Questions yet to be answered
Game 2 should help, but it comes quickly for Dodgers and Cardinals
ST. LOUIS – Thirteen innings of high-tension baseball drama really ought to be enough. For a start, at least. For a start in the direction of some answers about the two teams in this National League Championship Series as they head into Game 2 on Saturday evening at Busch Stadium.
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Yes, we learned some things in Game 1's marathon, of course, not the least of which was ... well, let Dodgers' second basemen Mark Ellis overstate the obvious in the wake of that 4-hour, 47-minute pitching-fest.
"They're a good team. That's why they're here," Ellis said. "We're a good team, too. That's why we're here."
But that long night's journey into a 3-2 St. Louis win on Friday -- er, Saturday morning -- left a lot still to be resolved when the Cardinals and Dodgers hook up again. And we aren't talking about the outcome of the series itself. That'll unfold naturally, and there's no sense in trying to project after one very close game won by the home team. It's the questions about the ways and means by which these two teams are trying to get to the happy conclusion of a World Series appearance that Game 1 didn't answer and that perhaps Game 2 might.
Question No. 1: Where and when will St. Louis rediscover the offense that led the National League in runs, RBIs and on-base percentage during the regular season? The Cardinals are winning in the postseason, but not that way. Game 1 ended well for them despite another frustrating evening of postseason failure in clutch plate situations by nearly everyone not named Carlos Beltran. They had 13 innings to bust out on Friday and managed only seven hits. Among the offenders is leadoff man Matt Carpenter, a .318 hitter in the regular season whose base hit in the 13th was only his second in 23 postseason at-bats. And next up for Carpenter and St. Louis is the best pitcher on the planet: Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw in Game 2.
Question No. 2: How much longer can Dodgers' shortstop Hanley Ramirez stand up? Ramirez hit .345 in 86 games this year and carried L.A. through the NL Division Series win over Atlanta with six extra-base hits. But he's so banged-up – a nerve problem in his lower back, hamstring issues – that on Friday it seemed like it hurt him to move. It no doubt didn't help that he was hit in the ribs by a Joe Kelly pitch in his first Game 1 at-bat. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, "Hanley seemed like he was fine," but Ramirez's health bears watching as the series progresses.
Question No. 3: How do the Dodgers expect to capitalize on one of the Cardinals' few offensive weaknesses – a vulnerability to left-handed pitching – with only one left-handed reliever (J.P. Howell) on their NLCS roster? L.A. left Chris Capuano and Paco Rodriguez, both lefties, off the roster; and Mattingly did his very best to avoid any specific explanations for it Friday, saying, "Just these moves where we feel like the different way guys are pitching and the matchups with this particular team, this is the best thing for us."
Rodriguez struggled in September (5.68 ERA, .308 batting average against), which probably is why he isn't active, but Mattingly offered little in the way of details about Capuano except to say he's healthy. With the exception of David Freese (.275 against lefties, .257 against righties this year), the Cardinals are weaker against left-handed pitching up and down their lineup.
In Game 1, Mattingly waited until the 11th inning to play matchup with Howell, his lone lefty in the pen. Once Zack Greinke left after eight strong innings, the Dodgers let right-hander Brian Wilson face left-handed hitters Beltran (a switch-hitter who flew out to center against Wilson), Matt Adams (who walked) and Jon Jay (who also flew out to center).
"There are going to be times," Mattingly said, "obviously, when you've got one lefty that you're only going to be able to use him one time."
The Dodgers dodged those important lefty-righty matchups Friday. But you know they're going to keep cropping up as this series, which promises to be as tight throughout as it was in Game 1, progresses -- that is, assuming the Dodgers need anyone other than Kershaw on the mound in Game 2. Big assumption.
Question No. 4: How many no-hit innings will Michael Wacha, the Cardinals' Game 2 starter, throw this time? The rookie righty went 8 2/3 before he gave up a hit in his last regular-season start, and then took a no-hitter into the seventh in his next outing, a Game 4 win over the Pirates in the NL Division Series. Not that it seems to have made much of a lifestyle difference to him yet. "I still go to Target, still go to the grocery store," he said. "Nobody really notices me or anything like that."
And Question No. 5: How in the world can the Dodgers bounce back from Game 1's devastating loss? It won't take long to find out. The first pitch in Game 2 will come only a 14½ hours after Daniel Descalso crossed the plate with the winning run on Carlos Beltran's line single to right in the bottom of the 13th inning. And the answer to this one is easy, anyway, if you believe Los Angeles catcher A.J. Ellis: The Dodgers simply won't have time to dwell on it.
"Short memory," he said. "Come back tomorrow. It feels great coming back tomorrow knowing we've got Clayton on the mound."
And there's this final note, from Mattingly: "If the rest of the series is like this game, it should be a pretty good one."
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