NLDS Game One Recap: Dodgers 5, Cardinals 3

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Okay, so it wasn't quite the start the Cardinals were hoping for. 

Okay, so maybe that isn't quite strong enough. 
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Going into last night's game, the Cardinals should have been confident. Hell, even I was confident, and I am never, ever, ever confident when it comes to October baseball. The 'Birds were facing a team they had beaten like a rented drum all season long, with their ace on the mound squaring off against a very nice, but also very beatable journeyman hurler in Randy Wolf

So how is it the Cards today now find themselves down one games to none, and in a must-win situation heading into today's afternoon contest in LA? To be honest, it's a little tough to imagine. After all, even the guys in Dodgertown fully expected to get smacked around by the Cardinals and Chris Carpenter's T-1000 act. Sadly, that isn't what happened. 

Two words happened, and I'll tell you what they are. 
I'll bet you thought I was going to say Chris Carpenter, didn't you? You thought I was going to go after Carp for his substandard performance on the biggest stage of all, when the team needed him most. Well, I could do that, but it wouldn't really be true. Sure, Carpenter looked at times last night like a man trying to play pin the tail on the donkey with a Kalashnikov. But no, Chris Carpenter did the very best job he possibly could with what he had last night. Even God took one day off. 

No, the two words that fucked the Cardinals are the same two words that have been fucking them, at least off and on, for most of the season. The offense. 

The problem wasn't Carpenter struggling to find the strike zone. It didn't help, but it wasn't the problem. It wasn't even Matt Kemp (I told you he was dangerous), depositing a Carpenter offering in the bleachers to take an early lead and give his own pitcher the lead. The problem was having the bases loaded in the first inning off a Dodger pitcher who was clearly laboring with nobody out and getting one lousy, stinking run out of it. The problem was letting Randy Wolf off the hook time and time again when the Cards put men on early in an inning, then failed to capitalise and bring those all-important runs home. 

-- I don't ever, ever, ever, ever, ever want to see Rick Ankiel at the bat with the game on the line again. I've seen some truly atrocious ABs in my life, but the one he took last night to end the game was a true masterpiece of suck. Two of the fattest, hangingest sliders you've ever seen in your life, fouled off, then a fastball right down the middle, and Dick lets it go without so much as a courtesy wave. Of all the pitches he actually swings at, that's the one he lets go?! I've seen Rick Ankiel strike out swinging on two pitches before. I've seen him swing at a changeup and corkscrew himself into the ground like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I've seen him swing and miss during an intentional walk. I've seen him foul tip a pickoff throw. To second base. But that fastball down the middle, that's the one he just watches as it goes by? Jonathan Broxton threw three very hittable pitches during that last at-bat, and once again, the Cardinal hitter -- Ankiel, in this case -- let the pitcher off the hook. (And yes, I'm fully aware the fastball in question was clocked at 100 mph, and I admit that's probably very tough to catch up to. It was still one of the most hittable fastballs Broxton threw to anyone.) 

-- I actually didn't have a problem with Tony La Russa pinch-hitting for Colby Rasmus against Hong Chih Kuo. Normally that's just the sort of move I would be livid about, downgrading multiple positions on the field, but in this case I thought it was defensible. Kuo is damned near untouchable against left-handed hitters, and while Rasmus certainly did a nice job against Randy Wolf (yay Colby!), the situation was such I could actually understand the move. I hated to see Rasmus out of the game, because I think the team is significantly better with him on the team, but I also wasn't screaming at the television and frothing at the mouth. 

Unfortunately, what I'm not so okay with is the plate appearance which followed, that of Troy Glaus flailing weakly at Kuo's fastball. Watching that at-bat, I said to myself, "If he throws him a fastball below the navel, he's a damned fool." Well, the first one was lower, but after that, it was strictly the high hard stuff. And why not? Troy Glaus has never been a guy with a particularly quick bat, the sort who's going to go up there and yank 96 at the letters over the wall. Now, a slider down in the zone, that he'll lose in a hurry, but fastballs up? Not so much. Plus, look at the pitching pattern teams established to Scott Rolen in the 2006 playoffs. It was well known Rolen was having a tough time catching up to pitches up in the zone because of his bad shoulder, so teams threw him high heaters with impunity and Scott struggled to do anything with it. It wasn't until the home run Rolen hit off Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the World Series that he proved he could still hit the high fastball, and the Tigers had to adjust their pitching pattern accordingly. 

