(BaseballStL) — A loss won’t knock the Cardinals out of the NLCS in Game 4, but there’s no denying it’s a must-win affair. A 3-1 deficit would mean facing Madison Bumgarner in an elimination setting with force of a rabid San Francisco fan base at his back.
The 25-year-old lefty has started three games this October, and apart from a throwing error that turned Game 3 of the NLDS, has been untouchable. He threw a complete game shutout in the Wild Card game, striking out 10 and allowing four hits to the Pirates. Against the Nationals, he rolled through six innings with just four hits before his errant throw gave Washington the lead.
The Cardinals (with the exception of Jon Jay) waved their bats helplessly for 7.2 innings against him, picking up four hits (two by Jay) on their way to a 3-0 loss.
Bumgarner is perhaps the best pitcher left in the playoffs, and beating him in his home park when he can smell the World Series is a daunting task.
So Shelby Miller’s second-ever October start becomes the biggest of his entire career.
“It will be the same feeling,” The 24-year-old said when talking about having his first postseason start out of the way. “Even with that one start under your belt, you're starting in a hectic environment in San Francisco, got great fans that are loud and know baseball and love their team.”
If Miller can steer the Cardinals through the first two thirds of the game, he will give them a chance. We’ve seen the offense is capable of putting up runs, but too often this October they’ve been needed to erase a deficit rather than extend a lead.
There are only so many comebacks a team can pull off before the magic wears out. Sooner or later, the Cardinals need to take a lead and work from a position of strength. Miller will be tasked with slowing a Giants attack that has put up a combined 12 runs in games started by Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and John Lackey.
His first start was a strong effort, as he allowed five hits and two earned runs in 5.2 innings against the formidable Dodger lineup. That was at home, however. Wednesday the fastball-heavy Miller will have to contend with the spaciousness of AT&T park, where balls have much larger landing zones.
“You don't really change anything as far as preparation or anything like that. I don't take ballparks into consideration or anything like that. I don't think a lot of pitchers do,” he said. “But it is a big ballpark with a bunch of big gaps. The biggest thing is try to get ground balls, try to keep the ball out of the air as much as possible. If you can do that, and we'll have a game plan going into it.”
That will be a tough task for Miller, who only has a .84 ground out to air out ratio. By comparison, Wainwright gets 1.27 outs on the ground for every one he gets through the air.