(BaseballStL) - Game 3 in St. Louis will determine who gets first crack at playing for the right to go to the NLCS and who has to face elimination Tuesday night. No pressure or anything. John Lackey – known for pitching well in big games – gets the ball for the Cardinals while the Dodgers turn to Hyun-Jin Ryu – who isn’t exactly 100% healthy.
With the recent news that LA will throw Clayton Kershaw on short rest in Game 4 and Zack Greinke on full rest in Game 5 that just makes this game that much more important for the Redbirds. Here are my 3 keys for this evening:
Will Lackey live up to his reputation or what?
Ever since the Cardinals traded for John Lackey at the deadline he’s been billed as the October equivalent of Bob Gibson. And that’s semi-understandable, if a tad exaggerated, based on the fact he’s played pivotal roles in winning a pair of World Series titles in his career.
But since come over to the NL Lackey has been solid at best. Some starts have been really good. Others have been less than impressive. Overall he’s made 10 starts with the Cardinals and has a 4.30 ERA which is okay but in October he needs to be better. Will Lackey be the star tonight the Cards thought they were trading for when they gave up Allen Craig and Joe Kelly? Or will he just be so-so, leaving the balance of the contest in the hands of the offense?
How healthy is Hyun-Jin Ryu?
This could be the biggest key to the game actually. The 6’2” lefty from South Korea is a fantastic pitcher who gets largely overlooked because his name isn’t Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke. But Ryu is a terrific pitcher in his own right as he owns a career ERA of 3.17. Not bad.
The problem, for him anyway, is health. A shoulder injury has kept him sidelined since September 12th. Ryu threw a 45-pitch simulated game on Wednesday and – by all accounts – came out of it good enough to warrant the start tonight in Game 3. But was that really a decision based on a lack of better alternatives? Is Ryu REALLY ready to pitch effectively tonight in a playoff game?
There’s no way to answer that until he gets out on the mound and tries. But one thing is known. Ryu was outstanding on the road this year for the Dodgers, with a 10-4 record, a 3.03 ERA and a .236 opponents’ batting average.
Cardinals late inning relief options
Pat Neshek has been so beyond good for the Cards this season. Heck, the guy went from non-roster invitee in spring training to the All Star game. But he served up the winning home run for the Dodgers in Game 2 and his name isn’t Carlos Martinez. Those two factors could create a very interesting decision should the Cards have a small lead to protect late in Game 3.
Will Mike Matheny go back to Neshek or will he go with the guy who throws absolute fire, has a wicked slider and no doubt scares opponents much more so than Neshek does. I’d argue the person to put in is always the guy the batter doesn’t want to face. Put in whoever he’s scared of.
But what message does that send abandoning someone who’s been there for you all year long just because of one pitch?
There’s no easy answer. In fact, whatever Matheny chooses to do, if he turns out wrong it’ll be something that gets talked about for a long time. Sometimes managing just isn’t a whole lot of fun.