Could the St. Louis Cardinals Solve the Force of Jake Arrieta in NLDS Game 3?

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The last time a Missouri-born pitcher started against the St. Louis Cardinals in postseason, Shaun Marcum surrendered 4 runs in the first inning of in Game 6 of the 2011 National League Championship Series. The Cardinals went on to win that game decisively by a score of 12-6, which also secured the National League pennant in the team’s latest World Series championship.

Tonight, Farmington, Mo. native Jake Arrieta has a chance to reverse the Missouri pitcher vs. Missouri team postseason rarity around what many consider a Cy Young award caliber season.

After tossing a four-hit road shutout in last Wednesday’s single elimination, National League Wild Card Game, Arrieta proved that his strong finish to the regular season was no fluke. The 29 year-old pitched his way into becoming one of the strongest second half performers in MLB history with a 12-1 record and 0.75 ERA post All-Star break.

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Arrieta’s season also included a no-hitter against postseason contender Los Angeles Dodgers in a Sunday Night Baseball telecast on August 30, occurring in the midst of a stretch during which he tossed 19 straight quality starts.

There is no denying that the Cardinals have their work cut out for tonight if Arrieta lives up to recent standards, but through proper preparation and execution, could there still be a chance that St. Louis steals a favorable victory away from the Chicago Cubs? Contrary to popular belief, a few signs point to yes.

To start this absurd argument, it’s hard to forget about the Cardinals’ recent October success against big-name pitchers. Most notably 3-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who sports a 6.13 ERA in five career postseason starts against St. Louis. The Cardinals even challenged eventual NLCS and World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner to an extent last year, holding a lead into the eighth inning against the Giants’ southpaw in what proved to be the elimination game. 

While it may not be fair to compare Arrieta to Kershaw, Bumgarner and other postseason-enriched starting pitchers, a similar effect could unfold given the Cardinals’ resilience in recent postseason. Regardless of who may be pitching, St. Louis carries a certain charisma and level of experience to grind out October victories that very few teams currently in the postseason possess.

Additionally, Arrieta’s pitching style is one that the Cardinals could expose through certain adjustments. Arrieta thrives mainly from the effectiveness of his cuter, which has averaged 79 mph and limited hitters to a .183 batting average in 2015. Blending in his cutter with a slew of other breaking pitches, Arrieta has made his presence known a surprisingly pitch-efficient strikeout guru.

It’s also concerning that Arrieta has a 3-1 record and a 1.87 ERA against St. Louis over the last two seasons, but certain Cardinals have stood out against Arrieta throughout his six-year career. Jason Heyward and Jhonny Peralta have particularly challenged Arrieta with six hits apiece and could benefit from this experience if hitting next to each other in the order. One would also have to think at some point that Matt Carpenter will break out of his 0-for-16 funk against his former college teammate at TCU. 

St. Louis carries a certain charisma and level of experience to grind out October victories that very few teams currently in the postseason possess.

The only other feasible way to pull a possible upset over Arrieta would be to mentally play the game as one of mistakes. From the Cardinals’ perspective, that would mean making smart decisions defensively and fixing the inconsistencies of starting counterpart Michael Wacha, while taking advantage of those made by a fairly young Cubs team.

Wacha’s 7.88 September ERA does not bode well for a Cubs offense that finished the 2015 regular season with 171 home runs. However, Wacha could work his way out of jams by manipulating the Cubs weaknesses, such as incorporating a variety of pitches to induce swing-and-miss pitches against the NL strikeout leaders.

St. Louis’s hitters could also consider making contact with Arrieta’s pitches with certain swing speeds and placements to challenge double-digit error defenders, rather it be Starlin Castro, Kris Bryant or even a corner outfielder with low defensive standards.

In any case that the Cardinals defeat Arrieta, more aspects of Game 3 would need to go right than wrong. But even in the most uncertain situations, just remember that postseason baseball is notorious for creating unpredictable and exciting memories.

Tonight’s road game is scheduled to start at 5:00 p.m. and can be viewed on TBS.

Next: 2015 NLDS Redux: Get Well, Jaime Garcia