Game 3 of the NLCS was supposed to be a classic duel of two great pitchers: the Brewers’ Yovani Gallardo against the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter.
But it’s not often that things go as they’re expected to in Major League Baseball’s postseason.
Gallardo was hammered for four earned runs in the first inning and didn’t make it to the sixth. Carpenter yielded three runs on six hits and was also pulled after five innings. He threw just 48 of his 89 pitches for strikes. Gallardo threw 95 pitches, 47 balls.
The battle of two elite National League Central starters soon became a bullpen game. And while both relief corps held strong, the Cardinals were playing with the lead — a lead they did not relinquish.
Setup man Fernando Salas threw a scoreless sixth inning, retiring all three batters he faced. Bearded right-hander Lance Lynn then delivered a perfect seventh inning before retiring Ryan Braun to open the eighth. Left-hander Marc Rzepcynski entered to face Prince Fielder and struck him out with a sharp slider.
Then it was the Jason Motte show.
Featuring a fastball that jumps to 99 and sometimes 100 mph, Motte registered three strikeouts against the final four batters of the game, giving the Cardinals a 4-3 victory in Game 3 of the seven-game NLCS.
St. Louis carries a 2-1 series lead into Thursday’s Game 4. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET.
With Game 1 of the Red Sox-Indians ALDS set to commence on Thursday, there’s no better starter for the job than Corey Kluber. The only question is whether or not the right-hander will be up to the task after sustaining a mild quadriceps strain earlier this week.
Indians’ manager Terry Francona appeared optimistic about Kluber’s chances of recovering in time for the Division Series, but admitted that he doesn’t have his rotation set in stone for the first couple of postseason games. Complicating matters is Monday’s potential make-up game between the Indians and the Tigers, which they’ll be forced to play if the outcome has bearing on playoff seeding.
Per MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, Francona doesn’t have a starter for the make-up game, either, though he clarified that rehabbing right-hander Danny Salazar would not be eligible. Salazar is still working his way back from a forearm injury in hopes of joining the Indians for their postseason run, and needs to toss another simulated game before he can be expected to return to the mound. Kluber, meanwhile, will throw off the mound on Sunday.
With Kluber or Salazar limping out of the gate, the Indians will likely have to fall back on right-handers Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin. Bauer is slated for Saturday’s face-off against the Royals and confirmed his willingness to pitch on short rest through the playoffs. The 25-year-old also spoke to the Indians about his ability to pitch out of the bullpen, though it’s an option they appear unlikely to exercise. While Francona’s comments on Friday stressed the club’s patient approach toward their rotation, Bauer appeared revved and ready to go:
If it was up to me, […] I’d pitch and be ready to start or be available out of the ‘pen every game. In the playoffs, there’s really no reason to save anything. So, whenever I can get in there, whenever they want me to get in there, I’ll be ready.
Matt Holliday might not have a landing spot with the Cardinals in 2017, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to hang his cleats up just yet. Prior to the Cardinals’ afternoon set against the Pirates on Saturday, the 36-year-old expressed his desire to further his career elsewhere, even if staying in St. Louis is not a possibility.
It’s been a down year for the outfielder, who batted .242/.318/.450 through 107 games before landing on the disabled list with a fractured right thumb. His 0.6 fWAR is the lowest mark of his career to date. Notwithstanding two injury-riddled seasons (he was sidelined through most of 2015 with a right quadriceps strain), he’s performed admirably for the Cardinals over the past eight years, putting up a .292/.379/.494 batting line, 156 home runs, and 26.8 fWAR with the club. With a return to full health, he might not be on the market for long.