Previewing Game 5 of the NLCS
The Brewers' victory in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series was huge for two reasons. First, it guarantees that the series will return to Milwaukee, which is particularly significant given that the Brewers had the best home record in baseball this season and are 4-1 at home this postseason. Second, it prevented them from falling behind 3-games-to-1 in this best-of-seven series, a hole only 8 of 72 teams have ever climbed out of in major league history.
Friday night, the Brewers and Cardinals play a pivotal Game 5 of the NLCS that, historically, is a great indicator of which team will advance to the World Series. Since the LCS went to a best-of-seven format in 1985, 13 series have been tied 2-2. The winner of Game 5 went on to win the series 10 times, seven times in Game 6.
The good news for St. Louis, perhaps, is that two of the three teams to pull off comebacks in that scenario were Cardinals squads, one in 1987 and the other in 2004. Both of those teams, however, got to return to Busch Stadium for Game 6, which this year's Cardinals won't be doing. (The only other team to lose Game 5 of a tied series and still win the series was the 1991 Braves, who won Games 6 and 7 in Pittsburgh).
• The Brewers have won both of Greinke's starts this postseason with little help from Greinke, who has allowed 10 runs in 11 innings despite a strong 13:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The wins came courtesy of the Brewers' offense, which scored nine runs in each of those games, both of which were played at Miller Park, where the Brewers averaged seven-tenths of a run more per game than on the road during the regular season. In 11 games in St. Louis this season, including the postseason, the Brewers have never scored more than five runs in a game and have averaged just 2.7 runs per game.
• Jaime Garcia gave up six of the nine runs the Brewers scored in Game 1 of this series, four of them scoring on home runs by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, but his lone home start against Milwaukee this season was a two-hit, eight-strikeout shutout back on May 6. Garcia was a hard-luck loser at home in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Phillies, holding Philadelphia scoreless until pinch-hitter Ben Francisco hit a three-run home run with two outs in the seventh that gave the Phillies a 3-2 win.
• Look for Brewers manager Ron Roenicke to run out his Game 1 lineup again tonight against the left-handed Garcia. That lineup had righty-swinging Carlos Gomez in center and batting eighth and third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr., who has been one of the stars of this series for Milwaukee, batting second behind Cory Hart, who should return to rightfield after sitting in favor of the lefthanded Mark Kotsay in Game 4. Kotsay has never faced Garcia, while the righthanded Hart is 9-for-22 in his career against the young lefty, albeit without any extra-base hits. Then again, Gomez has just 2 hits in 14 plate appearances against Garcia in his career, and went 0-for-3 in Game 1, so the lefthanded Morgan, who went 2-for-4 in Game 4, could draw the start despite lacking the platoon advantage.
• Lance Berkman did not start Game 4 for the Cardinals due to a poor history against lefty Randy Wolf, a sore right leg stemming from a hit-by-pitch in Game 3 and the fact that Allen Craig is a very capable righthanded bat (indeed, Craig homered off Wolf in Berkman's stead). Still, Berkman should be back in the lineup for Game 5. He delivered a pinch-hit single in the ninth inning of Game 4 and stayed in to run the bases, which suggests his sore leg is not an issue, and he is 5-for-12 with a double and a homer in his career against Greinke. The real question is if Cardinals manager Tony La Russa will leave David Freese in the cleanup spot behind Albert Pujols. Freese went 2-for-4 from that spot in Game 4 and is 8-for-16 with two doubles and two homers in the series.
• True to form, these two teams scored a combined 30 runs in the first two games of this series, played in Milwaukee, but just 13 total runs in the most recent two games, both in St. Louis. That underlines how important stingy pitching is in these games in Busch Stadium, which could spell trouble for the Brewers tonight because Greinke was an inferior pitcher on the road this season. Greinke went 5-6 with a 4.70 ERA away from Milwaukee in 2011. That ERA was more than a run and a half worse than his home mark (not counting his two postseason duds at home), and his strikeout, walk and home run rates were all worse on the road than they were at Miller Park. However, two of Greinke's five road wins came in his only two starts in St. Louis this season, both quality starts. Jaime Garcia had what looks like a pretty severe home/road split as well, but a closer look reveals that much of that was the result of bad luck on balls in play on the road (.374 BABIP), whereas Greinke's BABIP stayed consistent across those two splits.