Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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

There are many reasons why playoff baseball is so awesome, but one reason I enjoy is how often one game can change the complexion, if not the outcome, of a series. Game Three of this NLCS may have been one of the aforementioned games, as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Hyun-jin Ryu turned in a stellar performance, besting the St. Louis Cardinals’ ace, Adam Wainwright with a 3-0 win and brings the series to a 2-1 Cardinals advantage.

Ryu was brilliant, and he needed to be, but an ignored story from this game may be the Dodgers actually scoring runs. This isn’t really hyperbole, either – the Dodgers hadn’t scored in 22 innings (or, two games plus three innings, if you wanna look at it like that) when Adrian Gonzalez doubled to drive in second baseman Mark Ellis. Ellis had reached base on a critical error by center fielder John Jay, who hasn’t had a great series.

Brian can get you up to speed on a recap of the game, but without taking anything away from the Dodgers, I also wanted to highlight that the Cardinals likely ran themselves out of at least a run in the top of the fifth inning. After back-to-back singles led off the inning, Daniel Descalso, who was pinch-running for an injured David Freese, was doubled off second base on a line drive to center field. #wompwomp

So the Dodgers have new life, but the Cardinals still have the edge. Let’s look at what to watch for in Game Four.

Unsung Hero: Lost amongst Ryu’s stellar game, and Puig being awesome, Adrian Gonzalez chipped in an RBI double. Yeah, he left three guys on base but hey, a win is a win is a win is a win, right?

Key Moment: Hey, free nickel! (courtesy of NotGraphs)

Seriously though, the Dodgers needed Puig to break out for something – anything – in the worst kind of way (the bad kind). Puig’s triple-that-he-totally-thought-was-a-homer in the bottom of the fourth extended the Dodgers’ lead to 2-0. I know many people get annoyed by Puig, but they’re lame. Puig, and more specifically, Puig doing well, is good for baseball. Let the stuffy ones have their unwritten honor code. I’m gonna have fun and watch Puig.

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Who’s Starting Game Four: Uhh good question, actually. It’s pretty much assured St. Louis will start RHP Lance Lynn. Lynn is another good young pitcher in the Cardinals organization, and in 33 starts this year, he posted a 3.97 ERA and struck out 198 batters this season. So we know who the Cards are starting.

As for the Dodgers, well, manager Don Mattingly thinks I get paid every time I mention his name in one of these previews (and I don’t), so although RHP Ricky Nolasco is scheduled to start, Mattingly has said it’s a possibility that Game One starter Zack Greinke will start on short rest. If Nolasco does get the task, it could be the jolt the Cardinals offense needs. Don’t read that statement as “Nolasco is a garbage pitcher,” he’s actually a pretty serviceable starter. He was acquired by the Dodgers from the Marlins for very little, but this was more due to the Marlins being cheap as all hell LA being willing to take on all of his salary. However, compared to the starters the Cardinals have seen this series, and even against Pittsburgh, Nolasco would likely be the worst starter they have faced, and he has not pitched well lately – to the tune of being skipped over in the NLDS in favor of Clayton Kershaw on short rest.

X-factor for Game Four: Assuming Nolasco starts for LA, this would be the worst pitching matchup of the series. Yeah, we’ve been totally spoiled, but perhaps this opens the door for a good, old-fashioned barn burner? So let’s look at some offensive X-factors. For the Cardinals, I’m looking at two guys – Jay, who’s had a rough series in every sense of the game, and catcher Yadier Molina, who has been hitting in the series but has been relatively quiet with the hits. St. Louis could use some production from these two.

For LA, shortstop Hanley Ramirez did start last night, and had two hits and an RBI. The Dodgers desperately need him healthy and in the lineup, if for nothing else but to keep St. Louis honest and not walk Adrian Gonzalez every time he comes up.

Prediction for Game Four: This is tough since LA is being so coy about its starter. Coyness annoys me, so I will assume Nolasco starts, and predict an 8-5 Cardinals victory, which would give them a daunting 3-1 series lead (although, as Indians fans will be sure to point out, a 3-1 series lead isn’t bulletproof #wompwomp).

Tags: Adam Wainwright Adrian Gonzalez Don Mattingly Hyun-jin Ryu John Jay Lance Lynn Los Angeles Dodgers Mark Ellis Ricky Nolasco St Louis Cardinals Yadier Molina Yasiel Puig Zack Greinke

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