To read the speculative reports about the outcome of the National League Division Series, one would think the St. Louis Cardinals should go ahead and take down the 2013 National League championship pennant flying in left field at Busch Stadium and replace it with a white flag of surrender.
I'm amazed that it is generally expected that Adam Wainwright will be out-dueled by Los Angeles Dodgers pitching star Clayton Kershaw and, therefore, the Redbirds simply have no chance to win.
Yes, Kershaw is almost assured to win the National League Cy Young Award for his 2014 regular season performance. But are the prognosticators aware that this is no longer the regular season?
Wainwright, among the top three contenders for the Cy Young with a 20-6 record and a 2.38 ERA, is perhaps the best post season pitcher active in the major leagues today. He's 4-3 with a 2.53 ERA in playoff and World Series games with four saves and 76 strikeouts compared to nine walks. He's undefeated in five division series starts with a 2.52 ERA. Not many pitchers can match his big game experience.
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One of the hallmarks of Wainwright's career is his ability to respond well to high pressure situations. And I expect that he'll be plenty pumped up Friday to respond to the critics -- and to put his team on his back in a very big game.
Wainwright knows if he can help the Cardinals to win one of their two games in Los Angeles, they'll have an excellent chance to come home and take control of the series against the Dodgers. I'd be shocked if we don't see his best.
Another component of the equation that has folks ready to hand this series over to LA is the Cardinals' offense. The Birds may not be as flashy as the Dodgers. But they've found ways to win this year. Let's not forget the Birds are the best team in the playoffs at taking away other teams's runs. Their players are battle tested from playing deep into the post season the last three years. When one factors in that games are played differently in October than they are in May, the intangibles lean toward St. Louis.
With a pair of aces opposing each other, the Birds are likely to more aggressively run the bases and to try to manufacture runs than to gamble for big innings. If they can give Wainwright a couple of runs, I think he has a good chance to make them stand up. Then who knows what will happen?