Fresh off of a 1-0 victory in an NLDS game five pitcher’s duel, the St. Louis Cardinals found themselves in a completely different ballgame in tonight’s League Championship Series opener. The Cards’ momentum was brought to an abrupt halt, and the Brew Crew bats continued to impress at Miller Park in a 9-6 game one Milwaukee win. It was a high-scoring affair right from the start, and St. Louis was unable to keep up. Once again, they’re in familiar territory. Check out my recap and analysis after the jump.
Things were looking promising early on. The Cards were able to jump out to an early lead thanks to a two-out RBI single by Matt Holliday. It was the fourth time in six playoff games that St. Louis got on the board in the first inning.
Milwaukee was quick to answer in their half of the first as Ryan Braun unloaded on a first-pitch fastball from Jaime Garcia and blasted a 444-foot two-run homer to give the Brew Crew the lead. After both pitchers settled in to some degree, the Redbirds regained the lead via yet another clutch three-run home run from David Freese. Zack Greinke hung a curveball, and Freese made him pay by taking him deep to the opposite field. Lance Berkman followed that up in the fifth with an RBI single of his own, and things were looking pretty good at that point.
However, the bottom of the fifth was a disaster of an inning for St. Louis. Before making a single out, the Brewers blew the game wide open with six runs, tying an LCS record for runs scored in a single inning. After allowing a single and double to start the inning, Jaime Garcia was not up to the task of shutting down Milwaukee’s powerful one-two punch. Ryan Braun hit a two RBI ground rule double down the left field line, and before the fans were done celebrating that, Prince Fielder crushed a two-run homer to right field. That would be all for Garcia, but the same could not be said for the Brewers offense. Yuniesky Betancourt hit a two-run shot of his own two batters later off of Octavio Dotel, increasing the St. Louis deficit to three. The entire dynamic of the game changed just like that, and things just continued to go from bad to worse for the Cards.
With the score still at 8-5, Albert Pujols came to the plate in the seventh with runners on the corners and no outs. Low and behold, he grounded into his 30th double play of the season, allowing Milwaukee to trade a run for two outs. The frustration was almost too much too handle at that point.
The Cards were unable to manage a hit the rest of the way, while the Brewers tacked on one more run in the seventh. Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford worked the eighth and ninth innings respectively, combining for four strikeouts and securing a game one win for Milwaukee.
While it’s always important not to overreact to a game one loss (especially for the road team), the Cards are going to have to make some serious adjustments moving forward. News flash: Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are pretty damn good. The Cardinals must be extra careful when pitching to these guys and avoid giving up the long ball. Getting ahead in the count on and keeping the guys in front of them off base would go a long way to limit the damage that they will inevitably inflict. There is still room for improvement in the RISP department as well. Going 3-9 with runners in scoring position in the postseason is not going to get the job done, especially when you’re facing a lineup as explosive as Milwaukee’s.
Look at how we’ve been playing over the last six weeks. We’ve lost some tough games and we bounced back. We did it against Philly. We did it the last two weeks of the season, when we needed wins. We’re too good of a ballclub. This is a long series.
This goes without saying, but Jaime Garcia did not have his good stuff tonight. In four innings of work, he allowed six runs and two home runs on six hits, three walks, and three strikeouts. Everything was out over the plate, and Garcia simply had no command of any of his pitches. Whether you want to blame it on nerves or not, it’s become rather apparent that the 25-year-old isn’t up to the task against postseason competition. Garcia is know 0-2 in the playoffs with a 7.36 ERA.
As far as the offense is concerned, the Cardinals need their typical run producers to produce runs. Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday have just two combined RBIs and three combined extra base hits this postseason. David Freese has picked up the slack with two homers and eight runs batted in, but if Pujols, Holliday, and Berkman don’t start coming through in crucial situations, St. Louis will be fighting an uphill battle.
Just as they did in the NLDS against the Phillies, the Cards will look to steal game two of this best-of-seven series on the road tomorrow night. Edwin Jackson, who’s quality start forced a game five last series, faces off against Shaun Marcum. First pitch is at 7:05 CT, so shadows should not come into play at Miller Park. Let’s see if the Cards come back with a better performance a get a win under their belts before heading to Busch Stadium for games three and four.