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NLDS: Setting the Stage

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

There will be no sweeps as the Giants stave off the Reds and St. Louis and Washington head to D.C.

NLDS: Setting the Stage

The MLB Playoffs have given us plenty of excitement less than a week into the proceedings.  The new wild card format proved exciting, even giving us some drama in the form of the dubious infield fly rule call in the Atlanta-St. Louis game.  The play in the divisional series hasn't dropped either.  The teams have been competitive and no series will end in the minimum three games after San Francisco and Oakland staved off elimination last night.  Those wins set the stage for a full four games taking place today.  

We will look at each game today and focus on what each team needs to do to win.  Let's start with the early games, which are both of the NLDS series.

1:07 - St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals (Series Tied 1-1)

The Cardinals and Nationals split the first two games in St. Louis.  Washington took game one on a strong outing from Gio Gonzalez and some unconventional tactics late in the game that led to a two-run single and a 3-2 win.  The Cardinals responded in game two, roughing up Jordan Zimmerman and the rest of the Nationals pitching staff.  Carlos Beltran hit two of four home runs for St. Louis as they cruised to a 12-4 win.  Now the series heads back to Washington for the final three games.

Pitching Matchup: Chris Carpenter takes the mound for St. Louis, and he will face Edwin Jackson.  Carpenter is one of four pitchers in the postseason that has five or more playoff wins (the others are all Yankees: Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, and Derek Lowe) and is one of the top postseason pitchers around.  Carpenter has the postseason resume, but he will be making just his fourth start of the season.  He returned from July surgery to treat thoracic syndrome to make three starts at the end of they year.  Carpenter has a history of coming back from injury, and he also performs well in the playoffs.

Jackson is making his fifth postseason start, and only started the first playoff games of his career last year with St. Louis.  The hope with Jackson is that he has been around long enough to hold down this critical game three.  Jackson had a decent year for the Nationals, but he faded down the stretch.  His ERA rose from 3.57 to 4.03 from the beginning of August to the end of the season, almost a full run.  Jackson can be streaky on the mound, so Washington is hoping the shut-down version shows up.

Lineups: Both teams will primarily use the same lineups for this game.  Washington has gotten strong production from Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Morse, Ian Desmond over the first two games.  Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth have struggled at the top of the lineup, and Adam LaRoche and Danny Espinosa haven't contributed much.  Maybe playing at home will reinvigorate some of those sleeping Washington bats, especially Harper's.

St. Louis's bats have been more alive early on.  Now that it's the postseason, David Freese doesn't make outs.  Beltran had the two home runs in Game Two, while up and down the lineup, guys like Daniel Descalso, Allen Craig, and Yadier Molina have contributed.  The only real weak link so far has been Matt Holliday, who has been held hitless in the first two games of the series.  The rest of the lineup has picked him up thus far, but he will have to get things going.

Prediction: Although St. Louis didn't give Carpenter run support during his three regular season starts, I think they will come through for him today.  It's the first home playoff game in D.C. since 1933, but they will have to wait at least a day longer for that first win.  Carpenter goes six strong and St. Louis wins this 5-2.

4:07 - San Francisco Giants at Cincinnati Reds (Reds Lead 2-1)

San Francisco won in the 10th inning last night, keeping their postseason alive after two so-so efforts at home.  After Johnny Cueto left after just eight pitches in the first game, Mat Latos had to fill in and the rest of the staff kept the Giants at bay.  Matt Cain wasn't at his best in game one, and neither was Madison Bumgartner in Game Two.  The Reds cruised to an easy victory and went home with a 2-0 advantage.  Homer Bailey couldn't complete the sweep, and the Giants manufactured the winning run in the 10th inning and force a fourth game.

Pitching Matchup: Veteran Barry Zito takes the hill for San Francisco, and he had a nice bounce-back season.  He wasn't great (4.15 ERA) but he was able to tally 15 wins on the season.  Bruce Bochy sees him as a better option than embattled starter Tim Lincecum, so it's up to Zito to extend the season for San Francisco.  He has the guile and off-speed stuff to keep Cincinnati hitters off-balance, and if he can do that, San Fran has a shot.

Mat Latos was supposed to be the Game Four starter, but his emergency relief duties have rendered him unavailable.  Cueto was replaced on the playoff roster just this morning with pitcher Mike Leake, who will start this afternoon's game.  Leake had a down year compared to his sophomore season, including an 0-5 start in his first seven appearances.  But he rebounded to finish at 8-9 and threw six scoreless innings in his final start of the year.  This is a big opportunity for Leake in his young career, but it's also his first postseason start.  We'll have to see if the moment is too big for him.

Lineups: The Reds have been the better team at the plate all series.  Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce have hit consistently so far, but there have been some holes here and there.  Scott Rolen has struggled at the dish, as has shortstop Zack Cozart.  Rookie Todd Frazier had a broke out while Votto was injured, but now he is reduced to pinch-hitting.  If they could find a way to work his bat into the lineup here, it might not be the worst idea.

No one on the Giants has really been able to get things going at the plate.  Buster Posey has been their best hitter, and he has only posted a .273 average after the first three games.  Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan are both hitting .083, Pablo Sandoval is hitting .154, and Hunter Pence is also hitting just .083.  Somehow they were able to stay alive with just three hits in Game Three, but they can't keep playing with fire like this.

Prediction: Even with their struggles offensively, I think they can get something going against Leake.  Zito will do just enough to keep the Giants in this one, and this series will inexplicably go to a fifth game.  6-4 Giants win.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see the Nationals and Cardinals in Game 4 of the NLDS.

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