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

Kris Bryant on Joey Votto: “He’s the best player ever … He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

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The Cubs wrapped up a four-game series against the Reds at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 13-10 loss to split the set. They’ll match up again against the Reds next week for a three-game series in Cincinnati. That’s good news for Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, because that means he’ll get to see Reds first baseman Joey Votto some more.

As CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney reports, Bryant has grown quite fond of Votto. Bryant has already won a World Series ring, a Rookie of the Year Award, and an MVP Award, but he still looks up to Votto. According to Bryant, Votto is “the best player ever.” He added, ““He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain. He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Bryant said that Votto is “a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant also explained how his approach changed by watching Votto. He said that in his rookie season, he was “swinging at everything.” Votto, however, is “aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it.”

Indeed, in Bryant’s rookie season, he struck out in nearly 31 percent of his 650 plate appearances. This season, he has struck out in only 19 percent of his PA. His walk rate has also increased by more than 2.5 percent since his rookie campaign. Compared to last year, Bryant is down in HR and RBI, but his average is the same, his on-base percentage is markedly better, and his slugging percentage is only down by a minute amount.

Video: Daniel Descalso hits D-Backs’ third inside-the-park homer of the season

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Diamondbacks second baseman Daniel Descalso hit his team’s third inside-the-park home run of the season during Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Astros. In the top of the fourth inning, with the score 1-0 and the bases empty, Descalso ripped a 1-0, 83 MPH change-up to right-center field. The ball caromed off the wall, heading towards left field, which sent center Jake Marisnick on the chase. Marisnick tried to pick up the ball with his glove, but dropped it, which sealed Descalso’s destiny for an inside-the-parker.

It had only been five days since the Diamondbacks’ last inside-the-park home run. David Peralta hit one against the Cubs on August 12. Ketel Marte legged out his club’s first ITPHR on July 26 against the Braves.

As ESPN Stats & Info notes, the Diamondbacks have three as a team, which is amazing because the other 29 teams have hit seven combined.