Before we get going, I have a confession to make. Prior to last night’s game, I was planning on writing about the need for Albert Pujols to step it up offensively and have a big impact on this series. I was getting ready to tell you he hadn’t hit a homerun since September 22nd, how he’d only driven in 3 runs since then, and that the drought needed to end. I was even going to go as far as to suggest he could no longer work over playoff-quality pitching at the clip he once could.
The prosecution would obviously like to strike all that from the record.
Monday night in Game 2 of the NLCS, Albert put on a display for the ages. How’s this for stepping it up offensively?
First Inning: Home Run, 2 RBIs
Third Inning: Double, 2 RBIs
Fifth Inning: Double, 1 RBI (the aggressive base-running led to him scoring on a wild pitch)
Seventh Inning: Double, Run scored
Eighth Inning: Groundout to 2nd, Milwaukee crowd gives home team a mock-ovation for finally getting Albert out. Resident pest, Milwaukee centerfielder Nyjer Morgan, sure didn’t waste much time backpedaling on his “Alberta” comment, saying after last night’s game:
“He’s special. I’ve never said anything about how (Pujols) plays. It was just talking smack. He’s still that special player, one of the best and greatest hitters around. You tip your hat to a guy who does his work like that.”
It was as if Morgan just then realized that it’s probably not such a great idea to poke the sleeping bear… especially a bear who nearly has as many career home runs (445) as Morgan has hits (467). Both Pujols and Morgan are 31 years old.
But it doesn’t take Morgan’s comments to cement the fact that it was an absolutely dominant performance, and awaiting in Game 3 is a pitcher in Yovani Gallardo that Pujols tagged for 2 home runs in a game just last month.
The Pujols v Gallardo matchup is just one of the many things the Cardinals have going for them as the NLCS returns to St. Louis for the first time since 2006.
Carpenter Pitching Twice: Splitting the first two games in Milwaukee was huge for the Cardinals, especially considering how much Milwaukee has struggled on the road this season (more on that in a minute). But the big boost comes in the form of Chris Carpenter, who after putting on one of the best lock-down pitching performances last Friday, is now set to take the mound in 2 of the remaining 5 games in the series (if necessary). Even though he’s going up against Brewers ace, Yovani Gallardo, in both games, you still have to feel good about the Cardinals’ chances of winning those games. Carpenter shutout Milwaukee on 4 hits in September, and went 8 innings allowing just 2 runs in a Cardinals win in mid-August (one of just 2 losses handed to the Brewers over a 21 game stretch at the time).
Braun’s Bat Neutralized: Milwaukee outfielder, Ryan Braun, is one heck of a hitter. With all due respect to Prince Fielder, Braun is probably the most frightening postseason hitter the Cardinals have seen since Carlos Beltran’s in the 2004 NLCS. Every time he comes up, it feels like he’s going to stroke a double into the gap… at least in Miller Park, that is. For whatever reason, Braun has been a much better hitter at home this postseason, as have most of the Brewers (though admittedly, it’s a small sample size). But that has also been the case over much of the regular season, so we’ll have to see how it all plays out here during these next 3 games in St. Louis.
Road Woes: The Brewers went 39-42 on the road this season, not a terrible record considering how bad of a start they got off to, but here’s what is bad: Including the playoffs, Milwaukee is now 10-21 against teams who made the playoffs this season. Considering Carpenter’s dominance the past 2 times the Brewers came to Busch, and Jaime Garcia’s near-miss at no-hitting them at Busch earlier this year, Milwaukee might need to win Game 4 if they plan on bringing this series back home for a possible Game 6 and 7.
Starting Edge: There’s really no reason to believe that the Brewers will have the upper hand for the rest of the games in the NLCS from a starting pitching standpoint. We’ve already been over what Carpenter and Garcia have done to the Brewers (Game 3, 5, and 7 starters), we’ve already touched on Pujols’ success against Yovani Gallardo, who the Cardinals beat twice in one week early last month (he’s slated for Games 3 and 7). In game 6, you have a rematch of Game 2… and we all know how well that worked out for St. Louis. That leaves only game 4 where the matchup might be even… but Kyle Lohse has been hot the past month and a half for the Cardinals, and Randy Wolf, the Brewers’ #4 starter, just got bombed by the Diamondbacks in the NLDS.
With that said, I leave you this fair warning: The Cardinals and Brewers are not simply tied at one game apiece… they’re tied 10-10. In 20 games this year, the teams have split them evenly. So despite home field advantage, the Brewers’ road woes, and the Cardinals’ apparent pitching edge… don’t expect the Cardinals to wrap this series up at Busch and coast into the World Series. What you can expect, more than likely, is another heart-stopping, nerve-wracking, intense as all get-out Game 7 at Miller Park.