The St. Louis Cardinals had the advantage on paper entering NLDS Game 2 against the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals gave the ball to southpaw Jaime Garcia, who posted a 2.43 ERA and 3.00 FIP in 129 2/3 regular-season innings, while the Cubs started Kyle Hendricks, who managed a 3.95 ERA and 3.36 FIP over 180 innings. On the TBS pregame show, former manager Dusty Baker picked the Cards to win because he had seen Garcia beat the teams he was managing too many times. Hall-of-Famer Dennis Eckersley mentioned that the Cubs might have a bullpen game.
NLDS Game 2 is another example of why they play the games.
Garcia was not particularly sharp in the first inning. His secondary offerings lacked the finish so often present throughout the year, which caused him to leave them up in the zone and over the plate. Jorge Soler made him pay on a hanging breaking ball by lacing it into the left-field corner for a double but his teammates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were unable to capitalize on Garcia offerings up and over the plate. Bryant wound up the victim of a backwards K and Rizzo struck out on a foul tip to end the visitors' half of the first.
Matt Carpenter led off the bottom of the first by clubbing a Hendricks fastball onto the grass hill in center. The blast gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. It was the high point of the game for St. Louis.
Things went sideways for the Cardinals in the top of the second. The inning started innocuously enough, with Starlin Castro grounding a ball up the middle for a single. Next up was Austin Jackson, who hit a grounder to Jhonny Peralta that should've erased Castro with a double play of the 6-4-3 variety. But Kolten Wong, usually so slick on the turn, had the ball slip out of his hand on release and end up in the camera well. That was the first out the Cardinals gifted their visitors. Instead of two outs and the bases empty, the Cards recorded just one and Jackson advanced to second.
Jackson studied Garcia and picked up a tendency. He got a walking lead off the southpaw and took off for third. Not even Yadier Molina, winner of multiple Platinum Gloves and even more of the Gold variety, had a chance to cut him down at third. Jackson's stolen base gave Chicago the tying run 90 feet from the plate. Garcia finished off a walk of catcher Miguel Montero, which brought Hendricks to the bat.
Chicago manager Joe Maddon decided to insert himself into the proceedings. The bespectacled skipper ordered a safety squeeze. Hendricks executed it. Garcia charged the ball, but did not have a play at the plate in mind. Perhaps he thought the Cubs were attempting to advance just Montero to eliminate the double play. Maybe he just wasn't paying attention. Whatever the reason, Garcia's footwork was for a throw to first so that when Molina called for the ball at home the southpaw was not positioned to deliver such a throw. Garcia paused and shuffled his feet but it was too late for a play at the plate. The tying run crossed the plate. Then, with his feet not in a position to throw to any base, Garcia attempted a toss to first but misfired and the ball went down the right-field line. That was the second out the Cardinals gifted the visitors. Instead of having two outs with a runner on second, the Cubs had one out and runners on second and third.
The first safety squeeze worked so well that Maddon called for another. Rookie Addison Russell executed the bunt well. Garcia fielded the ball and tossed it to Wong for the inning's second out. Russell's sacrifice gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead and advanced Hendricks to third.
Leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler, who came so close to a go-ahead homer off John Lackey in Game 1, hit a ball far less well. This being baseball, Fowler's soft chopper wound up a hit. Even had the charging Peralta barehanded the ball cleanly, he would not have thrown Fowler out at first. The infield single gave the Cubs a two-run lead.
Chicago had plated three runs in the top of the second with only one ball leaving the infield (Castro's leadoff single). Soler dug in with Fowler on first. Garcia floated another slider to Soler and the Cuban national swatted it out of the park, making it a 5-1 ballgame. Lance Lynn, who manager Mike Matheny declared the Game 4 starter, started to get loose in the bullpen. Bryant grounded out to end the inning.
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny pulled Garcia after the second and inserted Lynn. The Cardinals announced that Garcia had a stomach virus. It's unclear whether the lefty notified management before the game of his illness.
During an in-game interview with TBS, Matheny said he elected to go with Lynn because pitching an inning was the equivalent of a bullpen session. Left unexplained was whether Saturday was a scheduled bullpen day for Lynn. And if it was, why he didn't throw the session before the Cards' 4:30 p.m. game. At any rate, Lynn looked less than sharp early and gave up the Cardinals' sixth run of the game.
Wong homered against Hendricks in the bottom of the fifth. Randal Grichuk followed Wong with a pinch-hit dinger that made it 6-3. The homer chased Hendricks from the game, an out shy of qualifying for a pitching "win."
Fielding hijinks created a seventh-inning pickle for the Redbirds. Jason Heyward misplayed a sinking fliner off the bat of Fowler, which turned an out into a leadoff double. Maness then walked Soler. Bryant hit a grounder to Peralta that should've resulted in a 6-4-3 double play but Wong again had trouble on the turn. Instead of a runner at third with two outs, the Cubs had runners at the corners with one out.
Matheny called on Adam Wainwright to get out of the jam. Rizzo lined a Wainwright heater right to Carpenter at third for the inning's second out (and Carpenter was a split second late in stepping on third for a double play). Then Castro laced a liner to second base that Wong made a brilliant play to stab and throw his Chicago counterpart out at first to end the inning and threat. Thankfully, Wainwright came back out for the eighth and looked like the wagonmaker St. Louis fans have missed. The veteran ace stalked around the mound like a jungle cat as he mowed down the side, striking out Jackson, Montero, and Schwarber on whiffs.
Neither club plated a run after the fifth. The Cubs won 6-3. The NLDS is tied 1-1. Michael Wacha starts against Jake Arrieta on Monday at Wrigley Field.