And just when things seemed to be going so well, too.
The Cardinals headed into game four of the NLCS last night up two games to one, with all the cards in their favor. They had stolen home field advantage from the Brewers thanks to a road win in game two, and a brilliant bullpen performance put them firmly in the driver's seat after game three. Four games to go, two still in Busch Stadium, and the Cards only needed to win two of those four to move on.
Unfortunately, rather than extend the advantage and place the figurative boot directly on Milwaukee's throat, the Cards came out last night and put together one of the more disappointing playoff performances I can ever recall seeing, and just like that most of their good work went up in smoke.
Now, after losing 4-2 to the Brewers and Randy Wolf
, the Cards find themselves in a very tough situation. They handed home field advantage right back to the best home team in all of baseball, and now face a game five I personally would classify as must-win. Going back to Miller Park
needing to win just one of two is doable. Needing to take both games there is a recipe for a Brewers' victory.
It's a three-game series now, and Milwaukee has home field. Both teams will throw their three best pitchers, with Zack Greinke and Jaime Garcia set to lock horns tonight in game five. Jaime pitching in St. Louis is the only real advantage the Cards have left in this series now, and if you held a gun to my head and demanded a prediction (which is really unnecessary, by the way; I'll talk about sports without the threat of murder), I'd have to say I would probably bet on the Brewers now.
- Kyle Lohse has turned himself into just a dynamite ten-out pitcher. That seems to be about the extent of how long you can depend on him, though, unfortunately, and only that long because it takes about twice through the order for the opposition to realize that, no, he really doesn't have any secret pitches he's holding back. Lohse wasn't terrible overall in 2011, but I'll not be at all disappointed when he and his $10 million a year contract have moved on down the road. Two playoff games in a row he's failed to pitch effectively past the fourth inning. I don't care how strong the Cards' bullpen looks right now; throwing your relievers for five or even six innings a night just isn't any way to win baseball games. Terrible.
- Speaking of terrible, Rafael Furcal has taken some of the uglier at-bats you're likely to see the last couple nights. His 0-for-5 night brought his NLCS average down to .167, and he's only drawn one walk to boot. Furcal has made some really outstanding plays with the glove, but his .211 OBP just isn't cutting it in the leadoff spot. Either he needs to start getting on base or Tony La Russa needs to figure out some other option to hit first.
- On the other hand, Allen Craig had a nice night at the plate, with a couple of hard-hit balls for outs and an opposite-field homer on a pitch I honestly don't know how he hit. I'm sure a right-handed pitcher on the mound tonight will mean Craig is back on the bench, but I really wish there were some way to get his bat into the lineup.
- Mitchell Boggs is going to be traded this offseason, and I'm okay with that. The Cards have a ton of right-handed relief pitching, and while Boggs certainly has great stuff, I just don't think he's nearly as trustworthy as some of the other options.
- Overall, it was just a brutal night for the Cardinal offense. I suppose it shouldn't be surprising, considering the kind of fits Randy Wolf has given this team in the past, but I honestly thought the Cards had moved past all that. Still, weak, pointless at-bats were the order of the night against Wolf, who threw his customary slop all night long and made the Redbird hitters look completely helpless. As disappointing as Kyle Lohse's performance on the mound was, the offense was easily the most disheartening aspect of the team. Getting shut down by a given pitcher is one thing; rolling over and dying is another entirely. Randy Wolf isn't a bad pitcher, by any means, but he in no way should ever look as good as the Cards made him look last night. Very disappointing outing by the Redbird bats, to say the least.
- John Axford's mustache pisses me off. With all apologies to the good folks at the American Mustache Institute, I'm thinking of sneaking into Axford's hotel room and just ripping it right off. Not shaving it off, ripping it off. Not sure why it bugs me, but it most definitely does. Grr.
- Actually, you know what? No apologies to the AMI. They moved 'Stache Bash 2011 to effing Chicago! Screw that.
The series is even, but it feels like the Cards have their backs against the wall. Miller Park looms large now as they cannot close the series out in St. Louis, and game five is absolutely critical. Nothing left to do now but cross our collective fingers and hope for the good Jaime and the offense to remember how it's worked for most of the past month.