(BaseballStL) -- Believe it or not, yes, the Cards are about to begin their 4th straight championship series. This is a remarkable feat for any franchise but even more impressive given how few teams actually make the postseason in baseball compared to other sports.
If there’s an organization that can come close to matching the Cardinals’ “magic”, however, it’s the San Francisco Giants. They have – after all – had about as much success over the last half decade as the Redbirds have and beat the Cards back in 2012 during this best-of-seven NLCS.
Having said that…here are my keys to Game 1 this evening at Busch Stadium:
One word: Adam
Forget the elbow. Adam Wainwright is healthy. This organization is way too smart and not nearly stubborn enough to throw someone out onto the mound in the NLCS just for sentimental value. Is Waino was hurt he wouldn’t be pitching this game. He’d be watching Lance Lynn from the dugout. The question surrounding the Cards unquestioned ace is his sharpness (i.e. command).
Watching Wainwright against the Dodgers was painful given how he couldn’t put a pitch in the lower half of the zone to save his life. Everything was up. Literally, everything. Wainwright’s fastball was flat. His cutter was flat. His curveball was actually okay but not dominant enough to live off of.
Typically, when Wainwright is doubted by the masses he usually comes through with a great performance. To have a chance against a top flight starter like Madison Bumgarner he’ll need to do just that.
Continued lefty on lefty success
What the Cardinals were able to do against the Dodgers was borderline miraculous. Jon Jay, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams and Kolten Wong – the four regular left-handed hitters – had unprecedented success against LA’s lefty pitching, especially Clayton Kershaw. This was true after having a season which was inconsistent at best in that category.
Was that a fluke? Or will it continue? Madison Bumgarner is no slouch. He may not be Kershaw – who is? – but he’s a star in his own right. The Giants ace held opponents to a .240 average this year but was even better against left-handed hitters. They hit just .224 off of him in 174 at-bats. Bumgarner ave up just one home run to lefties while striking out 58. Again, he’s not Kershaw – again, who is? – but he’s a legitimate star at the age of 25.
The Wacha factor
After watching Adam Wainwright struggle mightily in Game 1 of the NLDS the Cardinals, completely unrelated, changed up their roster by going with one fewer pitcher. Michael Wacha didn’t even pitch in the division series yet he still remained. Sam Freeman got the boot. With this now a best-of-seven, you have to wonder if it’s inevitable that Wacha will pitch.
It might be unavoidable.
His role is to be the long reliever, the guy who comes in if the starter is struggling. So now that Wainwright has had one rough postseason start, how much patience will Mike Matheny have with him in Game 1 of the NLCS? If Wainwright is noticeably off in the 2nd or 3rd inning tonight, would Matheny be more likely to be a quick hook than he was in Los Angeles? That decision nearly cost the Cardinals the game.
If the Cardinals find a way to get Wacha on the mound in this postseason and he shows them he’s sharp out of the bullpen it could be a major shot in the arm going forward. Last year’s NLCS MVP can hit the mid-90s consistently as a starter. Can you imagine him letting it fly for one inning as a reliever? He’d be sitting 97 miles an hour most likely. If Wacha pitches, and is sharp, he’d be yet another weapon Matheny could trust in the bullpen to help pull away from San Francisco.