NLDS GAME 1: Bombed-Out Buccaneers
Adam Wainwright stepped into the NLDS spotlight and unleashed the best start of his postseason career. The Cardinal ace handcuffed Pittsburgh for seven innings while the offense obliterated A.J. Burnett as the Cardinals crafted a convincing 9-1 win over the Pirates. The Cardinals lead the best-of-five series 1-0.
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE: Seven innings. Three hits. One earned run. No walks. Nine strikeouts. Wainwright taunted the potent Pirates lineup with a tantalizing diet of curveballs and changeups. The Pirates pounded the ball into the ground all afternoon; the only fly ball off of Wainwright came on Pedro Alvarez‘s (ugh – THAT guy again) home run in the fifth. There has been increasing concern over whether Wainwright would ever step up to claim the title of postseason stopper from the inimitable Chris Carpenter, but this performance answered those questions in resounding fashion. This is exactly the kind of start the team needed to see from Wainwright, who is the steady leader and heartbeat of the pitching staff. He faced a Pirates team still adrenalized by their home victory over the Reds, and he shut them completely down. It was exactly the kind of start an ace produces in the postseason.
RUTHIAN: Carlos Beltran had just one hit today in five at-bats, but it was the biggest hit of the game — a massive three-run homer to break a scoreless deadlock in the third and instantly unravel Burnett. It was Beltran’s 15th postseason homer, tying him with Babe Ruth on the list of most home runs in playoff history. Beltran is undoubtedly the greatest active postseason hitter, and one of the best to ever play in October. His numbers are insane: he has a postseason batting line of .363/.470/.782, and an unconscious OPS of 1.252 that might be the best in MLB history. We have been fortunate to have this smooth, classy player for the last two years. If he continues to produce like this in the postseason, he will soon have a ring to add to his already-impressive resume.
MR. OCTOBER: We spent the summer watching David Freese stumble through a difficult 2013 campaign and waiting expectantly for the team to trade him for a shortstop. That never happened, although Freese did fall into a quasi-platoon in August and September. Now, just as the team and fans were ready to cut ties with the hometown hero, Freese has come back to life. It should be no surprise, though — the calendar just turned over to October. This is the month Freese claimed from Reggie Jackson two years ago with his astonishing double-MVP performance in the 2011 postseason. Now he’s back. Freese laced a key double into right field (of course) with the bases-loaded to score three and officially turn the game into a rout. With Freese adding more clutch postseason hits to his growing legacy in St. Louis, can the Cardinals realistically afford to trade him this winter?
FASTER THAN HE LOOKS: Matt Adams looks like one of the stone statues guarding Easter Island; huge, heavy, immovable. However, Adams showed off his cat-like reflexes (admittedly, a very large cat) with several impressive grabs at first base. Then, in the sixth, Adams chugged home from first base on a double by Yadier Molina, and barely looked winded afterwards. He might look out-of-shape to the casual observer, but Cardinal fans are beginning to realize that, much like Ruth, Adams’ physique disguises some real athleticism.
FIRE FROM HEAVEN: Brilliant relief work followed Wainwright after he left the game. Carlos Martinez was revelatory in the eighth, dispatching the Pirates on just seven pitches. Included in his stint was the defensive play of the game, as Martinez pounced from the mound, barehanded a dribbler down the third base line by Russell Martin, and threw a side-armed strike to Adams for the out. Martinez has a scary combination of incredible talent and subtle arrogance that promises a limitless future for the power righthander. Trevor Rosenthal came out to take on the ninth inning role, mowing through the heart of the order with relative ease. Like 2011, Cardinals’ bullpen firepower should be a huge asset.
MATHENIUS: I’ve credited Mike Matheny with his obvious ability to guide teams into the postseason, so I’ll keep this complaint brief. Why would Matheny decide to use Rosenthal in the ninth inning of a 9-1 game when he must know that Rosie will be critical in this series? Some people suggested that Rosie needed the work, and that might be true. However, he must be available for closer games and tighter situations. Throwing him in a useless inning seems like a waste. Fortunately, Rosenthal had an efficient appearance today (18 pitches).
EL CAPITAN: With a 2-3 day, Yadier Molina nudged his career postseason batting average over the .300 mark. Not only is he the greatest defensive catcher in Cardinal history, but he is also the most productive postseason catcher to ever wear Cardinal red. He might be one of the best in MLB history. Think about it — Yadi is playing in his 17th postseason series, and he has a .300 average in 227 at-bats. He only has two home runs, but one of them (in 2006) ranks among the most memorable postseason homers of recent times. More than any other player, Molina is most responsible for the unrelenting dominance of the Cardinals in the postseason over the last decade.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Wainwright. Despite some other huge performances from Freese, Beltran, Martinez, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina, Wainwright’s dominant afternoon galvanized the Cardinals, silenced the Pirates, and set an important tone for the series. Hopefully it carries over to Lance Lynn tomorrow.
CONCLUSION: What can you say about a game in which everything went right? This was an incredible demonstration of power from the Cardinals — huge offense, power arms, slick defense. The other shoe is not going to drop for this team; they are for real. I think the rest of the National League postseason pretenders were served notice with today’s impressive output.