Friday marks the 14th NLCS the Cardinals have been to, but how we did get here? At the All-Star Break this team was 44-44, surely a .500 team wouldn’t win the NL Central. The team signed Paul Goldschmidt and he had the 2nd worst batting average of his career. Jack Flaherty did not look like the Flaherty of last year. He started the season off with 50 runs allowed before the All-Star break. This seemed like a major concern going forward. How can we win if our pitching is allowing that many runs? They lost Yadier Molina for 49 games. Marcell Ozuna was lost for 30 games during July. It seemed, between injuries and question marks about the Cardinals pitching staff this year, that this season would be a season of learning for first year manager Mike Schildt. Not a playoff season, especially at the All-Star Break.
Since The All-Star Break
It seems this team quickly figured out they needed to get it together or be sitting at home in October. Get it together they did. Since the All-Star Break the Cardinals are 47-27 with a true ace emerging in Jack Flaherty. Remember the 50 runs allowed in the first half of the season? In the second half of the season he only allowed 10 runs. This doesn’t mean it was an easy road to the playoffs. It seemed every series was a make or break series. My wife and I attended a game September 16th against the same Nationals the Cardinals will be facing in the NLCS and it already had a playoff feel. It was like every fan knew that the Cardinals were playoff ready.
What Happened in the NLDS?
Game 1 saw a matchup of Miles Mikolas vs Dallas Keuchel. Through 7 innings this game was a low scoring affair. There was only 3 runs for the potent Atlanta offense and one for the Cardinals. In the top of the 8th inning the Cardinals scored 2 more, the Braves did not respond in the bottom of the 8th. Coming out tied with 3 outs left to make an impact, the Cardinals offense exploded for 4 runs. This seemed like more then enough runs for the closer, Carlos Martinez. Cardinals fans everywhere quickly became worried as Ronald Acuna Jr. hit a 2 run bomb and then Freddie Freeman hit a solo homer. Luckily for Cardinal fans everywhere could breathe a sigh of relief as Nick Markakis struck out looking to end the game.
Game 2 gave us a pitching matchup of Jack Flaherty vs Mike Foltynewicz. This game saw the Braves get to a young Flaherty early on. Foltynewicz looked great as he only allowed 3 hits over 7 innings. Flaherty gave up 8 hits and 3 runs over 7 innings. Unfortunately for Flaherty, the Cardinals could not seem to get to Foltynewicz. After only getting 6 hits this raised many questions for game 3 as the series was tied 1-1.
Game 3 showed fans everywhere a look at the old school and the new school in a matchup of Adam Wainwright vs Mike Soroka. Soroka looked good only allowing 2 hits and 1 ER over 7 innings. Cardinal fans were wondering if this was a dominant Soroka, or a lackluster offense. Waino, to his credit, looked like he had jumped in a time machine back to 2009. He allowed 4 hits and 2 walks, and had his 12 to 6 curve working. Wainwright struckout 8 on his way to 7.2 innings pitched, and didn’t allow a run as Andrew Miller closed out the 8th inning for him. The 9th inning saw Carlos Martinez come in for a save situation. This is the game that made fans start to question Martinez. He gave up 3 runs on 3 hits in the top of the 9th. The Cardinals could not come back in the bottom of the 9th and thus went down 2-1 in the series and facing elimination.
Game 4 saw Dakota Hudson vs Dallas Keuchel with the Cardinals down 2-1 and facing elimination. The Cardinals struck for 2 off back to back homers by Goldschmidt and Ozuna in the first, trying to give their pitching staff run support early for the first time in the series. Dakota Hudson allowed 1 run in the 3rd, but was able to get out of trouble and keep his lead. In the 4th we saw Marcell Ozuna hit his 2nd homerun of the game.
The 5th saw a run score by the Braves on an error by Matt Carpenter. In the same inning, Ozzie Albies hit a 2 run homer for the Braves to take a 4-3 lead. John Brebbia and Andrew Miller both found themselves in bases loaded jam in the 6th and the 7th, both were able to get out of the inning. In the 8th Paul Goldschmidt hit a broken bat double into left field. Yadier Molina played hero and hit a single over Freddie Freeman that scored Goldschmidt. In this game everyone watching got to see extra innings in October. Yadier Molina, yet again, stepped up to the plate with 1 out and another chance to be the hero, and he was. Yadier won the game with a deep fly out scoring Kolten Wong. This made the series 2-2
Game 5 saw a game 2 rematch in Mike Foltynewicz vs Jack Flaherty. Everyone was expecting another great pitchers dual between the two young pitchers. That is not what we got as in the 1st inning, Foltynewicz walked 3 and gave up 3 hits for 6 earned runs. Max Fried was then brought in to help relieve the pressure. Instead Fried threw fuel on the fire and walked 1, gave up 4 hits and 4 earned runs. This outburst had the Cardinals off to a 10 run 1st inning. The one thing that this game did make everyone over look was Flaherty. Along with being walked in the first with the bases loaded, he went 6 innings with 4 hits 8 strikeouts and only 1 earned run.
NLCS: What to expect
In their first NLCS since 2014, the Cardinals have lots of questions that need answering. Can Miles Mikolas go more than 5 innings? Will we see the offense of NLDS game 2 or game 5? Will we see the Carlos Martinez of NLDS game 1 and 3 or the Carlos of game 4? In Game 3 will we see the ageless Waino or a 38 year old Adam Wainwright who had a 4.19 ERA this year? Can Wong and Fowler have better NLCS then the NLDS? Will the offense be able to get run support for the pitching staff? There’s the one question every Cardinals fan is asking. Is this the year for number 12? We will find out soon enough.
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