NLCS Preview: Cardinals vs. Brewers

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You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Cardinals and Brewers have in store for us during the National League Championship Series.

The Teams

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers

The Probable Matchups

Game 1 Sunday in Milwaukee: Jaime Garcia vs. Zack Greinke
Game 2 Monday in Milwaukee: Edwin Jackson vs. Shaun Marcum
Game 3 Wednesday in St. Louis: Yovani Gallardo vs. Chris Carpenter
Game 4 Thursday in St. Louis: Randy Wolf vs. Kyle Lohse
Game 5 (if necessary) Friday in St. Louis: Zack Greinke vs. Jaime Garcia
Game 6 (if necessary) next Sunday in Milwaukee: Edwin Jackson vs. Shaun Marcum
Game 7 (if necessary) Monday, October 17 in Milwaukee: Chris Carpenter vs. Yovani Gallardo

Analysis: Neither team will have their best pitcher going in Game 1, as Yovani Gallardo and Chris Carpenter both started deciding games on Friday. Zack Greinke is coming off a rough start against the Diamondbacks, but posted a 3.15 ERA and 18/1 K/BB ratio in 20 innings over three starts against the Cardinals during the regular season. Jaime Garcia, who allowed three runs over seven innings in a loss to the Phillies on Tuesday, is expected to oppose Greinke in the series opener. The southpaw has a 4.28 career ERA on the road, including a no-decision against the Brewers in early August where he allowed seven runs (three earned) over five innings. It’s difficult to give one team the advantage over the other, as Brewers’ starters had a 3.78 ERA during the regular season while the Cardinals had a 3.81 ERA, but I think Greinke gets them off to a pretty good start.

The Storylines

– The Brewers and the Cardinals haven’t met in the postseason since the 1982 World Series, which was also dubbed the “Suds Series” for obvious reasons. The Cardinals won in seven games while catcher Darrell Porter was named MVP.

– “That’s correct” – That was Lance Berkman’s reply when he was asked to confirm whether his team doesn’t like the Brewers. The Cardinals and Brewers split the season series 9-9, which included a beanball war and plenty of bickering during some intense ballgames in early August and September. Things could get chippy here.

– The Brewers have home-field advantage, which is significant, as they were a major-league best 57-24 at home during the regular season and took all three games at Miller Park against the Diamondbacks during the NLDS. Of course, the Brewers were swept by the Cardinals at home just over a month ago, so who knows?

– Will Matt Holliday be able to play through his recent hand injury? The 31-year-old outfielder has been bothered by inflammation in his right middle finger for nearly four weeks and didn’t start the first three games of the NLDS against the Phillies.

– Can the Cardinals keep the Brewers’ one-two punch of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in check? Braun and Fielder combined to hit .389 (14-for-36) during the NLDS against the Diamondbacks while the rest of the Brewers’ lineup batted just .215. They need some of their other bats to step up, including No. 5 hitter Rickie Weeks, who went 1-for-18 (.056) against the D-Backs.

– Skip Schumaker, who went 6-for-10 with two doubles and three RBI during the NLDS against the Phillies, is expected to miss the NLCS due to an oblique injury. Tyler Greene will likely replace him on the active roster, but Tony La Russa will likely shuffle Ryan Theriot and Nick Punto in and out of the lineup at second base.

– John Axford blew his first save since April 18 on Friday against the Diamondbacks, but was at least able to get out of a major jam in the ninth inning and pitch a scoreless tenth. Not worried about him. With Francisco Rodriguez, Takashi Saito, LaTroy Hawkins and Kameron Loe also available as late-game options, the Brewers have the clear edge in the bullpen.

Prediction

These offenses matchup pretty well against each other, but the Brewers probably have the advantage in the pitching department. Throw in home-field advantage and Ron Roenicke’s crew looks too tough to beat, even for the red-hot Redbirds.

BREWERS WIN THE SERIES 4-2

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.