Oct 11, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran waves to the crowd as he leaves the field after game one of the National League Championship Series baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians Fan's Guide to the NLCS: Game Two

You’d be forgiven if you didn’t make it to the end of Game 1 of the National League Championship Series last night, but you’re probably going to kick yourself when you find out what you missed. The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 in a 13-inning thriller in St. Louis and now lead the best-of-seven NLCS 1-0. Brian’s recap brings you up to speed on what happened, so the focus here will be on my soapbox agenda a couple key moments from Game 1 and what to look for in today’s game.

The Unsung Hero: Naming a hero for Game 1 would be too obvious: Carlos Beltran stepped up once again. But if the Dodgers had won, all we’d be talking about today would revolve around Zack Greinke – his fabulous eight-inning performance with 10 strikeouts should remind everyone why the Dodgers invested more than $159 million in him. But the Dodgers didn’t win, and credit must be given to St. Louis starter Joe Kelly, who went six innings and gave up two runs. It wasn’t the ace-like performance Greinke put up, but no one expects ace-type starts from Kelly at this point. It’s not fair, but neither is life.

Key Moment: There were a few, and Brian’s recap has a great gif of Beltran’s throw to nail A.J. Ellis at the plate in the top of the 10th inning. So instead I will climb up my soapbox  pick the beginning of the bottom of the 13th inning. To frame the situation, LA manager Don Mattingly had been making curious moves all night, especially since the eighth inning, when after first-baseman Adrian Gonzalez walked, Mattingly summoned Dee Gordon to pinch-run for Gonzalez. Gordon was thrown out at second after a Yasiel Puig grounded to the shortstop. So Mattingly wasted one of his best hitters (who is also a pretty good fielding 1B) for a hope and a prayer (and this move continued to shoot Donnie Baseball in the foot the rest of the game, as Professional Hitter Michael Young replaced Gordon, and in two professional at bats, Young made four professional outs – #classy).

October 7, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) pitches the second inning against the Atlanta Braves in game four of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

But that’s STILL not the key moment here. The key moment happened when, rather than summoning his closer (and best reliever), Kenley Jansen, to begin the 13th (or 12th, 11th, or 10th) inning, he chose to go with rookie Chris Withrow for the second straight inning. Now, Withrow has been pretty solid in his 34.2 IP this season, but the problem here was Mattingly’s logic – saving Jansen for a save opportunity which, unsurprisingly, never happened. Jansen relieved Withrow to face Beltran but it was too little and far too late at this point.

Who’s starting Game 2: To put it simply, this might be the best pitching matchup we get all postseason. St. Louis sends rookie Michael Wacha to the hill. Wacha has flirted with no-hitters in his past two starts (8.2 no-hit innings in his last regular season start, followed up by 7.1 no-hit innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 4 of the NLDS). It’s not likely he holds the powerful LA lineup hitless as long, but at this point I’m not sure I want to bet against him.

Don’t cry for the Dodgers, as they will counter with 25-year-old LHP Clayton Kershaw. Despite his youth, Kershaw is already an accomplished ace, with the 2011 NL Cy Young under his belt and a shot at the 2013 award as well. Despite a lower win total than his 2011 campaign (#killthewin), Kershaw has simply put up the best numbers of his career in the categories that matter. With a 1.83 ERA, a league-leading 232 strikeouts and an almost-unfair 0.915 WHIP, the Cardinals lineup’s night won’t be any easier. This should be fun.

X-factor for Game 2: Oh my god, is that the music for #smallsamplesize? Yup, it is, as St. Louis has only faced Kershaw twice this year – and its best hitter against the lefty may have been light-hitting shortstop Pete Kozma, who had three doubles (en route to a 4-4 night) against Kershaw on May 26 and added another double against him on August 6. Maybe Pete Kozma is to Clayton Kershaw like the Detroit Tigers’s Don Kelly is to Indians starter Justin Masterson?

For LA, their X-factor isn’t even going to play in the field – it’s Mattingly, whose ineptness in Game 1 has already been covered. He wasted Greinke’s start last night and Dodger fans should hope he doesn’t waste Kershaw’s tonight.

Game 2 prediction: I like Wacha a lot but was still all ready to give this one to LA, but after last night I’m not sure I can do that. So I will predict a 2-1 St. Louis come-from-behind victory, likely when Mattingly pulls Kershaw with a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning in favor of Jansen in a save situation. If you don’t like the prediction, feel free to send me hate tweets – my Twitter handle is @DieHardNight.

Tags: Adrian Gonzalez Carlos Beltran Chris Withrow Clayton Kersahw Dee Gordon Don Mattingly Joe Kelly Kenley Jansen Los Angeles Dodgers Michael Wacha Michael Young Pete Kozma St Louis Cardinals Zack Greinke

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