The St. Louis Cardinals may need to overcome a major absence if they’re going to take a commanding lead in the NL championship series.
Rookie Matt Carpenter could get a chance to again soften the blow of an injury to Carlos Beltran, but Tim Lincecum will try to help the San Francisco Giants even this series in Game 4 at Busch Stadium on Thursday night.
St. Louis holds a 2-1 NLCS lead on San Francisco after winning 3-1 in Wednesday’s Game 3, which was interrupted in the seventh inning for 3 ½ hours by rain.
The Cardinals, though, got concerning news in the opening inning when Beltran exited with a left knee strain suffered while running out a double-play ball. He’s considered day-to-day, leaving St. Louis with the possibility of playing without its most productive bat in the postseason.
Beltran is a career .375 hitter with 14 homers and 25 RBIs in 31 career playoff games with St. Louis, Houston and the New York Mets. The seven-time All-Star is batting .400 with three home runs in nine games for the Cardinals this year, and he’s 3 for 8 with two doubles and a homer in this series.
He’s had issues off and on with the knee throughout the season, but he played in 151 games, his most since 2008 with the Mets.
Having Beltran back in the lineup for Game 4 might provide a spark since he’s 7 for 14 with three doubles and a homer off Lincecum. If Beltran is out, however, Carpenter would likely get another chance to replace him in right field after hitting a two-run, third-inning homer in Game 3.
“It was definitely a surprise,” Carpenter said. “I didn’t even realize Carlos had hurt himself, there was really no thought process.
“I was in the game before I had time to think about it.”
Carpenter, who has also appeared at first base and third base this postseason, is 8 for 14 with three extra-base hits and four RBIs in six overall meetings with San Francisco, but he’s never faced Lincecum.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy is opting for Lincecum (1-0, 1.08 ERA) as the Game 4 starter, with Barry Zito going in Friday’s Game 5 and Madison Bumgarner bumped out for now.
Lincecum has made all three of his appearances in the playoffs out of the bullpen, but he’s been extremely sharp in allowing one run and three hits with nine strikeouts over 8 1-3 innings. That includes two hitless innings in a 6-4 loss in Game 1 of the NLCS.
The right-hander went 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA in five postseason starts in 2010.
“He’s a guy we want out there. He’s been throwing the ball well,” Bochy said. “We’ve got to bounce back.”
Bochy is hoping the two-time NL Cy Young winner can build on his recent success after he struggled through his worst season in the majors, losing 15 games and posting a 5.18 ERA - nearly double the previous year’s mark.
Counterpart Adam Wainwright (0-0, 7.88) also battled some inconsistency this year coming off Tommy John surgery, and he’ll take the mound Thursday trying to recover from a disastrous outing.
The right-hander was bailed out by his teammates in a 9-7 win at Washington in Game 5 of the NL division series Friday. He gave up three homers and was pulled with one out in the third and the Cardinals trailing 6-0.
“That was not the performance I was expecting to have for a Game 5, winner-take-all game, I promise you that,” Wainwright said. “But really doesn’t matter as long as we win the game. I look at how I feel rather than the way the last outcome happened. My arm feels great and feeling strong, so very confident in my stuff.
“I know the team is counting on me to go out and pitch a good game, so I’ll be ready.”
Wainwright is 2-4 with a 3.04 ERA in eight games - six starts - against the Giants, but he’s 1-0 while yielding two runs with 19 strikeouts in 16 innings over two starts at home.
He beat the Giants in St. Louis on Aug. 9, when he allowed one run and fanned seven in seven innings of a 3-1 win.
Wainwright will try to keep in check a San Francisco lineup that stranded 11 runners and went 0 for 7 with men in scoring position in Game 3. Hunter Pence was a major culprit, leaving six runners on base while going 0 for 4.
“He’s got to put this behind him like us, and be set (Thursday),” Bochy said.
Pence is 5 for 31 with no RBIs in the playoffs this year, and he’s 5 for 30 in eight career postseason games against St. Louis, including last season’s five-game NLDS defeat with Philadelphia.