In Glaus' case, though, I'm not sure I see anything there which really indicates to me he's going to suddenly turn it around and become a threat off the bench for the Cardinals. He looked bad the last month of the season to me; I thought his bat looked slow and his body a little soft. But now, simply because of the magic of postseasons past and veteranness he's going to turn it around? Blech. I just don't think so, and I question his spot on the roster at all. Let's face it: the Cardinals bench this year is one of the worst I think I can honestly ever remember. I just hope it isn't too very much of a burden to overcome.  

-- Robot umps, please. That's all I'm going to say. These games are too important not to make sure the calls are right. Or at least fucking instant replay. Fine, not on balls and strikes. But at least, oh, nevermind. 

-- I will say this for our boys in red: they took some great at-bats early in the game. They worked the count beautifully against Wolf when he was struggling to get his control ironed out and managed to get into the Dodger bullpen early. Of course, once there, the offense sputtered, but the fact Joe Torre had to use so many relievers in game one of the series gives me some hope. Sometimes even a five game series is won by attrition. 

-- Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday have to come up bigger in key spots. I know it's not too very popular to call out the superstar the franchise is built around or the Lego man the Cardinals are hoping to retain after the season, but that's what I'm doing. The Dodgers walked Albert intentionally in the first inning -- the first, for fuck's sake! -- last night to load the bases for Holliday. And what does the Cardinals' biggest trade acquisition in years do? Promptly strikes out looking. Not so good. 

And Albert Pujols' plate appearance in the eighth inning off Broxton? Ugh. Look, Albert, all you had to do was stand there and not swing. Seriously. He would have walked you. I swear. I know you think you had to try and do something magical there, but you didn't. All you had to do was not swing at a fastball four inches off the ground and Holliday comes up with two men on a chance to tie the game with one swing. These are the guys getting paid the big bucks to produce; the Cardinals need better out of them than what they got. That being said, I fully expect Dodger Stadium to be consumed today by a giant fireball of rage emitted by a certain hitter who adds the letter G to an awful lot of his words. 

-- I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I just don't like this bullpen. You look at what the Dodgers have in their 'pen, then look at what the Cardinals have, and I admit I'm left feeling a bit like the other guys in those Enzyte commercials where creepy, smiling Bob is grilling an enormous kielbasa right in front of them. The Dodgers have guys up and down their bullpen that can come in and strike you the fuck out. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have lots of Dave Duncan pitchers. Lost of contact, plenty of grounders, pitching to contact, you know the drill. And guess what? In a critical situation late in the game, sometimes you need a strikeout. That's all there is to it. 

Jason Motte is really the only major strikeout threat the Cards have in the bullpen, and he certainly isn't the first option in a high leverage situation. Trever Miller is still awesome, but Miller is what he is. He's going to get that tough lefty for you, yes, but you don't want to count on him for any more than that. 

-- Speaking of relievers, I would like to propose a new nickname for Kyle McClellan: The Boy Who Fell to Earth. That is all. 

-- Also speaking of relievers, I really wish Mitchell Boggs could figure out how to just throw a fucking strike, because he may have had the most impressive stuff of any pitcher in that game last night. Broxton has him by a couple mph on the fastball, but Boggs looks like he's throwing a goddamn wiffle ball up there at 96. Of course, at one point his pitch count was 12 - 2 strikes, 10 balls, so that somewhat mitigates just how effective he can actually be. 

-- Still, at the end of the day, it was only one game. The problem, of course, is it was probably the best pitching matchup the Cardinals were going to get in this series, but still, just one game. If Adam Wainwright can go out there and toss some zeroes on the board early against the Dodgers and the Cards can wait out Clayton Kershaw until he forces himself out of the game with a pitch count of 130 in the fourth inning, the series heads back to Busch Stadium tied and we all feel just fine. If not, well, watching playoff baseball without the burden of a rooting interest isn't always the worst thing in the world, I suppose.

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