After a very tense victory in Game 4, the Cardinals tacked themselves to a substantial lead in the later innings of Game 5. Adam Wainwright looked in control from the outset. The Cards leaped out to a 2-0 lead on a David Freese 2-run homer. A single, walk, and an RBI single from Jon Jay added to the lead in the sixth.
A bizarre series of infield squibs and some questionable defense in the top of the seventh led to the Pirates' only run. Wainwright was able to escape one of the odder innings of baseball you've ever seen with just one tally against him.
The Cardinals rebounded against Mark Melancon, arguably the Pirates' best reliever, for three more runs. Matt Adams drilled the second two-run homer of the game to right field. Pete Kozma made a productive groundout after a walk and a single. That left the score 6-1.
In the top of the ninth, Wainwright just reaching 100 pitches. He got two quick outs, then allowed two singles. Matheny let his workhorse starter finish the game, and Wainwright did not disappoint. With Pedro Alvarez at the plate, Wainwright jumped out to an 0-2 count on the player who had hurt the Cardinals for three home runs over the series. In a familiar sight for Cardinals fans, a Wainwright curveball (tm) dropped in for a third strike, and the Birdos were moving on to the next postseason series.
That leaves the Cardinals preparing for a series against the Dodgers, which will start Friday night in St. Louis. The game time has not yet been announced, but, since the ALCS will not start until Saturday, the good people at TBS will probably want to start the game at 7pm or so.
The first question is who will be starting for the Cardinals in Game 1. Adam Wainwright, staff ace, is a lock to start at least one game in the series. Michael Wacha, improbable NLDS starter and even less probable closest-to-a-postseason-no-hitter-thrower, has seized a role for himself.
Lance Lynn probably did not leave a good taste in anyone's mouth after his Game 2 flop in the NLDS. Still, he's arguably the best among the three candidates (Lynn, Miller, and Kelly); he has the best FIP and xFIP of the three (3.28 and 3.66). He strikes out a lot of guys (23.1%), although he walks more than I'd like (8.9%). His ERA is the weakest of the three (3.97), but even over a full season, ERA can be misleading.
Shelby Miller was a bizarre omission from the postseason rotation in the NLDS. With a 3.06 ERA, a 3.73 xFIP, and a 3.67 FIP, he was clearly a very talented pitcher. Like Lance Lynn, he won 15 games for the Cardinals, which still seems to be some kind of currency in baseball, however misguided. Even among the other two candidates who did not have great postseason starts, Miller probably did not impress when he gave up a home run to his first batter, pitching in relief of Lance Lynn. Asked for a comment earlier, Miller expressed modest frustration at not being given a start in the NLDS, but also noted that he would probably need at least one bullpen session to be ready to start in the NLCS. He is probably not a great choice for Game 1.
Joe Kelly has the weakest case by traditional stats to get a start, but has a certain level of fan-favorite pressure behind him. He allowed three runs (two earned) in a five-and-a-third inning start in Game 3, but he did so while walking 4 and striking out 5. And therein lies the rub. Kelly as a starter has been unable to keep the walks down and doesn't strike out nearly as many as you'd like for a guy with a 95-98 mph sinker. He had a 1.8 K/BB ratio this year and a 1.59 K/BB ratio as a starter for his career. That's pretty shabby and by far the worst K/BB ratio of any of the three. While he managed to turn his subpar peripherals into a 2.69 ERA over the season, the odds are that he will not continue to turn peripheral dross into outcome gold.
The rotation probably should go Lynn, Wacha, Wainwright, Miller [Lynn, Wacha, Wainwright]*, but it probably will see Kelly starting at least one game in that mix.
The Dodgers are a worthy opponent in the NLCS. The real story here is the Dodgers' pitching. The Dodgers will be throwing an excellent rotation at us. The unknown in that mix is whether Ryu will be well enough to pitch, following a very short, ineffective start in the NLDS. He assures the media that he feels well enough to pitch and is not injured. Early media reports split between a Ryu or Nolasco start in game 3.
Here's how the Cardinals matchup:
Adam Wainwright - 70 FIP-
Michael Wacha - 80
Lance Lynn - 90
Shelby Miller - 101 (Joe Kelly - 110)
And the Dodgers:
Kershaw - 66 FIP-
Ryu - 90
Greinke - 90
Nolasco - 88 (Capuano - 99)
Nolasco is not much of a relief from the challenges of facing Ryu or Greinke, if he is any relief at all. I'd rather see Capuano in any Game 4 action than Ryu or Nolasco, but there aren't any real easy options here. Nolasco is in bad odor in the Dodgers' clubhouse after flopping badly in his last three starts for the Dodgers. The Cardinals' offense will be facing tough pitching throughout, including probable Cy Young award winner, Clay Kershaw.
The good news: in case you've forgotten, here's what the Cardinals offense looks like
Matt Holliday - 148 wRC+
Matt Carpenter - 147
Matt Adams - 136
Yadier Molina - 134
Carlos Beltran - 132
David Freese - 106
Jon Jay - 104
Pete Kozma - 50 (Daniel Descalso 80)
The Dodgers, by contrast, have had a bizarre year following serious injury and ineffectiveness for star Matt Kemp but other figures have stepped forward with career years (Uribe, Hanley Ramirez).
Hanley Ramirez - 190 wRC+
Yasiel Puig - 160
Adrian Gonzales - 124
Andre Ethier - 120 (Skip Schumaker - 93)
Juan Uribe - 116
Carl Crawford - 108
AJ Ellis - 95
Mark Ellis 92 (Nick Punto 90)
The Dodgers' numbers are pretty impressive, but they still even out against the solid Cardinals' core. The Cardinals overall wRC+ is 106, compared to 104 for the Dodgers. I'd also flag a minor point for hope, which is that the core of Dodgers' offensive production hinges on some unsustainable trends. Hanley Ramirez has a .363 BABIP, about 30 points higher than his career average. Yasiel Puig has a .383 BABIP which may be somewhat skill, but probably reflects a lot of Ordinary Baseball Weirdness (OBW) as well.
The other point of note is that Andre Ethier spent most of the NLDS on limited duty. Recent coverage suggests a larger role for him, but his condition is important. Starting all four NLDS games for the Dodgers was St. Louis fan-favorite Skip Schumaker. Regardless of whether Schumaker or Ethier starts in CF, it is practically certain that the Dodgers will be starting their worst defensive outfielder in the CF role.
In the parallel situation, Derrick Goold tweets that Allen Craig intends to "find out real soon if" he can play on the NLCS roster, presumably in a pinch-hitting role.
Regardless, this is a very close, very impressive matchup. The Cardinals, more likely than not, will be fighting at every step to stay competitive in this series.