When Dakota Hudson delivers his first pitch Monday afternoon at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals will be staring down the barrel of elimination.
The circumstances surrounding how they ended up here will be discussed and debated for an entire winter. If Monday's game goes as sideways as the last two, that winter will start a little earlier than anticipated.
There is, however, one way for the frustrating topics of the last few days—Carlos Martinez's meltdowns, Bader's base running blunder and the offense's anemia laying waste to a pair of starting pitching gems—to fall away into past obscurity, mostly forgotten as minor bumps in the road of a still successful October.
Win two games.
The Cardinals trail the Atlanta Braves 2-1 in the NLDS heading into a critical Game 4 Monday. Somehow pulling off a win in the game would put the Cardinals back into an attractive position in the series at-large: one game, winner-take-all, with the baseball in Jack Flaherty's right hand.
To get there, the Cardinals will need a heroic effort from rookie starter Dakota Hudson, and the bats will have to support him better than they have Flaherty and Adam Wainwright over the past two games.
"In general that can be a tendency for sure," Shildt said regarding the idea that a young pitcher can try to be too perfect in his first-ever postseason start. "So there will be attention to how he's competing, just like all our guys, there can be that tendency. But I'm fully confident Dakota will go out and pitch to his game.
"Dakota said this, and it's really been impressive and his work has mimicked it as well, he's not going to make the situation bigger than it is. He's just going to go out and pitch. And he actually enjoys the fact there's more people paying attention and watching. But at the end of the day it's the same baseball he's thrown since he was young, and he has that mindset and approach and it will serve him well today."
The Cardinals will be opposed by Dallas Keuchel on short rest Monday after Keuchel pitched 4.2 sturdy innings of one-run ball in a Game 1 loss. In his career, Keuchel has never started on short rest following a previous start. Just once, he started a game on two days rest following a relief appearance, throwing a quality start in that 2013 outing.
Shildt doesn't believe it would be prudent to let the consideration of Keuchel going on short rest dominate his team's philosophy at the plate.
"I think it could be a mistake to try to wait a guy out," Shildt said. "Especially a guy that's a pitch-maker like Keuchel and sit out and try to find a way to get his pitch count up and be in counts that aren't favorable and then get to a situation where you're starting to have to put his pitch in play.
"You get late in the count, you may have to do that. But we don't want to do that early in the count just for the sake of trying to worry about getting him out of the game or affecting anything on short rest."
One thing that is a consideration for the Cardinals offense, though, is the fact that St. Louis batters have not drawn a walk against a Braves starting pitcher in the past two games. Not one, in 14 innings.
"It is unusual for us," Shildt said. "And it really does speak to the pitching we've seen. The guys, Foltynewicz was really good. He was as good as he's probably been all year that we've seen.
"Soroka was really good. He was around the plate. Breaking ball was good. A lot of late movement. I didn't feel like there was a lot of opportunities until, like you said, we get into the eighth and we get Fried in there, and then you start to see guys a little bit scattering the ball and you saw guys being able to take. I'd be more inclined to have some level of frustration or displeasure if those guys are bouncing balls or scattering balls or we were chasing a whole lot, but we're just not.
"So we'll continue to take our approach, be convicted with it, and we've got to do a better job of taking good swings on the balls that are out over the plate. And that's the key to this thing, and we'll probably get more guys nibbling a little bit and look to be more patient there."
Facing elimination, the Cardinals Game 4 lineup:Fowler 8Wong 4Goldschmidt 3Ozuna 7Molina 2 Carpenter 5Edman 9DeJong 6Hudson 1— Brenden Schaeffer (@bschaeffer12) October 7, 2019
If the Cardinals get into a save situation Monday, the eyes of the baseball world will be watching intently for whether Carlos Martinez gets a chance to convert after consecutive rocky outings, including an erratic appearance that cost the Cardinals a win on Sunday.
"There will be a conversation," Shildt said Monday regarding where he would turn with a lead in the ninth. "I just want to make sure Carlos' head is in the right place, make sure he's in the right frame of mind. I'm not worried about Carlos' stuff. It's about his execution, making sure he's making the quality pitches and his head is in a present state of mind."
Shildt referred to Martinez's sparring with Ronald Acuna Jr. over the last two games as "a residual thing that's clearly got a little bit of life," after Martinez went up-and-in on Acuna Sunday. He ultimately walked the Braves young slugger in that plate appearance.
Game 4 is set for 2:07 p.m. (Central) Monday at Busch Stadium.