and a true five-pitch mix. After bearing the heaviest workload of his career, Marcum has done in September and October what many non-power pitchers do: He first stuttered, then stumbled and then nearly collapsed.

    Marcum had an ominous 6.66 ERA over his final four starts of the regular season and he has nearly doubled that figure in two playoff starts so far.

    Miller Park does not offer refuge to Marcum as it does for so many Brewers. In 17 home starts, Marcum had an ERA over double his road number in the regular campaign. He allowed six more home runs at home than on the road in just 5.2 more innings.

    Miller Park is simply not a place to make mistakes or pitch on the margins, and Marcum might not last more than four innings even if he pitches well Sunday.

How Hurt Is Rickie Weeks?

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    Rickie Weeks is tough, and given that Craig Counsell lurks as the team's best alternative, it's as important as it is gutsy that Weeks remains in their lineup.

    Sooner or later, though, he must produce on a level commensurate with the supporting role he accepted in the Braun and Fielder Show.

    Weeks has lunged in the batter's box, seemingly unwilling to put undue pressure on the left ankle problem that cost him six weeks of the season.

    He isn't operating at full strength on the field either, and unless he can find a way to fully engage and become an impact player, Weeks might not be able to help Milwaukee execute this thread-the-needle comeback.

Out of the Cardinals Bullpen

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    Five different Cardinal relievers already have at least three innings pitched in this series, and one other (Marc Rzepczynski) has appeared in four games as a specialist.

    Tony La Russa has unabashedly ridden his bullpen to success even on nights where the Cardinals fell behind early. It has taken no toll at all yet as the unit has been perfect, but at some point Sunday, La Russa will need to choose between allowing Jackson to get two extra outs and calling upon Rzepczynski or Lance Lynn.

    if he continues to go the well, he may find it dry at a dangerously inopportune time.

Out of the Brewers Bullpen

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    In utterly the opposite position when it comes to the relief corps, the Brewers have had just two relievers (long men, at that) throw three innings in this series.

    They also have not had any success with Kameron Loe and Marco Estrada getting knocked around.

    The Brewers' group is not nearly as deep as that of the Cardinals, but Ron Roenicke will empty the bullpen bench if necessary in Game 6, knowing Yovani Gallardo is on tap for Game 7 if need be.

    In terms of pitching, at least, Sunday's contest will be a battle of attrition and of something having to give.

Where Is 'Tony Plush?'

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    One part of a major narrative entering this series was the scuffle between Nyjer Morgan and Chris Carpenter in September, and many made Morgan out to be a central figure in terms of both production and emotion for Milwaukee this season.

    Instead, the man who calls himself "Tony Plush" has all but disappeared.

    Roenicke's inexplicable, sudden conversion to the Church of Carlos Gomez's Tools has partially shelved Morgan, but Morgan also missed a pair of key fly balls in the early games of the series.

    He needs to step up and actually make a play over the next nine innings of baseball if the Brewers are going to force a Game 7.

Outs in the Middle of These Batting Orders Went Extinct or Something

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    Albert Pujols, David Freese and Matt Holliday of the Cardinals, and Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder of the Brewers.

    In this series, these players have batted a total of 104 times. They have 38 hits, including 13 doubles and five home runs. Maybe most impressive, though, is this: They have reached base 52 times between them, or precisely half of the times they have come to the plate.

    That's ridiculous.

    It reflects both their own prowess at the plate and each manager's reticence to be beaten by them. Indeed, both La Russa and Roenicke are intruding and hurting their own pitchers by swapping the number of walks they have swapped in this series.

    It's hard to fault them, though, because any big homer could spin the series right now.

A Battle of the Table-Setters

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    Since neither manager is trying to get out the big boppers right now, they have to emphasize keeping runners off base ahead of those players.

    Both pitching staffs have actually been relatively adept at that, though the Cards have been able to occasionally fill the bases with Allen Craig and/or Jon Jay.

    Five games in, there need be no more platooning, waffling or pretense: Jerry Hairston Jr. belongs in the second slot for Milwaukee at all times and Yadier Molina should be bumped up ahead of the big guys instead of Rafael Furcal.

    Whichever manager is more willing to make these adjustments gets an edge heading into Game 6.

Whose Team Is This?

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    The Brewers have been Prince Fielder's team ever since the hefty, ferrous first baseman led them to the playoffs in 2008.

    This season, though, that dynamic changed.

    Ryan Braun has emerged not only as a superstar performer, but as a surprisingly thoughtful and well-spoken student of the game. He has a jovial sense of purpose the Brewers have adopted as their team philosophy.

    Braun hit .351 at Miller Park this season. He will be the one who collects the huge hit for Milwaukee on Sunday.

Prediction: Brewers Win

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    The Cardinals would love to shut the door Sunday and cruise into the World Series with Carpenter fresh and some time to rest their bullpen.

    At the same time, Tony La Russa is an expert manager of a crucial but underrated playoff strategy: playing possum. St. Louis needs to give some key relievers a night off in order to avoid collapse in Game 7 and Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday remain injured.

    La Russa might therefore be looking at this as a game in which getting healthy and preparing for all contingencies outweighs the value of going for the jugular. The Cards will not roll over, of course, but expect La Russa's hook to come a bit slower Sunday, and Berkman might slide back to the bench so he can get two full days of rest.

    The Brewers will take advantage and force a seventh contest.