Tonight the St. Louis Cardinals’ will try to clinch the National League Pennant with a victory against the Giants in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. In order to win, the Cardinals will have to avoid some of the mistakes they made in Game 5, while also producing at the plate in key situations. So with no further delay, here are the three keys to a Cardinal victory that would send them to the World Series.
Quality Starting Pitching
Anything is possible, but the statistics suggest that if the Cardinals win tomorrow it will be in a low scoring game. Giants’ starter Ryan Vogelsong has a 3.37 ERA and an even better 2.86 ERA when pitching at home. Vogelsong only allowed one earned run in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Cardinals. Finally, the Giants bullpen has been very good against the Cardinals in the closer games.
So if the Cardinals are to win they will probably need Chris Carpenter to at least provide a quality start, if not something better. Carpenter showed his big game capability last year in his showdown with Roy Halladay in the NLCS. It may take a similar performance in the NLCS to defeat Vogelsong. The question is if Carpenter has his stuff and command just a few months removed from a major surgery that involved removing one of his ribs to fix a nerve issue.
A Big Hit
The Cardinals opportunities to score will probably be very few in Game 6, so when they do have runners on base the team will need someone to produce a big hit. In the NLDS Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso came up big in key moments. In the NLCS, it may be time for the Cardinals’ bigger hitters like Matt Holliday and Allen Craig to produce.
The Cardinals have the highest on-base-percentage in Major League Baseball, and has produced baserunners in every game of NLCS. The difference between Games 1 and 4, when the Cardinals produced 14 runs, and Games 2, 3, and 5, when they only produced four runs total, was simply hitting with runners in scoring position.
For example, in game 5 the Cardinals squandered a key opportunity in the second inning against Giants starter Barry Zito when they had runners on second and third with no one out. Zito struck out Daniel Descalso, then walked Pete Kozma before getting starter Lance Lynn to ground into a double play. Those same type of opportunities cannot be lost in Game 6.
Better Defensive Play
The Cardinals offense is superior to the Giants defense on paper, but in Game 5 poor defensively play by the Cardinals gave the Giants offense the boost they needed. In top of the fourth inning last Friday Lance Lynn had runners on second first and second with one out when Hunter Pence hit a weak groundball back to Lynn. Lynn threw to second but the ball hit the bag and bounced into center field. The Giants ended up scoring four runs in the inning, all unearned.
If Game 6 is close, as the pitching matchup suggests it will be, the Cardinals cannot afford to give the Giants offense extra outs as they did in Game 5.
Ryan Witt is a freelance writer covering all things St. Louis Cardinals. His work can be found on Examiner.com.