By Ryan Witt
Wednesday, the St. Louis Cardinals took a 2-1 series lead in the NLDS versus the Washington Nationals with a dominant 8-0 win. Thursday, the Cardinals have an opportunity to put the series away. The Cardinals probably want to take advantage of the opportunity to win Thursday, as they currently have the momentum and the starting pitching matchup favors them. Should the Nationals win, the momentum would immediately shift back and the starting pitching matchup slightly favors the Nationals in a hypothetical Game Five. Here are the three keys to victory in game 4 of the NLDS.
#1 – Another Kozma
The only difference between game one Cardinals and Game Two and three Cardinals was their ability to hit with men in scoring positions. In Game One the Cardinals stranded 10 men on base including scoring no run in the seventh inning despite having the bases loaded with nobody out. In contrast, Wednesday Pete Kozma hit a three-run home run with men on base to give the Cardinals a 4-0 from which they never looked back.
The Cardinals will probably be able to get men on base today. Nationals starter Ross Detwiller has a high walk rate of 2.85 BB per 9 IP. When they do get men on base, someone need to have someone step up to drive them in. Wednesday, that man was Kozma, today another hitter needs to step up in a key situation in order for the Cardinals to win. Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina are due for one of their dominant offensive performances, and there would be no better day to produce than Thursday.
#2 – Another Carpenter
So far the Nationals starting pitching has been disappointing to say the least. After coming into the series with what was widely regarded as the best starting pitching staff in the National League, every Nationals’ starter has struggled. At some point the Nationals will return to their quality starting pitching norm, and if that day is today the Cardinals will need a quality start of their own from Kyle Lohse.
Nationals starter Ross Detwiller has an excellent ERA (3.40) and his home ERA (2.59) is much better than his road ERA (4.38). If Detwiller performs like his season statistics suggest, this game will be much closer than yesterday’s contest. Kyle Lohse has even better overall (2.83) but is worse on the road (3.41) than at home (2.33). For Lohse good command and control will be a must, as he does not have the same kind of pure pitching stuff as Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, or even Jaime Garcia.
#3 – A Lockdown Bullpen
If Game Four is a close game late, as can be expected given the starting pitching matchup, the game may very well come down to the bullpens. In a close game, the Cardinals bullpen will need to continue to throw up zeros as they have in Games Two and Three. If the Cardinals have a small lead Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs, and Jason Motte will be relied upon. If the series sees its first extra-inning game, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, and Shelby Miller will need to step up big. The Nationals are, quite literally, playing for their playoff lives. If the Nationals are tied or trailing by a small margin late they can be expected to pull out all the stops in an effort to make it to one more game.
Ryan Witt is a freelance writer covering all things St. Louis Cardinals. His work can be found on Examiner.com.