With their backs against the wall, the Giants have been unstoppable this month, winning five straight elimination games against the Reds and Cardinals.
It’s an impressive streak, no doubt. The Cardinals would likely be the first to admit it. After all, they’re riding a streak of six straight wins in elimination games themselves.
Now one of those streaks is bound to come to an end on Monday. Or perhaps Tuesday, since the forecast for Monday evening is pretty grim.
The Giants’ key for Game 7 is obvious: they need ace Matt Cain to come out and match the starts put up by Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong in the last two games. Cain’s looked more like a No. 3 than a No. 1 so far this month, giving up exactly three runs in all three of his starts. It’s left him 1-2 with a 4.67 ERA. That’s quite a change from the last two months of the season, when Cain allowed two runs or fewer in 10 of 12 outings.
The Cardinals probably don’t need quite so much from fellow 16-game winner Kyle Lohse, not with Trevor Rosenthal and Jason Motte both ready to pitch up two innings in relief. Lohse, though, is definitely the guy they want out there. He’s 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA in his three postseason starts. He outdueled Cain in Wednesday’s Game 3, a 3-1 victory for the Cardinals in St. Louis.
The guess here is that Cain is due. The same goes for likely NL MVP Buster Posey. And while the Giants’ best relievers don’t match Cardinals’ huge arms, they’ve been plenty effective to date.
Of course, everyone who has come away doubting Lohse lately has been made to look foolish. At the very least, he always keeps it close. The Cardinals are 23-13 in Lohse’s starts this year. Of the 13 losses, nine were by one run, three were by two runs and one was by three runs (May 30 against the Braves).
Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.
While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.
When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.
Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.
More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.
Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)
It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.