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Cardinals vs. Dodgers Game 4: Nobody will ever hit again (especially not Shelby Miller)

Lance Lynn will have to do the extra-base hitting himself.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

Next time someone suggests to you that the real test of a great team is what they do in the close games, and not the blowouts, point them to the ostensibly narrow difference between the St. Louis Cardinals' performance in Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS and their performance in Game 3, which Bernie MIklasz has dubbed their worst performance of the season.

Which is the problem with winning these tight, exciting games: Not hitting because of great pitching and just not hitting look strikingly similar, and are ultimately kind of hard to untangle. The two hits the Cardinals managed against Zack Greinke stood up; the four they got against Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brian Wilson didn't, and had the added problem of barely looking like hits at all.

All this leaves the Cardinals still in good shape—and still looking for the first signs of an offensive heartbeat that has, thankfully, also eluded the Dodgers so far.

Which brings us to the other lesson we might have learned in Game 3: Sometimes your dominant rookie pitcher is tired, and other times he's just had a bad day. It was hard to see in Monday night's Hyun-Jin Ryu anything resembling the pitcher the Dodgers were supposed to be worried about after he lasted just three innings against the Braves in the NLDS; if anything, he looked identical to the pitcher that comes through in his regular-season numbers, somewhere short of dominant but stingy with the ingredients that tend to make up most big innings.

Which was timely, since the Cardinals' performance in Game 4 will be dictated, in large part, by the continued playing-out of their hunch about Shelby Miller. I understand the case against Miller, which Miklasz (again) lays out here. The Miller we see in his own regular-season numbers hasn't showed up in, say, six starts—roughly since the end of August—and in the meantime, Lance Lynn pitched relatively well. And Miller's velocity is down a little from its July peak. (The decline coincides with the sudden appearance of a sub-90 cutter in his PitchF/X types, which is either a bad idea or terrifying proof that his velocity is down even more.)

Playing conservative with a pitcher like that—who's already blown past his career high in innings pitched—is defensible, both in the short term and the long term. It's an extremely conservative move, and it's one I don't think I would make, but there's a logic to it that's much better than the confusing, matchups-based rationale that's been trotted out by way of an official explanation.

But doing it while he's on the NLCS roster seems like a weird compromise. Right now Shelby Miller has thrown one inning in almost three weeks. If he needed some time off, he got it. If he needs to be shut down, his presence on the roster just seems like a (really inconsequential) distraction.