LCS previews: Red Sox at Tigers, Game 4; Cardinals at Dodgers, Game 5
Cardinals at Dodgers
Start time: 4:00 p.m. ET
Series: Cardinals lead 3-1
Starting pitchers: Joe Kelly (0-0, 3.18 ERA) vs. Zack Greinke (0-1, 2.57 ERA)
Of the 77 previous major league teams to fall behind 3-games-to-1 in a best-of-seven series, just 12 (15.6 percent) have come back to win that series, while one shy of half of those 77 teams (38 of them) were eliminated in Game 5. Included in that last group are the 2008 and 2009 Dodgers, who lost a season-ending Game 5 of the NLCS in their two most recent postseason appearances.
The last team down 3-1 to come back and win a series was last year’s champion, the San Francisco Giants, who did so in the NLCS against the Cardinals, the same trick the Dodgers are trying to pull this year, though that Giants team had the advantage of playing the final two games at home, something Los Angeles won’t get to do in this series, which will return to St. Louis if the Dodgers win on Wednesday afternoon.
Finishing on the road is not necessarily an impediment to a comeback, however, as six of the 12 teams to overcome a 3-1 deficit won the final two games on the road. The last team to do it was the 2004 Red Sox, who remain the only major league team to come back from a 3-games-to-0 deficit, beating the Yankees in that year’s ALCS. The last National League team to overcome a 3-1 deficit on the road was the 2003 Marlins, who did so against the Cubs in the 2003 NLCS, a series that is memorable for other reasons.
L.A. is actually in a good position to push this series to the limit with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw scheduled to pitch the next two games. However, the Dodgers lost the games each of their two aces started to begin this series, continuing a curious trend in LCS play. In the past two years, the teams that have started Kershaw, Greinke, Adam Wainwright, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, all of whom pitched well, are 0-5 in those games with three of those aces taking a loss.
In Game 1 of this series, St. Louis’ Joe Kelly held the Dodgers to two runs over six innings, after which the Cardinals’ bullpen kept L.A. scoreless for seven more frames, allowing the St. Louis bats to finally break through against Dodgers reliever Chris Withrow. Kelly has now allowed just three runs in 11 1/3 innings in two starts against Los Angeles this season, though he was less impressive in his lone appearance at Dodger Stadium this year, which came in relief back in May.
Kelly will need his bullpen to come through again in this game because he has only completed the seventh inning once in 17 starts this season. Fortunately for Kelly, the Cardinals’ bullpen is well rested. St. Louis used just three relievers in Game 4, only one of whom threw more than 13 pitches, that being rookie Carlos Martinez, who got through two scoreless frames on just 18 tosses thanks to Nick Punto’s baserunning blunder.
Greinke will be making his first home start of this postseason after going 8-2 with a 2.11 ERA at home in this, his first season with the Dodgers. He was outstanding on the road in Game 1, allowing just five baserunners and striking out 10 through eight efficient innings, but he gave up two runs in the third, which gave Kelly enough wiggle room to keep up.
The big hit in that inning was a two-run Carlos Beltran double, but for all of the accolades he received for driving in all three St. Louis runs in that game (he won it with a walkoff single in the 13th), Beltran hasn’t had an RBI since, going 1-for-8 over the last three games. The Dodgers haven’t intentionally walked Beltran in this series, but they are clearly not giving him anything to hit, walking him four times in those last three games. That wasn’t a problem when the man behind Beltran in the Cardinals’ order, Matt Holliday, was hitless in the series, but Holliday went 2-for-4 in Game 4 with a two-run homer and has hit .310/.355/.517 in 31 career plate appearances against Greinke (compared to Beltran now being 2-for-10 against Greinke).
Holliday hits third for St. Louis, but the Dodgers will likely be without their usual third-place hitter in this game as Hanley Ramirez had to leave Game 4 in the seventh inning due to pain from his fractured rib. With a short turnaround from Tuesday night’s late game to Wednesday’s afternoon game, it is very unlikely that Ramirez will be back in the lineup less than 20 hours after being unable to finish Game 4. Even if he thinks he can play, Los Angeles might be better off keeping Ramirez on the bench to be saved for a big spot as a pinch-hitter (after which he could attempt to remain in the game) than to have him start and be pulled before those big situations arise. That would guarantee that, if he is only able to take one at-bat, he does it with runners on base. Of course, that would require tactful deployment by Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly, who has not performed well in that regard thus far in the NLCS.
Red Sox at Tigers
Start time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Series: Red Sox lead 2-1
Starting pitchers: Jake Peavy (0-0, 1.59 ERA) vs. Doug Fister (0-0, 4.50 ERA)
The history of teams down 3-1 outlined above is a good indication of the importance of this game to the Tigers. I argued prior to Game 3 that their heartbreaking loss in Game 2 wasn’t a momentum-changer, but having their bullpen blow what looked like a sure win on an eighth-inning grand slam in that game and then flying home only to be shut out in a game in which Justin Verlander allowed just one run in eight innings has to be pretty devastating to team morale. If Detroit drops a third straight game Wednesday night, I’d be shocked to see this series make it back to Boston.
That puts a lot of pressure on Doug Fister, who has one great start (7 IP, 0 R in Boston) and one awful one (3 1/3 IP, 6 R at home) against the Red Sox this season, but it puts even more pressure on a Detroit lineup that, outside of a four-run sixth inning in Game 2, has scored just two other runs in the other 26 innings in this series. Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez and Alex Avila are the only Tigers who are doing much at the plate in the ALCS. Austin Jackson and Omar Infante are a combined 2-for-26 with a pair of singles and a pair of walks, and the three men behind leadoff man Jackson — Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder — have posted a combined .222/.282/.361 line.
The Red Sox aren’t hitting either, but the pressure is off them for at least one game, and they have some impressive numbers against Fister. In a tiny sample, Shane Victorino is 4-for-5 with a home run, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is 5-for-11 with two doubles and a homer and Boston’s roster as a whole has hit .304/.377/.451 in 114 career plate appearances against Detroit’s Game 4 starter.
As for Peavy, having spent three-plus seasons with the White Sox, he is very familiar with Comerica Park and the Tigers, but that might work to his disadvantage. Peavy only faced Detroit once this year, but he made six starts against them last year. In those seven combined starts against the Prince Fielder-era Tigers, he has posted a 5.56 ERA including a 5.66 mark in three starts at Comerica last year.
Worse yet, the Tigers hitter who has given Peavy the most trouble, historically, is the one who wasn’t on the team for any of those six starts last year, Torii Hunter. Hunter is 7-for-16 with a double, triple, homer and 7 RBIs against Peavy in his career and 6-for-12 with all three of those extra-base hits and six of those RBIs against him over the last four seasons. Hunter went 2-for-4 in Game 3, so he may be poised to lead the Tigers in Game 4.
Could this be the game in which both offenses finally break out? If so, the Tigers’ biggest advantage in Game 4 could be last licks.