The NLDS contest between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals is now split 1-1 with the Cardinals 12-4 victory last night. Below are five observations from game one and two as the two teams prepare for a crucial game three tomorrow.
Observation #1 – The Cardinals are having no problem getting men on base
In both games the Cardinals were able to work walks and manufacture hits to get men on base. The only difference between Game One and Game Two was that the Cardinals were able to come up with hits with men in runners scoring position in the second contest. It is often said that good pitching beats good hitting in baseball. The Nationals came into the series with arguably the best starting pitching staff in the Major Leagues. Still, the Cardinals scored 12 runs yesterday and probably should have scored much more than two runs on Sunday.
Observation #2 – Mike Matheny will pull struggling pitchers quickly
Following Tony La Russa’s example from last year, manager Mike Matheny is showing a willingness to quickly abandon a starter or reliever who appears to be struggling. Yesterday, Matheny pulled Jaime Garcia after only two innings. Relievers Lance Lynn and Mitchell Boggs were also pulled once they got into tough jams. Last yea,r La Russa was famous for seemingly going through the entire pitching staff in order to complete a game. To La Russa’s credit, the strategy worked, and Matheny may be trying to reap the same rewards.
Observation #3 – The Nationals are suffering from their postseason inexperience
Starters Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman both were known for excellent control going into the NLDS, but both struggled mightily in their starts with walks. Gonzalez later admitted that Game One was moving very fast for him, and Zimmerman surely experienced some of the same nerves.
And the inexperience is not merely with the pitchers. Yesterday, Bryce Harper was overanxious in trying to go to third when Matt Holliday bounced a ball back to the infield. Daniel Descalso rushed to field Holliday’s throw and gunned down Harper at third. The out essentially extinguished the rally the Nationals had going.
Observation #4 – Both teams are due for a good pitchers duel
Game One was a relatively low scoring game, but both starting pitchers struggled at times. For the big name pitchers on both staff, the NLDS has yet to see the kind of pitching duel fans saw between Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter in 2011. At some point good pitching will best the hitters from both clubs, perhaps tomorrow when Chris Carpenter and Edwin Jackson face off for game four.
Observation #5 – Game three is crucial for both clubs
Every game matters of course, but with the current split, Game Three takes on even more importance for both clubs. If the Cardinals lose, they will then have to find a way to win two games, on the road, against the team with the best regular season record in Major League Baseball, while facing quality starters Ross Detwiller and Gio Gonzalez in Game Four and Five.
Conversely, if the Nationals lose Game Three, they then will face Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright in Game Four and Five. Given how the Cardinals have been able to score runs in Games One and Two, it is hard to imagine the Nationals defeating both Lohse and Wainwright even if they are at home.
Ryan Witt is a freelance writer covering all things St. Louis Cardinals. His work can be found on Examiner.com.