The Cardinals are just one win away from joining the Tigers in the World Series.
Behind an excellent pitching performance from Adam Wainwright and a relentless attack from their offense, the Cardinals defeated the Giants 8-3 tonight and now own a commanding 3-1 series lead in the NLCS.
Wainwright had his curveball working tonight and limited the Giants to just four hits while striking out five and walking none. His only mistake was a solo homer by Hunter Pence in the second inning. He threw an efficient 70 out of 95 pitches for strikes before Fernando Salas pitched the final two innings.
The Giants were hoping Tim Lincecum’s success in the bullpen would lead to a big start tonight, but it just didn’t happen. He struggled with his command in the first inning en route to giving up two runs and was knocked out of the ballgame in the fifth. The Cardinals scored two runs in the sixth and seventh innings to put the game out of reach. Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Jon Jay all knocked in two runs apiece.
The Giants aren’t done, but it’s tough to have much confidence going into tomorrow night. Why? Well, Barry Zito will be tasked with keeping the Giants’ season alive after giving up two runs on four hits and four walks in just 2 2/3 innings in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Reds. Madison Bumgarner, who was banished to the bullpen following his Game 1 clunker, will be there to back Zito up if he makes another early exit. Lance Lynn, who gave up four runs over 3 2/3 innings in Game 1, will try to make sure the series doesn’t make it back to San Francisco.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.