For the second straight year, the Cardinals dispatched the Dodgers from the postseason. Though he didn't entirely melt down as he did in Game 1 of the Division Series or Game 6 of last year's National League Championship Series, Clayton Kershaw was ran out of gas while pitching on three days' rest, and Los Angeles' sputtering offense — with Yasiel Puig controversially on the bench — couldn't pick up the slack. St. Louis advanced to the NLCS for the fourth straight year with a 3-2 victory. It now awaits the winner of the Giants-Nationals series, while the Dodgers get to spend the winter figuring out how to stretch $230 million far enough to buy some competent middle relief.
Here are three quick thoughts:
1. The seventh inning was again Kershaw's undoing
Through six innings, Kershaw didn't have his most dominant stuff, and he wasn't efficient. Still, he had shut the Cardinals out while striking out nine and yielding just one hit and a pair of walks. Mixing his four-seam fastball with his curve and slider, he benefited from better pitch sequencing than he showed in Game 1 as well as the difficult visibility of the late afternoon light in the early innings at Busch Stadium. Alas, the whiffs ran up his pitch count; he needed 94 pitches to get through six, an average of 4.7 per plate appearance that spelled eventual doom — either once he tired or when he inevitably gave way to a bullpen that had served up three homers in 6 1/3 innings to in the first three games of the series.
Like a loop of a car crash in slow motion, the events that took place to start the seventh seemed to leave the Dodgers powerless to do anything about them. Neither second baseman Dee Gordon nor shortstop Hanley Ramirez were able to come up with hard-hit balls off the bats of Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta, respectively, that went for singles. Given what had transpired over the first three games -- including a Matt Carpenter home run off lefty reliever J.P. Howell in Game 2 -- L.A. manager Don Mattingly preferred to go down with his ace, and go down he did. The next batter, lefty Matt Adams, promptly cranked a three-run homer into the rightfield bullpen to give the Cardinals the lead and break the Dodgers' backs.
If there was a silver lining, it's that the lack of margin for error forced Mattingly to pull Kershaw before the parade kept going. That was in contrast to Game 1, when he stuck with his ace after Kershaw had already allowed five singles in a six-batter span, only to serve up a bases-clearing double by Carpenter that gave St. Louis a lead it did not relinquish.
2. The Matts’ bats knocked the Dodgers flat
The Cardinals hit a total of seven homers in the four-game series, five of which came off the bats of Matt Carpenter (three), Matt Adams and Matt Holliday (one apiece), and they all loomed large; three of the five were hit by lefties Carpenter and Adams against lefties Kershaw and J.P. Howell.
Though Los Angeles held Carpenter to 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts on Tuesday, his 6-for-12 performance — with all six hits going for extra bases — though the first three games made him the series’ most dominant player.
Holliday clubbed a big three-run homer in Game 1 that extended St. Louis’ lead from 7-6 to 10-9, and the single he scratched out in Game 4 helped key the decisive rally; he finished the series 4-for-15. Adams was just 3-for-12, having collected an RBI single amid the seventh-inning rally in Game 1; he also drew a team-high three walks, though none of them figured in the scoring. But his three-run homer off Kershaw proved to be the game-winner in Game 4.
3. Benching Puig in favor of Andre Ethier was a mistake even before the latter's baserunning mistake
Yes, St. Louis was starting a righthander in Shelby Miller. And yes, Puig had struck out in seven of his previous eight plate appearances in the last two games. But in the other one, he hit a triple and came home to score Los Angeles' only run in Game 3 — one of only two it scored over a 19-inning span from the fourth inning of Game 2 through the fifth inning of Game 4. Through the first three games, Puig had gone 3-for-12 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch en route to a .357 on-base percentage. By comparison, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Dee Gordon and Juan Uribe were a combined 8-for-50 with two walks and 18 strikeouts entering Game 4, with Gonzalez's big Game 1 homer offset by his subsequent poor at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Splits-wise, Puig fared better against righthanders this year (.307/.384/.516 this year) than did the lefty-swinging Ethier (.253/.325/.385), and the latter was worse defensively in centerfold, at least to the extent that small-sample metrics tell us anything (0 Defensive Runs Saved for Puig, -5 for Ethier).
Ethier drew a pair of walks in his first three plate appearances, and while the second one kept the line moving during the Dodgers' two-run rally in the top of the sixth, he also snuffed it out when he was picked off third base on a wild pitch by failing to slide into the base. While initially ruled safe by the third base umpire, the call was overturned upon review. Had Ethier been safe, the Dodgers had their hottest hitter at the plate, A.J. Ellis (7-for-12 in the series to that point) and a chance to plate a run they needed. Had Puig made the same mistake, Twitter and the Fox Sports 1 booth would have exploded, and pundits from New York to Los Angeles and back would have spent the winter dwelling upon it.