NLDS Game 5 Preview


Game five of the NLDS between the Cardinals and Phillies is finally upon us, and you know what that means: it’s cliche time! It’s a do-or-die, all-or-nothing, make-or-break, winner-take-all contest between two National League powerhouses with World Series aspirations. This, my friends, is what postseason baseball is all about. Ahead, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about game five and preview what is setting up to be one for the ages.

Let’s start with the pitching match-up. From the very beginning of this series, Tony La Russa has been fantasizing about what he calls a dream pitching match-up between aces Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay in a decisive game five situation. La Russa got away from his one-game-at-a-time philosophy a little bit with those remarks, but as it turns out, his dream has become a delightful reality. I suppose it’s only fitting that this scenario plays out.

Aside from being aces of their respective staffs and former Cy Young Award winners, Carpenter and Halladay have something else in common. There is a longtime friendship between these two dating back to the early years of their careers in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Carpenter, drafted in 1993, and Halladay, drafted two years later, formed a bond as teammates in the minor leagues and spent about four years together in the Blue Jays starting rotation. Both had to overcome some significant odds to develop into the pitchers they are today, and both are supreme competitors. The odds of this friendship coming to a head in Game Five of the NLCS are unthinkable, but it’s a friendship that will have to be put on hold as Carp and Halladay take center stage in opposite uniforms. I’m sure they’ll discuss this game on the golf course somewhere down the road, but right now, it’s all business.

Chris Carpenter:

"We went through a lot of the same issues at the same time, so there was a lot of conversation on not understanding what’s going on, and why these things are going on. I think it was just being able to be a sounding board to one another and being able to stay, listen, I’m going through the same things you’re going through. As young kids with high expectations, this game is hard. And if you can’t control that stuff in your mind, you’re going to have a hard time executing, and fortunately we were able to figure it out."

Roy Halladay:

"Not only is Chris a good pitcher, but he’s obviously a good friend. You know, we’ve talked about this scenario. I think it’s something we’re both looking forward to. It’s going to be a challenge. We haven’t gotten chance to pitch against each other, and if you’re going to do it for the first time, might as well be now."

As expected, Halladay picked up the win in game one thanks in large part to a Cardinals collapse. He allowed a three-run homer in the first inning, but he settled in as only he could and tossed seven scoreless from that point on. Carpenter, on the other hand, was lit up in game two. On short rest for the first time in his career, Chris gave up four runs and three walks in just three innings. He was saved with a no decision thanks to a St. Louis comeback. It’s impossible to know exactly how much he was effected by just three day’s rest, but he’s probably a safer bet to have success on his normal rest schedule.

It is certainly worth noting that for the first time in this series, the Cards are about as close to fully healthy as they can get. Matt Holliday and Skip Schumaker both participated fully in the team’s Thursday workout, and both are expected to be in the starting lineup tonight. Even with the depth that St. Louis has, it makes a world of difference with these two on the field rather than watching from the dugout.

Also worth pointing out is the fact that the St. Louis squirrel did not make the trip to Philadelphia. This is good news in that the game will not be subject to any rodent interruptions (although fan interruptions are quite possible), but it’s bad news if you are of the opinion that this creature had a hand in the Cardinals’ game four rally.

Finally, we should be aware of the bullpens for tonight’s game. Cliff Lee, who warmed up but did not come in to pitch in game four, is available in relief if needed. For the Cards, Edwin Jackson is the only guy that is completely out of the equation according to La Russa.

Okay, now it’s time for my keys to the game:

  • Who will be the first to score? Jumping out to a lead is always a plus, but in a must-win game on the road, the importance of doing so cannot be overstated. The Cardinals have fallen behind in each of the last three games, so an early lead would go a long way to give them some confidence as the game progresses.
  • Which team will convert with runners in scoring position? In this situation, there is no excuse for failing to capitalize when given opportunities. This was a major problem for the Cards in game three, and their double play problem is certainly a major factor in cashing in with RISP. The Cardinals have to be clutch. It’s as simple as that.
  • Which pitcher will exhibit the best damage control? With two aces on the mound for this one, runs may be at a premium. With that said, Cardinals’ pitchers cannot allow the huge inning. It may only take three runs to win this game, so when Carpenter does allow baserunners, he must work his way out of trouble and avoid giving up more than one run at a time. Carp must make the Phils beat him by stringing together a bunch of hits. Getting ahead in counts and not allowing the long ball are crucial.
  • Can these teams avoid defensive mistakes? Each team has made one error so far in this series, and I think both would like to keep it that way. Errors are always magnified in big games and key situations, so guys will need to keep their composure in the field and help their pitcher out.
  • Which manager will make the correct moves and adjustments? Tony La Russa and Charlie Manuel have both had their moments in this series, and both will be under heavy pressure to put their team in the best possible position to win. It’s not easy being a manager, but that’s what they get paid for.

As far as I’m concerned, all of the pressure is on the Phillies right now. They had baseball’s best regular season record. They are supposed to be here. They were supposed to end this series short of five games. St. Louis is used to being the underdog, and they have been playing must-win games since the start of September. The Cardinals have something to be proud of regardless of the outcome of this game. For Philadelphia, it’s World Series or bust.

Lance Berkman:

"Just because pressure is what you allow it to be. For me, it’s competition. Somebody’s gonna win. Somebody’s gonna lose. I’ve lost, I’ve won. It’s just one of those things. I think the team, in general, has a good attitude about it. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished and we’re just going to go out and compete."

Prediction: St. Louis 4, Philadelphia 2

This team displays a resilience that I just can’t seem to bet against. There is no challenge that these Redbirds aren’t up to, and I truly believe they are destined for the World Series. I think the Cards have the perfect blend of veteran experience and young talent to come into a hostile environment in Citizens Bank Park and do what they’ve done all year long. The Phils and Cards have alternated wins in this series which would mean it’s the Phillies turn for a victory, but the visiting team has won the last three NLDS game five’s and is 9-8 overall.

Chris Carpenter:

"This is one of the greatest and most pleasurable seasons I’ve ever had with a bunch of guys. It’s been a crazy ride and no matter what happens, they can’t take anything that we’ve done away from us."

Starting at 8:30p.m. ET (7:30 CT) on TBS, the Cardinals and Phillies play for the right to advance to the 2011 NLCS.

Go Cards!