I hate to use the phrase “must-win game” when it’s not actually a must-win game, but if the Cardinals aren’t able to win game five to take a 3-2 series lead, they will be facing incredibly low odds to advance to the World Series. You can talk all you want about this team prevailing through adversity in comeback fashion all season long, but a loss tonight means St. Louis must win two straight in Milwaukee to survive. Even for the Cards, that’s asking an awful lot.
So with that in mind, Redbird Nation will be relying on starting pitcher Jaime Garcia to bounce back from a woeful start in game one to put together his first quality postseason performance. Will he rise to the occasion, or will he cave under the pressure?
In two postseason starts thus far (the first two of his career), the 25-year-old Garcia has allowed 12 hits, 9 runs, 3 home runs, 5 walks, and a .267 batting average against in just 11 innings of work. He holds a playoff ERA of 7.36, has thrown 182 pitches, and was dealt the loss in both starts. Needless to say, there is certainly room for significant improvement.
However, there is reason to believe that Jaime can turn things around tonight. Why, because Garcia is dominant at home. Over the last two regular seasons, he has racked up 15 victories at Busch Stadium and posted a miniscule 2.17 home ERA. For the record, only Jered Weaver has a better ERA in his home ballpark during that span (1.85). Jaime has allowed just a .227 BAA and ten baserunners per nine innings at Busch this season.
The question isn’t whether he can do it; it’s whether he will do it. Garcia CAN be one of the more dominant lefties in the game. He CAN put together stellar outings at Busch. He CAN pitch the Cardinals to a victory. But he must be at his best in order to do so.
If Garcia can simply keep the Cardinals in the game, I like their chances. It sounds like a stupidly obvious question, but he must avoid taking a pounding from the Brewers’ big bats. No Milwaukee lead is insurmountable, but playing from behind is not the ideal situation for the Cards offense. Jaime must avoid the disaster inning at all costs, and keeping the leadoff en off base is a good way to accomplish that.
Between Garcia, Jackson, Carpenter, and Lohse, the St. Louis starting pitching has a combined ERA of 7.13 in the first four games of this NLCS. Not surprisingly, that ranks dead last among the remaining playoff teams.
Jaime will have all of the pressure in the world on him, and his youth isn’t necessarily a virtue in this case. After all, he’s facing the most critical game in which he’s ever pitched in his life. One thing is for sure, however. Cards fans will be quick to forget his previous postseason struggles if he puts on a show tonight.
In a rematch of game one, Garcia goes head-to-head with Zack Greinke, who wasn’t particularly effective for the Brew Crew in that game either. Not only do I like the Cardinals’ chances to knock him around a bit, I like their chances to rough up Shaun Marcum, the game six starter for Milwaukee. The question is, for which side will that be an elimination game?