NLCS Game 3: Which of Cardinals, Giants will grab series lead?
Start Time: 4:00 p.m. ET
TV: FOX Sports 1
Series: Tied 1-1
Status: In the 87 previous best-of-seven series in major league postseason history to be tied after two games, the winner of Game 3 went on to win the series 62 times. That's 71 percent of those series going to the winner of Game 3. But despite the conventional wisdom that the Giants have stolen home field advantage by splitting the first two games in St. Louis, the Cardinals still hold a significant advantage by virtue of having the last two games at home.
In the 41 such series in which the team without home field advantage in the series won Game 3 at home, that team went on to win the series 25 times (61 percent). In the 34 such series in which the team with home field advantage won Game 3 on the road, that team went on to win the series 27 times (79 percent).
Matchups: Veteran righties John Lackey and Tim Hudson turned in very similar efforts in the Division Series, both going seven innings (Hudson went 7 1/3) and allowing one run with eight strikeouts in a winning effort. Both were efficient as well, with Lackey throwing 100 pitches and Hudson, who enters Tuesday night's Game 3 with nine days rest, having thrown just 97. In both cases, those performances extended a track record of strong postseason pitching. For Hudson, making his first playoff start since 2010, it lowered his career postseason ERA to 3.19. For Lackey, it lowered his career mark to 2.92 and was his fourth quality postseason start in the last calendar year.
During the regular season, Hudson made just one start against St. Louis, holding them scoreless over seven innings on three hits and a pair of walks back on June 1, before his season took an ugly turn in the middle of that month (Hudson had a 1.81 ERA after 13 starts and a 5.13 ERA the rest of the way). Lackey, having spent his career in the American League before being sent to the Cardinals at this year's trade deadline, hasn't faced the Giants since 2009. The only member of San Francisco's current playoff roster to face Lackey in that game was Pablo Sandoval, who went 1-for-3. In fact, the Giants' entire playoff roster has combined for just 18 plate appearances against Lackey, those all coming from the quartet of Michael Morse (1-for-6), Joaquin Arias (3-for-6), Hunter Pence (1-for-3), and Sandoval.
The Cardinals are much more familiar with long-time Atlanta Brave Hudson, with Matt Holliday having had the most experience against him, hitting .346/.452/.385 in 31 plate appearances. However, no current Cardinal has ever homered against Hudson, and the only other Redbird with more than 10 previous plate appearances against Hudson is Yadier Molina, who won't start this game due to the left oblique injury that forced him to make an early exit from Game 2.
Catch as catch can: Molina's oblique felt much better on Monday morning and he played catch during the Cardinals' workout at AT&T Park that afternoon, telling reporters, "I feel good enough to catch." Hitting, however, is likely another story. So while Molina will remain on the Cardinals' active roster, the team will have to start either veteran A.J. Pierzynski, who was signed in late July after Molina suffered a torn ligament in his right thumb, or perennial backup Tony Cruz.
Though 37 and coming off the worst offensive season of his major league career, Pierzynski is the better hitter and caught Lackey with both the Red Sox and Cardinals this year, squatting for 20 of the righty's starts in total. As Molina's apprentice, Cruz is, ostensibly, the better backstop, though after replacing Molina in Game 2, Cruz had a passed ball and failed to block the Trevor Rosenthal wild pitch that allowed the tying run to score from second base in the ninth. Cruz has also struck out in each of his three career postseason plate appearances, two of those coming this October. Pierzynski is a .300/.372/.520 career hitter in 114 postseason plate appearances, but the last of those came in 2008, and he hit just .251/.288/.337 during the regular season this year over a sample more than three times as large.
The choice may ultimately be Lackey's. It's interesting to note that, after coming over from the Red Sox, Lackey threw to Pierzynski in his first two starts, but gave up nine runs in five innings in the latter, after which Cruz started behind the plate in his next three before Molina returned at the end of August. Lackey posted a 2.25 ERA in the three starts caught by Cruz and may prefer to pitch to him Tuesday night.
UPDATE: The Cardinals have gone with Pierzynski, who will start behind the plate and bat sixth.
Containment: The big challenge for Hudson and the Giants' bullpen in this game is going to be keeping the Cardinals' hitters in the park. St. Louis has hit 11 home runs this postseason, four of them in a victorious effort in Game 2, capped off by Kolten Wong's walk-off blast in the bottom of the ninth. Look past their power, however, and the Cardinals have hit .227 with a .289 on-base percentage in this postseason, including a .203 mark and .277 OBP through the first two games of this series. Each of the Cardinals' home runs in Game 2 was a solo shot, and those accounted for four of the five runs the Cardinals have scored in this series.
Though Jon Jay remains hot (leading the team with three hits in this series and having now gone 8-for-17 in this postseason), the Cardinals are just not stringing hits together. Holliday is hitless in eight trips in this series, Matt Adams and Jhonny Peralta are the only Cardinals to have drawn multiple walks this postseason, and the St. Louis lineup is now without Molina. Working in the Giants' favor is that AT&T Park is one of the most difficult ballparks in the majors in which to hit a home run, according to park factors, and that Hudson is a groundball pitcher with consistently low home run rates.