Cardinals

WHEELER: Forget “Culture,” NLCS Game 6 Is About Execution

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Game Five of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 16, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Game Five of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 16, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

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I realize people like to create “themes” as a playoff series goes on. This rip-off of the “Catholics vs. Convicts” theme that people have used to describe the Cardinals and the Dodgers is just dumb.

These things the Dodgers are doing are no big deal and the Cardinals’ reactions to those things are no big deal. Players get excited during these big games and everyone reacts differently. Yasiel Puig is a firebrand in some places but I can promise each and every one of you that he would be a fan-favorite in any town he played in, including St. Louis if he were with the Cards.

All this stuff about Puig’s alleged “antics” remind me of what I call the “Dennis Rodman Phenomenon.” When he was playing for the Detroit Pistons in the late 80’s and early 90’s he was widely despised around the NBA for his antics (he was a fist-pumping cheerleader on the floor at times) and for some of his cheap shots. In fact, Rodman was absolutely despised in Chicago because of a particularly cheap shot he took against Scottie Pippen one year.

He was Public Enemy #1 (shout out to Chuck D). Until he signed with the Bulls before the 95-96 NBA season. As soon as he put on the Bulls’ black and red, he was the toast of Chicago and he helped them post their 2nd 3-peat of the 90’s.

Well, Puig is the current Dennis Rodman of the NBA. People outside of L.A. may be tired of his antics but the truth is everyone would love him if he was on their team.  His talent and energy would light up any ballpark, including Busch Stadium.

Now, let’s get to what really matters tonight. What it will take to win Game 6. These rules probably apply equally to both teams even though my focus is on what the Cardinals need to do…

1) Focus on hitting the ball back up the middle against Clayton Kershaw. Too many hitters here in the 2013 playoffs are over swinging, not just Cardinals hitters but those from each of the four remaining teams. Many have gotten pull happy and if you do that against elite pitchers you are done.

Hitting coaches like to say things like “hit the ball where it wants to go.” In other words, pull the inside pitch and take the outside pitch to the opposite field. Let the location and speed of the pitch dictate where the hit ultimately goes. Well, with an up-the-middle approach it is much easier to adjust inside-out or fastball-breaking ball. When you get pull happy and over swing you’re helping the pitcher get you out. When you do that against a pitcher like Kershaw or Michael Wacha you are done. There is no room for error.

2) Swing the bat in two strike counts!

The following tidbit is startling…prepare yourself.

From the 7th inning on during the 5 NLCS games played between the Cardinals and the Dodgers, Cardinals hitters have struck out looking 8 times. That is 8 times in the final three innings of close games (two 1-run games, two 2-run games and a 3-run game).

The other three remaining teams have done that a combined 7 times in these two League Championship Series – Boston 4, Los Angeles 2, Detroit 1. So the second worst offender has gone down looking half as often as Cardinals hitters have in the final three innings.

Look, I believe in being a disciplined hitter. If you take a called 3rd strike in a Sunday afternoon game in July, no biggie. Heck, I get it in the first few innings of these LCS games. But when you’re hitting late in these tight playoff games with win-or-go-home implications you cannot just stand there like the house along the side of the road in a 2-strike count just because a pitch might be 2 inches off the outside black.

Umpires have called a TON of strikes off the plate here in the postseason and it has impacted all four remaining teams at various times. You have to swing the bat in those spots. Forget arguing with the umps, forget what happened during the regular season.

When you’re in a 2-strike count, especially with men on base in these tight games, do not let the umpire ring you up.

Swing the bat in two strike counts.

3) Play clean defense.

That’s so simple it stands all on it’s own without any comment necessary.

The pitching is going to be fantastic for Game 6 (and if there is a Game 7) so these games will come down to the factors I listed, and a few others like getting a bunt down when you’re called to do so, etc.

Enjoy Game 6…feels like it’s going to be a doozy.

Now on to some other brief thoughts…an on-line version of the Three Strikes segment I do on Sports Open Line:

Strike One

Very nice bounce-back win for the Blues in Chicago last night. They got smoked by San Jose a couple of nights ago but rebounded to beat an arch-rival 3-2 in a shootout in their first road game of the season.

I believe last night’s win says something about this Blues team. They’re different than they’ve been the past couple of years. They used to lose games like that coming off a bad showing, especially not against a team like Chicago.

Really good win. 5-1-0 is a pretty nice start to the new season, no?

Strike Two

Mizzou faces a stiff challenge tomorrow morning. The Florida Gators are struggling on offense against but they have one of the best defenses in the country and the Tigers are going to be without James Franklin.

That’s a pretty tough assignment for Maty Mauk, making his first collegiate start against an elite defense with at least 2-3 NFL players in their secondary.

I don’t think the Tigers win tomorrow but I’m the same guy who thought they would lose to Vanderbilt and Georgia so what do I know…

Florida 24, Mizzou 14

Strike Three

The Rams have a chance to run their record to 4-3 with a win in Carolina this Sunday but it’s not going to be easy. Cam Newton presents a lot of problems, obviously, but their front seven on defense is strong too.

The Rams have renewed their commitment to running the ball and it has worked….against two teams that were really struggling. Carolina is 2-3 so they’re not exactly tearing it up but both the Jaguars and the Texans were spiraling downward. This is a better test for the Rams and I think they pass it, barely.

Rams 23, Panthers 21

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