10/13/2013 6:25 P.M. ET
While poised for breakout, Cardinals realistic
St. Louis getting it done without usual overwheming offense thus far in NLCS
By AJ Cassavell / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- The Cardinals' bats didn't produce a whole lot of offense during the first two games of their National League Championship Series against the Dodgers.
But they scored just enough -- four runs over 22 innings, to be exact -- to grab a commanding 2-0 series lead as the scene shifts to Los Angeles.
Thing is, the Cardinals spent most of the year getting a whole lot of offense on almost a nightly basis. They led the NL in runs and on-base percentage during the regular season and hit an absurd .330 with runners in scoring position.
The fact that St. Louis owns a 2-0 series lead without having duplicated that level of offensive success bodes well for the remainder of the series, Cardinals infielder Daniel Descalso said.
"We know what our offense can do," Descalso said. "We scored those seven runs in one inning in that Game 1 against [Pittsburgh's A.J.] Burnett. Our offense is capable of putting together big innings like that. But that's not going to happen all the time."
There is, of course, a perfectly logical explanation for the Cardinals' struggles at the plate this series. In Game 1, they faced Zack Greinke, arguably the hottest pitcher in baseball during the second half of the season. Then, in Game 2, they faced NL Cy Young Award favorite Clayton Kershaw.
"It's not that we haven't had a good approach; we've had a good approach," said right fielder Carlos Beltran, who knocked in all three runs the Cards' 13-inning Game 1 victory. "Greinke and Kershaw, I mean, come on. You don't expect a lot of hits against those guys."
Getting it done with D
If, indeed, the Cardinals' plate approach is the same as it was during the regular season, they could be poised for a breakout game on Monday night. The Dodgers' 1-2 punch of aces has been well-documented, but after Kershaw and Greinke comes a bit of a drop-off.
Rookie left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu gets the ball for the Dodgers coming off one of the worst starts of his young career. He surrendered four runs on six hits in just three innings during the Dodgers' Game 3 NL Division Series victory over Atlanta.
But third baseman David Freese was quick to point out that slugfests are few and far between in the postseason. To Freese, a solid offensive night for the club requires only being as "opportunistic" as possible.
"We're not sitting in Miller Park banging pinballs," Freese said. "Going through Pittsburgh, playing L.A. -- these are tough staffs. We're finding a way to win so far.
"I think a lot of people look back at [the 2011 postseason] with Albert [Pujols'] three home runs in a game, and what I did and what we did as a team. But I think that was just a special deal. Now I think it's more what postseason baseball is like. It's all about pitching."
That may be, but you can't win without scoring (as the Dodgers found out on Saturday), and the Cards' hitters have certainly struggled a bit.
Through two games, no player has more than two hits, and the entire club has mustered just nine. St. Louis' .134 batting average is the lowest ever for a team that won the first two games of a series.
"When you play in postseason games, [pitchers] are always trying to find a way to take it to the next level, concentration-wise," Beltran said. "They try to be more careful, they try to pitch around guys. They are going to try and pick the spots."
Ryu acknowledged as much during his news conference Sunday when he said that -- in his mind -- quality pitches and zeros on the scoreboard are more important than a starter's length.
That's a fact that isn't lost on the Cardinals' hitters, who know they likely won't be able to replicate the nearly five runs per game that they scored during the regular season.
"Pitchers pitch a little differently in the postseason," Descalso said. "One run could be the difference between winning and losing. We've been fortunate that we've been able to do just enough."
Doing "just enough" in Monday's Game 3 may not require much with Adam Wainwright set to take the hill. But a re-ignited Cards offense coupled with their ace on the mound would no doubt be a scary prospect for the Dodgers.