Previewing Game 6 of the NLCS
The Rangers wrapped up the AL pennant Saturday night in Game 6 against the Tigers. The Cardinals hope to do the same Sunday night in Game 6 against the Brewers, while the Brewers hope to ride their considerable home-field advantage to a comeback win in Game 7 and the second pennant in franchise history. According to Elias, out of the 52 best-of-seven series in baseball history to be tied 2-2 after four games, as this one was, the winner of Game 5 went on to win the series 36 times, or 69 percent of the time, and has won 10 of 13 such series (77 percent) in League Championship play.
• The Brewers' 2011 season began to take shape last December, when the team decided to go all-in for what was likely impending free agent Prince Fielder's final season in Milwaukee. They traded the few remaining top prospects in their largely barren farm system for the starting pitching that could help take their already powerful offense deep into the postseason. That process began on Dec. 6, when general manger Doug Melvin traded Brett Lawrie to the Blue Jays for right-hander Shaun Marcum, who delivered with 200 2/3 innings and a 3.54 ERA that helped the Brewers claim just the second division title in franchise history. It's ironic, then, that Marcum may very well end their postseason run in this game.
• Marcum's two prior starts this postseason were disasters which saw him allow more runs than the number of innings he pitched. Going back to the regular season, Marcum's last three starts and four of his last five starts were disasters, and he has allowed five or more runs in five of his last six. Over those six starts, he has gone 1-4 with an 8.18 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, and 1.9 home runs allowed per nine innings. Marcum had three quality starts in as many opportunities against the Cardinals during the regular season, but it's hard not to wonder if he's even the same pitcher right now.
• Given Marcum's performance over his last half-dozen starts, it seems absurd for the Brewers to hand him the ball in an elimination game. Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke defended the decision by pointing out that the Brewers need to win two games, not just one, to win the pennant and that their chances of doing so are better with Yovani Gallardo pitching on full rest in a potential Game 7 than by compromising Gallardo by pitching him on short rest in Game 6. That ignores the two long-men the Brewers have in the bullpen, but Marco Estrada, who made seven starts during the regular season, just threw 27 pitches in Game 5 and has allowed four runs in his last three innings of relief in this series. Really, Roenicke's only alternative is lefty Chris Narveson, who posted a 4.54 ERA in 28 starts during the regular season. Narveson hasn't pitched particularly well in this postseason either (6.35 ERA and three home runs allowed in 5 2/3 innings pitched, all in relief), but he threw just one pitch in Game 5 and just 13 in Game 3 and so comes into this game in good shape to give the Brewers a multiple-inning outing. Roenicke may have no more confidence in Narveson than Marcum to start this game, but if Marcum starts getting hit again, look for Narveson serve as a tandem starter.
• The Cardinals are in far better shape on the mound, as Edwin Jackson has a 3.07 ERA in his two postseason starts (a quality start against the Phillies at home and a shakier 4 1/3 inning outing against the Brewers in Miller Park in Game 2 that still saw him allow just two runs thanks to the quick hook Tony La Russa has had in this series). Jackson faced the Brewers three times during the regular season, all three coming in August. The first was a disaster start in Milwaukee, but the next two, one home, one away, were both quality starts, and the last saw him hold the Brewers to one run over seven innings in Miller Park.
• La Russa's quick hook has been one of the stories of this series. After five games, no St. Louis starter has thrown a pitch in the sixth inning, and Chris Carpenter, in Game 3, was the only one to finish the fifth inning. With the Brewers putting Marcum on a short leash facing elimination, it's entirely possible that the bulk of this game will be pitched by the two bullpens. That, too, favors the Cardinals, who have ridden their bullpen to their current 3-2 advantage in this series with their relievers turning in 21 2/3 innings while allowing just four runs (1.66 ERA). However, outside of Estrada and Kameron Loe, both of whom were hit hard in relief of Marcum in Game 2, the Brewers have received some good work from their relievers in this series, as well. John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, LaTroy Hawkins, Takashi Saito, and Narveson have combined to allow just one run (off Narveson) in 11 innings (0.81 ERA) over the first five games while allowing just one inherited runner to score (off Saito).
• Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and David Freese are hitting a combined .473/.547/.836 in this series with all but one of the Cardinals' five home runs and 18 of the team's 26 RBIs. The Brewers' top hitters have been Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, who could be playing his final game as a Brewer, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Yuniesky Betancourt, who have combined to hit .347/.417/.627 with five of Milwaukee's six home runs and 14 of their 20 RBIs.
• The Brewers, who had the best home record in baseball during the regular season, are 4-1 at home this postseason, but have been held to four runs or fewer in three of those five games, including Game 2 of this series, which was started by Jackson. They scored nine runs in each of the two exceptions.