By Ryan Witt
Yesterday the St. Louis Cardinals suffered a 3-2 defeat in game one of the National League Division Series versus the Washington Nationals. The loss makes game two close to a must-win for the Cardinals. If the Cardinals lose, they would then have to sweep the Nationals on the road in order to win the best-of-five series. Below are five keys to winning game two for the Cardinals.
#1 – Hit with runners in scoring position
The problem with the Cardinals yesterday was not getting on base, but instead hitting with runners in scoring positions. The Cardinals left 18 men on base yesterday, and that ended up be the deciding factor in the loss. The bottom of the seventh inning was particularly frustrating, when the Cardinals had the bases loaded with no one out and yet failed to score a single run.
Like the did with Gonzalez, the Cardinals should be able to get men on base versus Jordan Zimmerman. Zimmerman gave up 186 hits 195 innings pitches this year, and walked nearly two batters per nine innings. Zimmerman has kept his ERA (2.94) low by stranding men on base at a rate of 79.3 percent. It may sound simple, but when the Cardinals get men on base against Zimmerman tomorrow they must find a way to get them home at a better rate.
#2 – A quality start from Jaime Garcia
The Cardinals scored 26 runs on the Nationals’ pitching staff in a three-game series in late August. However, as illustrated last night, that kind of production is more the exception to the rule than the rule when it comes to Nationals’ pitching staff. The Nationals feature one of the best starting pitching staffs in Major Leagues and a bullpen with two closers to finish the game. As a result, if the Cardinals are to win they will probably need quality starting pitching on their end as well
The good news for Cardinals’ fans is that Jaime Garcia tends to pitch much better at home than on the road. Garcia has an excellent 2.82 ERA at Busch Stadium, compared to abysmal 5.02 ERA on the road. Garcia also showed he can pitch well in the postseason, as demonstrated by his 1.80 ERA against an excellent Rangers team over 10 innings pitch last year.
#3 – Quality Defense
Tyler Moore was the hero for the Nationals yesterday, but he never would have had the opportunity to get that key hit if Peter Kozma had not given the Nationals an extra out in the top of the eighth inning. Kozma cannot solely be blamed for yesterday’s loss, but the lesson should be learned. The Nationals are one of the best hitting teams in the National Leagues, and the Cardinals can ill afford to give them extra outs.
Defense also takes on special importance because Jaime Garcia’s reliance on the groundball, and his mental makeup. When he is in a groove Garcia can be almost unhittable. However, one change to his routine can throw Garcia in a funk that results in a crooked number on the scoreboard.
Conclusion: To avoid the suffering the same fate as yesterday the Jaime Garcia must repeat the kind of performance seen from Adam Wainwright yesterday, and the defense and offense must perform better than they did yesterday. The keys to the game, as usual, come down to quality pitching, timely hitting, and good fielding.
Ryan Witt is a freelance writer covering all things St. Louis Cardinals. His work can be found on Examiner.com.