((HT: BASTA Bay Area/Ben Leonard))
The baseball world had become infatuated with the Cardinals’ ability to hit left handed pitching after they rocked Clayton Kershaw not once, but twice in the NLDS, eliminating Los Angeles. Madison Bumgarner begs to differ after an utterly dominant performance against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night, carrying the Giants to a 3-0 victory. The Cardinals never had a chance against the lanky lefty, scattering only four hits in 7 and 2/3 masterful innings, his fourth postseason start going seven or more scoreless innings. He established the strike zone early and often, getting ahead of Cardinal hitters and putting himself in advantageous counts. The Giants’ shutout win was their seventh straight road playoff victory, the longest in National League history. They have won ten of their last eleven in October overall, and their 27 playoff wins since 2010 are second only to the Cardinals’ 30. The Giants and playoff baseball have become synonymous.
Bumgarner did struggle a bit in the first inning, giving up a hard leadoff single to playoff hero Matt Carpenter and hard contact to several other Cardinals, but St. Louis got nothing to show for it, retired in order after Carpenter. It was smooth sailing for Bumgarner the rest of the way, as he settled in, leaving the Cardinals absolutely no chance. In a cold night at Busch Stadium, Bumgarner froze several hitters with his cutter, at times breaking from the inside corner all the way to the outside corner. He has not allowed a homer to a left-handed hitter since April 11th, when Carlos Gonzalez launched one at AT&T Park.
The Cardinals only real chance at scoring came in the seventh, when Yadier Molina and Jon Jay hit back-to-back singles with one out. Rookie Kolten Wong moved the runners over to second and third on a groundout to first, but Tony Cruz struck out on a high 93 MPH fastball to end the inning. St. Louis has been strangely reliant on the seventh inning this postseason, scoring 15 of their 18 runs in the frame. This number isn’t just a product of pure coincidence; the seventh is usually when starters begin to feel fatigue. The Giants’ offense silenced the crowd at Busch Stadium early, giving Bumgarner a cushion. Adam Wainwright, who dealt with shoulder problems after his early exit from Game One of the NLDS, was not his usual dominant self. He was roughed up once again, giving up three runs (two earned) in 4 and 2/3 shaky innings, laboring to limit the damage. Saturday marked the first time he failed to pitch five innings in consecutive starts. He has given up 21 base runners in 9 postseason innings this season.
The Cardinals’ ace has pitched a major league high 512 and 2/3 innings in the past two seasons; perhaps this immense amount of innings has taken a toll on the righty. San Francisco employed some of their trademark “Magic Wandu” in the second inning, scoring two runs without making much hard contact. Pablo Sandoval led off the inning with a double to right, a ball that appeared to be caught by right fielder Randal Grichuk, but it came out after crashing hard into the wall. Sandoval finished the game with three hits, marking the third career postseason game with three hits for the plodding third baseman. After his double, Hunter Pence worked the count against Wainwright, drawing a walk. After Brandon Crawford struck out, Travis Ishikawa hit a flare single to the opposite field, falling just over the head of a diving Matt Carpenter, scoring Sandoval and giving the Giants a 1-0 lead. With two outs and the bases loaded, Gregor Blanco hit a sharp grounder to Matt Carpenter at third, but Carpenter booted it, letting it carom off of his glove, scoring Pence from third.
Had Carpenter stayed in front of the ball, he would have been able to field it cleanly. Instead, he backpedaled and dropped his left foot, making it harder on himself. The Giants struck again in the third, after another strange series of events. Buster Posey and Sandoval led off the inning with back-to-back singles, both on curveballs from Wainwright, his signature out pitch. Pence followed with a line shot that was slowed after hitting Wainwright’s glove, allowing the second baseman Wong to field it, except he didn’t. He bobbled the ball and wasn’t able to tag the bag, but shortstop Jhonny Peralta recovered it and was able to get the out at second. Instead of a sure double play, the Giants had runners on first and third with one out. Brandon Belt followed by putting up a tenacious at-bat, working the count and eventually hitting a deep sacrifice fly to center, extending the Giants’ lead to 3-0.
Santiago Casilla pitched a perfect ninth inning, sealing the game.
After taking Game One of the NLCS, the Giants will try to take a two game lead into San Francisco on Sunday, sending Jake Peavy (6-4, 2.17) to the hill against Lance Lynn (15-10, 2.74). Lynn has struggled in six career playoff starts, posting a 4.57 ERA, but was good in one start this year, going six innings and giving up two runs against the Dodgers. Michael Morse was added to the NLCS roster, sending Gary Brown home, but was not used on Saturday. His defense is a liability, especially when he does not have his timing back at the plate yet. Travis Ishikawa filled the void in left, and clearly didn’t miss a beat.