Posted October 11, 2012

NLDS Game 4 preview: Cardinals at Nationals

Division Series, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals

Washington’s season is in the hands of Ross Detwiler but he may be the wrong many to face the Cardinals. (UPI/Landov)

Cardinals at Nationals

Series: NLDS Game 4, Cardinals lead 2-1

Time: 4:00 PM EST

TV: TBS

Starters: Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA) vs. Ross Detwiler (10-8, 3.40 ERA)

It didn’t take long for the first postseason game in Washington, D.C. in 79 years to turn sour for the Nationals, as Edwin Jackson — oh thaaaat guy — quickly yielded four runs, three on a homer by rookie shortstop Pete Kozma, to take the crowd of 45,017 out of the game. Jackson’s combustible performance rekindled the debate over Stephen Strasburg’s shutdown while the Cardinals pummeled the Nationals, and Chris Carpenter worked into and out of trouble in his longest start (106 pitches) since last Oct. 7. Now the defending world champions are one win away from another trip to the NLCS, while the league’s upstarts are staring down the barrel of a long winter full of what-ifs.

With 22 runs in three games on .300/.405/.550 hitting, the Cards have feasted on Nationals pitching, making short work of their Strasburg-less rotation. Witt the heroics of Kozma — a career .236/.308/.344 hitter in the minors, but at .333/.383/.569 in 82 PA in place of Rafael Furcal down the stretch — and second baseman Daniel Descalso, who homered in Game 2, all eight St. Louis regulars have gotten on base at least 33 percent of the time thus far in the series, lengthening an already dangerous lineup. Now they get to face another lefthander in Detwiler, and with four of their five top power threats hitting from the right side and putting up OPSes over 1.000 against southpaws, they’re well-positioned to end this series before the Nats know what hit them. The Cardinals went 31-17 this season in games started by lefties, and slugged 40 points higher (.450 versus .410, with identical.338 OBPs) than they did against righties.

Detwiler is a 26-year-old southpaw with above-average velocity (94.1 mph on his four-seamer this year), but he doesn’t miss many bats, striking out just 5.8 per nine. None of his pitches — a sinker, curve and changeup being the others, the latter exclusively to righthanders — generate higher than a 12 percent swing-and-miss rate against hitters of either hand, and he shows a fairly large platoon split (.170/.255/.259 in 165 PA against lefties, but .263/.320/.414 in 521 PA against righties). Don’t be surprised if manager Davey Johnson calls on righty Craig Stammen well before the fifth inning; Johnson can’t afford to watch another dud start that puts the Nationals in an early hole. In the first three innings of the three games, St. Louis has outscored Washington 11-2. Ominously, Detwiler lasted just 2 1/3 innings and allowed seven runs (three earned) on four hits, five walks in his lone start against the Cardinals on Sept. 30, with Carlos Beltran homering, and both Kozma and lefty Jon Jay collecting big hits.

Going against Detwiler is Lohse, who delivered a substantial 5 2/3-inning, two-run effort in the wild-card game against the Braves last Friday, the closest he’s come to a quality start in five career postseason turns. Lohse ranked fifth in the league in ERA and fourth in walk rate (1.6 per nine) this year, while his 6.1 strikeouts per nine were his highest rate since 2006. He relies heavily on a 90ish sinker, with a slider and a changeup that generates swings and misses from both righties and lefties; thanks to those, his platoon splits have been minimal — 30 or 40 points of OPS — in the past two years. He didn’t find much success against Washington this year, yielding 12 runs (nine earned) in 11 2/3 innings over starts on Sept. 1 and Sept. 29; Adam LaRoche, Danny Espinosa and Mike Morse all went deep against him.

Lohse goes up against a Nats offense that has scored just seven runs in three games on .240/.310/.317 hitting. Ian Desmond is 7-for-12, Ryan Zimmerman 5-for-13 with a homer and Jayson Werth has three walks and three hits in 15 PA, but lefties LaRoche (1-for-11, with a homer) and Harper (1-for-15, with six strikeouts) have been more or less shut down, as have the switch-hitting Espinosa (1-for-9) and righty Kurt Suzuki (1-for-11). For all of the focus on those absent, those present haven’t delivered to their capability for the Nationals, and if they don’t soon, they’re going to run out of season.

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