Oct 12, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal (left) celebrates with catcher Yadier Molina after game two of the National League Championship Series baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians Fan's Guide To The NLCS: Game Three

Game Two of the NLCS featured two great pitching performances and after a 1-0 victory by the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis, it was also a reminder to the Dodgers – especially ace LHP Clayton Kershaw – of how unfair baseball can be sometimes.

Lead Editor Brian Heise recapped both of Saturday’s games, so if you weren’t able to watch, take a look and let him bring you up to speed. As Brian points out, Kershaw probably pitched better than St. Louis starter RHP Michael Wacha, but a passed ball by LA catcher A.J. Ellis proved costly, and the Dodger bats were unable to do much of anything to bail their starter out. I’m sure it wasn’t fun for a Dodger fan to watch the Cardinals take a 2-0 series lead, but this baseball game was entertaining as hell for the rest of us.

The series shifts to Los Angeles, but the return home will likely be a small consolation for the Dodgers, as their task isn’t much easier. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez is questionable for the game (as of Sunday night) due to a bruised rib. Ramirez was a late scratch for Game Two after taking a Joe Kelly fastball in the ribs in Game One. LA center fielder Andre Either (microfracture of the lower left leg) is also questionable for the game, so the rest of the Dodger lineup may have to shoulder the burden in Game Three.

The Unsung Heroes: Though the starting pitchers were rightfully the stars, the St. Louis bullpen was brilliant in 2.1 IP. LHP Randy Choate (0.1 IP) LHP Kevin Siegrist (0.1 IP), RHP Carlos Martinez (0.2 IP) and RHP Trevor Rosenthal (1 IP) were perfect as they slammed the door on any chance of a Dodger comeback. Martinez and Rosenthal struck out every batter they faced. Remember their names – particularly Martinez, as they’re both young fireballers and you’ll likely be hearing about them for years to come, as Indians prospect Kieran Lovegrove discovered.

Key Moment: I really wanted to just rename this section “When did (Dodgers manager) Don Mattingly screw it all up this time?” but unfortunately, his dumb decision didn’t exactly cost the Dodgers the game. Lifting Kershaw for a pinch-hitter (the professional Michael Young) in the bottom of the seventh inning after a (downright shocking) two-out Nick Punto single (and after Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had lifted Wacha for Siegrist) wasn’t exactly a terrible decision, even in hindsight knowing it failed (Young had a #classy fly out to left). It’s a tough call, (though personally I would have just prefered to keep Kershaw in the game with 72 pitches thrown) and I suppose even a professional Michael Young hater like me couldn’t criticize bringing in one of the few options on Mattingly’s bench.

The key moment came an inning earlier. After I mocked the idea of a pitcher batting on Twitter, Kershaw singled to left field, and Carl Crawford followed up with another single that second baseman Matt Carpenter misplayed, allowing Crawford to advance to second and Kershaw to go to third. After Wacha induced a Mark Ellis pop-up, Matheny had Wacha intentionally walk first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to load the bases. It wasn’t unreasonable to expect the rookie Wacha to begin to nibble or even crumble under the pressure. But Wacha struck out Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe swinging to end the Dodgers’ best scoring threat.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Who’s starting Game 3: St. Louis will now start its own ace, RHP Adam Wainwright, and LA will counter with rookie import LHP Hyun-jin Ryu.  Wainwright has had a return to form this season, boasting a 2.94 ERA in a league-leading 241.2 IP. His five complete games and two shutouts led the league as well. He also pretty much owned the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLDS, giving up only two earned runs in 16 IP in two starts. He will be on the short list for the NL Cy Young award.

Ryu, 26, was signed by the Dodgers in the offseason to a six-year $36 million dollar deal after pitching in the Korea Baseball Association, where he was a seven-time all-star. He’s had a solid MLB debut campaign, starting 30 games, with a solid 3.00 ERA in 192 IP. He was roughed up by the Pirates in the NLDS, but one of his best starts this year game against this St. Louis Cardinals team on August 8, where he went seven innings and gave up an unearned run. After a rocky start to the season, Ryu settled down, and since July he hasn’t walked many batters – he had eight walks in July, four  in August and three in September/October of the regular season.

X-factor for Game 3: For the Dodgers, it’s Ryu. He will likely have a short leash, as Mattingly has proven he’s terrible at bullpen management the Dodgers are pretty close to desperation mode. But he will need to give LA a great effort, as a solid one won’t be enough with Wainwright opposing them. Having Ramirez healthy would be a huge boon too.

For St. Louis, besides the obvious choice of Wainwright, I’d keep an eye on third baseman David Freese. I have no statistical relevance for this choice, it’s purely a hunch. Freese has had an uneven season, so I’m pretty much going on his past postseason success (he was the MVP in the 2011 NLCS and World Series).

Game 3 prediction: I’m not as down on Ryu as some analysts are (ha! I just called myself an analyst!) but I’m not going to get cute here. Facing one of the game’s best pitchers in Wainwright isn’t an easy task as is, and with Ramirez likely out and Puig a non-factor in the playoffs so far, it’s hard to bet against the tide. I think this will be another low-scoring affair, but I will pick the Cardinals to win 3-1.

Tags: Adam Wainwright Clayton Kershaw Cleveland Indians David Freese Don Mattingly Hanley Ramirez Hyun-jin Ryu Los Angeles Dodgers Michael Wacha Mike Matheny St Louis Cardinals Yasiel Puig

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