The Cardinals face a tough task Friday night as they try to beat the National League's winningest team during the regular season in a one-game, winner take all play-off tilt on the road. But it's not an impossible mission.
Favoring the Nationals:
- Game one starter Gio Gonzalez, a favorite for the NL Cy Young Award, takes the hill for Washington. His ERA is almost a point lower at home than on the road at 2.28. He's a lefty, which in recent years has been an issue for the Cardinals offense. And this game should be no different with lefties Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso in the order and Carlos Beltran will be forced to bat from his weaker right side.
- The Nationals had a .617 winning percentage at home this year, slightly better than their .593 winning percentage on the road. Their crowd will be a factor in their favor while Gonzalez admitted the St. Louis crowd un-nerved him in a wild performance in game one.
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- As we saw Thursday, the luxury of having the second at-bat can be huge in a close game.
Favoring the Cardinals:
- Adam Wainwright has a mediocre win-loss record thanks to his slow start as he overcame Tommy John surgery this season. But he's no slouch. He's a big game pitcher who has faced post season pressure before with spectacular results. Wainwright has had something of a second wind lately with a .228 batting average against over the last month. He pitched well enough to win game one of this series. If the Birds' bats would have got one timely hit in the game, this deciding game five would never have been needed.
- The Cardinals have considerably more experience in elimination games, winning their last five in a row. While the Nationals are becoming accustomed to post season play, an elimination game is a whole different animal because every single move you make could result in a fatal mistake. In a game where one mistake could make all the difference, the Nationals have a third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, who is having a terrible time making throws across the diamond. If the Birds' can't break through against Gonzalez with long hits, they might be wise to try to bunt for hits toward third -- especially with the lefties Jay and Descalso at the plate.
- Jim Joyce is not behind the plate. He completely pulled the rug out from under St. Louis' patient offensive attack Thursday by calling balls well off the plate strikes. If the Nationals have to come over the plate, I look for the Cardinals' power attack to pop a ball or two out of the yard and give Wainwright a chance to nail down the win.