Monday night the St. Louis Cardinals’ season came to a dreadful end with a 0-9 loss to the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the NLCS. The loss was particularly depressing since the Cardinals held what was, at the time, a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 game lead in the NLCS heading into Game 5. Now that they are bound for home on an “unhappy flight,” the Cardinals’ and their fans can begin to analyze what went wrong.
The Cardinals’ pitching certainly struggled in the last three games, but even if the Cardinals starters had a 1.50 ERA over the last three games the team still would have lost the series. Consider the following harsh facts about the dismal Cardinals’ offense:
- The Cardinals were held to just one run in the final three games
- Excluding Games 1 and 4, the Cardinals offense scored just 5 runs in the other five games of the NLCS.
- Cardinals’ hitters struck out 27 times in the final three games.
- The middle of the Cardinals lineup was particularly pitiful, with Matt Holliday and Allen Craig both posting an OBP and SLUG below .200.
- When the Cardinals did get men on base, they failed to deliver key hits, highlighted by being 0 for 11 with men in scoring position in the decisive Game 7.
That kind of dreadful offensive performance is bad for any team, but particularly disheartening for a club with as much offensive talent as the Cardinals. The team struggled with offensive droughts all year, and one of those droughts ended up costing them a trip to the World Series over the last three days.
The Cardinals’ starting pitchers are not strikeout machines, which means they need the defense behind to play well when the ball is put in play. The Cardinals’ defense let the pitchers down in Games 5 through 7 of the NLCS, and it cost them dearly.
In Game 5 the big error came in the fourth inning when Lance Lynn, perhaps distracted by the fact that Pete Kozma was late in covering second base, threw the ball into the center field when attempting to get a force out on a routine groundout. Four runs would score in the inning, and of the five runs the Giants scored in the game, only one of those runs were earned.
In Game 6 Chris Carpenter also threw the ball into the outfield when Allen Craig was late getting back to the bag on a groundout. Of the six runs the Giants scored in Game 6, only three of those runs were earned.
All of the runs from Game 7 were earned, but anyone who watched the game saw a defensive mess from the Cardinals. Pete Kozma can be excused on Hunter Pence’s line drive single since a slow-motion replay showed Pence hit the ball three times with one swing which created extreme spin. But Kozma made another error in the game on a routine ground ball and Jon Jay later made an error that allowed all runners to advance another base.
And it was not only errors that cost the Cardinals. On multiple occasions Cardinals infielders had an opportunity to throw a runner out at home plate only to miss their grip on the ball and be forced to take the easy out instead.
While the Cardinals were giving the Giants extra out, the Giants fielders were making stellar plays behind their pitchers. With the lack offense, the Cardinals could ill-afford to be giving the Giants extra runs.
Starting Pitching Yields Early Leads to the Giants
Finally, the starting pitching cannot be entirely excused of their responsibility. Chris Carpenter deserves all the credit in the world for coming back from a major surgery so early, but Carpenter clearly did not have his stuff in the two games of the NLCS he pitched and it showed with his 4.50 ERA that would have been higher if not for his own error in Game 6. Lance Lynn gave up big run innings in two of his starts, and would have lost both of his games if not for the six runs the Cardinals scored in Game 1. Finally, Kyle Lohse had perhaps his worst game of the season at the wrong time, yielding six hits, one walk, and five earned runs over just two innings pitched in Game 7.
Cardinals’ starters deserved to be bailed out by their hitters in one of these games. Still, when Cardinals’ starters gave the Giants big early leads it dug a hole that ended up being impossible to climb out of. If Cardinals starters had kept one of the last three games close, one never knows how Giants relievers would have responded differently in a pressure situation.
Ryan Witt is a freelance writer covering all things St. Louis Cardinals. His work can be found on Examiner.com.