Win or go home.
That's the reality facing the Cardinals Wednesday evening at SunTrust Park in Atlanta. They'll roll out the same lineup that has sputtered in this series outside a select few individuals, with Mike Shildt determined to dance with those who brung him here. It's classic managerial doctrine, sticking with the status quo in the biggest game of the year, preferring to lose with your familiar horses than with a gimmicky lineup penned as change for change's sake.
Cardinals Game 5 win-or-go-home lineup should look rather familiar:Fowler 8Wong 4Goldy 3Ozuna 7Yadi 2Carpenter 5Edman 9DeJong 6Flaherty 1— Brenden Schaeffer (@bschaeffer12) October 9, 2019
But of the eight position players in the Cardinals lineup Wednesday, only three of them boast postseason batting averages above the Mendoza line of .200—Paul Goldschmidt (.438), Marcell Ozuna (.471) and Tommy Edman (.286). So the million dollar question remains: Can this lineup churn its way to adequate run support of its ace starting pitcher with the season on the line?
"We've had some flexibility with our lineup," Mike Shildt said. "It's a lineup we've run out there and it's a lineup we're comfortable with and we've competed well with, so it's what we're going with."
On the pitching side, Jack Flaherty will no doubt be ready for the moment. He pitched a whale of a game in Game 2 before missing location with one calamitous seventh-inning pitch to pinch-hitter Adam Duvall. For as costly as that pitch felt, though, the Cardinals ultimately didn't tally a single run in that game, a 3-0 loss.
Frankly, Flaherty could have pitched a complete game that night. If the Cardinals bats weren't going to back him up, it wouldn't have mattered.
The only substantive change to the Cardinals lineup Wednesday compared to the last time it faced Mike Foltynewicz is replacing Harrison Bader with Matt Carpenter. In Game 2, Foltynewicz befuddled Cardinals hitters with varied and effective breaking balls. In particular, he frustrated Bader all night with one slider after another. The decision to keep Bader out against Foltynewicz on Wednesday is an obvious one.
In Game 2, Foltynewicz's game plan for the Cardinals offense was better than the one the offense had for him. This time around, St. Louis has to be prepared to fend off his sliders and curve balls, working tough at-bats that challenge the Braves starter.
He required just 81 pitches to breeze through the Cardinals lineup for seven innings in Game 2. That simply cannot happen again on Wednesday, especially considering the success St. Louis has had against Atlanta's bullpen in this series. If Cardinals work counts and deliver quality at-bats to chase Foltynewicz a little earlier than they did in Game 2, Flaherty will have a chance to pitch them into the NLCS.
No pressure, right?
"Like a baby," Shildt replied when asked how he slept the night before the biggest game of his life. "We're in this series pretty deep, right? So I don't think we're going to get a ton of surprises... The fact of the matter is, if you're sitting there tossing and turning and figuring out at 2 o'clock in the morning, you probably haven't done your preparation other times. We trust our preparation, it allows us to stay calm and just play the game, and be ready for a lot of scenarios."
All year, you prepare to execute for 162 games to get to the postseason. No matter what happens Wednesday, the Cardinals accomplished that goal this season with a division championship.
With a little more execution than the other side Wednesday, though, the Cardinals remain in play for a much grander prize.