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Monday, October 10, 2011
NLCS Game 2 starters forget the past

By Christina Kahrl


As we gear up for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, much of what has already happened in this series -- the war of words and the obvious mutual dislike -- owes a lot to a full season's worth of these two teams going after one another. And after Sunday’s ear-splitting fifth-inning mayhem, setting up the Brewers’ swagger against Tony La Russa’s more restrained Cardinals club couldn’t be any easier.

Going into Monday night’s game, you can expect the starting pitchers of both teams to have something in common: Edwin Jackson and Shaun Marcum claim they’ll want no part of the past when they take the mound. Whether it’s Marcum’s glove-flipping disaster in the Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Diamondbacks or Jackson’s 10-run shellacking in Miller Park on Aug. 3, neither man cares to remember.

“Definitely put the last one away; that’s not one you want to remember. It was pretty easy to put that one away,” Marcum said Sunday.

“What start?” Jackson retorted with a laugh when asked about the 10-run turn. “I can take my beatings and I can handle that. It’s not my first one and it probably won’t be my last. I feel good and I feel strong, and I continue to challenge hitters, regardless of what the score is.”

Thanks to the unbalanced schedule, Jackson has long since avenged himself on the Brewers in-season, throwing a pair of quality starts against Milwaukee in two subsequent August turns. Marcum has had no opportunity to put that much distance between his last start, and with that playoff start coming on the heels of a rough September, he and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke focused on being more philosophical.

“You know, you go back and look, I’ve given up a lot of hits, but a lot of them haven’t really been hit that hard,” Marcum declared. “It’s just one of those things. It’s baseball. You make good pitches, and sometimes you get rewarded for it, and sometimes you make mistake pitches and they hit it right at somebody. That’s how this game works.”

Roenicke added: “If you look at all the hits that he’s given up, there are more cheap hits given up from him than anybody else. … It’s not like they’re just driving balls all over the ballpark, that is not happening. So I don’t know why that happens now, or lately in his last whatever starts, but it’s happening more now than it did early in the season.”

Well, at least both Roenicke and Marcum clearly got their talking points down beforehand. A “them’s the breaks” defense is all well and good, but Marcum’s managed to give up six homers in his last 29 innings pitched across six starts, including that decisive Paul Goldschmidt grand slam in the NLDS.

You might want to think that Marcum’s brand of Zen fits neatly with a pitcher keeping in perspective what he has control over. Balls in play need defenders to catch them, and Marcum’s league-average strikeout rate -- 19.2 percent to the NL’s 19 percent -- means that he’s a starter who is much more dependent on his defense than Zack Greinke or Yovani Gallardo. If you wonder why so many balls are dropping in on Marcum, whether you use plain old Defensive Efficiency (how many balls in play get caught) or Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, the Brewers’ defense rates as equally mediocre.

In Monday’s lineup, we’ll see what kind of memories inspire Roenicke’s lineup choice at third base, the only lineup slot where he’s had to exert much creative license since Rickie Weeks came back from the DL. If Roenicke sticks with his short-term memory, he’ll keep riding the hot hand and play utilityman Jerry Hairston Jr., never mind Hairston’s career .698 OPS, or career defensive numbers at third that don’t decisively support his current rep as the better defensive option at third base.

But could Roenicke turn back to Casey McGehee, the regular third baseman whose three-homer mash-fest against Jackson powered that 10-run disasterpiece? Probably not, since McGehee didn’t add any damage in Jackson’s next two starts against Milwaukee. Even as everyone else tries to forget what has happened while gearing up for Game 2, some men simply appear to be forgotten.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.