In the deciding Game 5 of the NLDS, the St. Louis Cardinals should look to these five keys to the game to win the series.
The St. Louis Cardinals are one win away from a date with either the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Washington Nationals in the NLCS, but they’re one loss away from getting knocked out by the Atlanta Braves.
NLDS Game 4 saw the Cardinals battle back off of the ropes (mostly thanks to Yadier Molina) and stun the Braves in 10 innings on a walkoff sacrifice fly. With a day off, almost every player should be ready to go in the winner-take-all game.
The Cardinals are going to need a few things to swing in the right direction to keep the postseason run going. What needs to go right?
1. Jack Flaherty being Jack Flaherty
Jack Flaherty being on the hill for this critical game is huge. In the biggest game of his career, Flaherty needs to pitch the way he pitched the entire second half. In his lone postseason start, Flaherty pitched decently but was outdueled by Mike Foltynewicz. If Flaherty can improve on his last performance, it could be a long day for the Braves’ offense. He does need run support, which was lacking in his last start. But it’s easier said than done with Foltynewicz on the mound.
2. DeJong and Fowler getting out of their funks
Paul DeJong and Dexter Fowler have been ice cold in the postseason so far. DeJong is hitting .143 with two hits in 14 at-bats. Fowler, meanwhile, is hitting an even more anemic .111, managing only one knock in 17 at-bats.
Manager Mike Shildt should seriously consider taking Fowler out of the leadoff spot. Leadoff has been a sore spot for the Cardinals all year, but the best option might be Tommy Edman. He’s hitting a solid .286 in the series and will likely be a better table-setter than Fowler.
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3. The bullpen picking it up
Ideally, Flaherty will pitch superbly and the bullpen will barely be needed, if at all. But more realistically, the bullpen will likely need to be utilized at some point in the game, and it has not been very strong since September.
However, it showed some life in Game 4, giving up no runs on only three hits after relieving Dakota Hudson. Carlos Martinez, who imploded in Game 3, recovered after a leadoff double to retire the next three batters. Hopefully this is a sign of the bullpen bouncing back at a crucial time.
4. Pitching carefully to the Braves’ big bats
Ronald Acuna Jr. and Dansby Swanson are both hitting .500 for the Braves in the postseason. Mike Shildt’s curious decision to walk Brian McCann in Game 3 to get to Swanson ended up not paying off, and the Cardinals should be very careful with the hot bats. Flaherty is the best one for the job, but one mistake could cause the floodgates to open. This time, Shildt might reconsider his choice if he’s faced with a similar McCann-or-Swanson decision.
5. Taking the crowd out of it
This might seem like an odd key, but the recent article on STL Today about Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley‘s objections to the “Tomahawk Chop” has made national sports news. Expect Braves fans in tune with the news to ramp up the noise and chops, especially if Helsley comes in to pitch. The Cardinals need to get an early lead and make the crowd’s participation minimal.
If the Cardinals can hit on all five of these, a trip to the NLCS is in their sights. If they fail to reach any of these, it will be a tough road and a potentially crushing end to the team’s playoff run.