Posted October 10, 2012

NLDS Game 3 preview: Cardinals at Nationals

Division Series, NLDS, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals
Chris Carpenter

Chris Carpenter will be trying to reprise his past postseason heroics. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Cardinals at Nationals

Series: NLDS Game 3, Series tied 1-1

Time: 1:00 PM ET

TV: MLB Network

Starters: Chris Carpenter (0-2, 3.71 ERA) vs. Edwin Jackson (10-11, 4.03 ERA)

The Nationals and Cardinals both reached the postseason thanks in large part to the identical 50-31 records they compiled in their home parks; they tied with the Reds for the NL’s best home record. But where the Nats went a major league best 48-33 on the road, the Cards were just 38-43, making them one of two teams with losing road records to reach the playoffs (Detroit was the other). The defending world champions actually outscored their opponents away from Busch Stadium (361-351), but they went 8-18 in one-run games on the road, and just 3-6 in extra-inning games — in part a reflection of a shaky bullpen that ranked ninth in the league with a 3.90 ERA.

That bullpen will get a new addition for Game 3, because Game 2 starter Jaime Garcia was taken off the roster due to a shoulder strain that forced him out after two innings. Added in his place was rookie Shelby Miller, a highly-regarded 21-year-old righty who debuted in the majors in September following an uneven season at Triple-A Memphis (4.74 ERA, 1.6 HR/9, 10.5 K/9). In 13 2/3 innings over six appearances, including a start on the season’s final day, Miller whiffed 16 and walked four while allowing just two runs. It’s doubtful that manager Mike Matheny will place as much trust him as Lance Lynn, who after making relief appearances in all three postseason games thus far — including three big innings in Game 2 — will be held back for a potential NLCS start should the Cardinals advance.

Starting for St. Louis will be the 37-year-old Carpenter, who has a 3.05 ERA in 15 career postseason starts including Game 7 of last year’s World Series, but who lost nearly the entire 2012 season to what was eventually diagnosed as thoracic outlet syndrome. Carpenter made a remarkably quick return from his July 19 surgery, but even so, started just three regular season games and totaled 17 innings. He joins a short list of pitchers to start a postseason game after throwing less than 25 innings for their team during the regular season:

Pitcher Team Year Innings
Virgil Trucks Tigers 1945 5.3
Matt Moore Rays 2011 9.3
Chris Carpenter Cardinals 2012 17
Ramon Martinez Red Sox 1999 20.7
Yovani Gallardo Brewers 2008 24

Trucks started two games in the World Series after getting discharged from the Navy two weeks prior to his first start. Moore was the Rays’ “October Surprise,” a phenom recalled very late in the year with an eye towards the playoffs. Martinez and Gallardo, like Carpenter, came back from injuries that cost them most of the season. Eight other pitchers threw less than 50 innings for their clubs before a postseason start, including Martinez’s more famous brother, Pedro, for the 2009 Phillies.

Carpenter doesn’t have quite the velocity of recent years; his average fastball speed in his three starts registered 91.4 mph, down from 93.4 last year. He mixes in a swing-and miss cutter, a sinker and a curve, plus a changeup against lefties. In recent years, he has shown a negligible platoon split, but in the small sample of this season, lefties went 10-for-26 against him — something to watch for particularly as he faces Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa.

Starting for the home team in the first postseason baseball game to be played in Washington, D.C. since October 7, 1933 is Jackson, himself part of the Cardinals’ winning effort last year. It’s home sweet home for the 28-year-old righty, who put up much better numbers in his team’s pitcher-friendly park (3.35 ERA, 0.8 HR/9, 3.6 K/BB ratio) than on the road (4.78 ERA, 1.4 HR/9, 2.3 K/BB). As noted in my preview, Jackson did struggle down the stretch, with a 6.54 ERA in six September and Octobers starts including a 1 1/3-inning, nine-run debacle in St. Louis on Sept. 28. Even without that start, his stats are still tilted strongly towards Nationals Park. Jackson relies on a four-seam fastball that averages 94.1 mph, with a slider that generates whiffs on 26 percent of swings, a sinker and a changeup against lefties; once in a while, he mixes in a cutter or a curve. He was stronger against righties (.236/.293/.385) than lefties (.249/.304/.454), which should work in his favor given the righty heart of St. Louis’ order.

Thanks to Dan Turkenkopf of Baseball Prospectus for data assistance.

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