The Cards need to get something going on offense in NLCS Game 3

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The Cardinals offense has been the story of the NLCS so far. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, it’s a missing persons story. If you can find their offense, please notify the authorities. Time is running out.

The Nats, as I’m sure you know, lead this bad boy 2-0 after both Aníbal Sánchez and Max Scherzer shut the St. Louis bats down completely, taking no-hitters deep into each game. While the Cardinals offense was not world-beating in 2019, it wasn’t as bad as that. They’ve simply been dominated by one good-but-capable-of-occasional-greatness starting pitcher and one genuinely great starting pitcher. It happens. It just can’t happen again lest this series end before everyone has actually settled into their seats for the dang thing.

The Game: St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals
The Time: 7:38 PM Eastern
The Ballpark: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.
The Channel: TBS
The Starting Pitchers: Jack Flaherty (Cardinals) vs. Stephen Strasburg (Nationals)

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the Nationals have another great starting pitcher going tonight in Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg has been pretty darn good so far in the postseason, making three appearances — two starts and one in relief — allowing four runs on 11 hits in 15 and striking out 21. The Nationals won all three of those games. He’s obviously capable of shutting down opposing offenses.

Jack Flaherty has been impressive himself this postseason, taking a hard luck loss against the Braves in Game 2 of the NLDS but coming back to pitch six innings of one-run ball as the Cardinals clinched the series in a Game 5 romp last Wednesday. He, you may have been told two or three times already, had a 0.91 ERA in the second half of the season.

That’s all well and good, but the Cardinals need some offense and they need it fast. They have only four hits in hte series’ first two games and two of them — and their only rub batted in — have come off the bat of pinch hitter José Martínez. We’ll get the lineups for this game in a couple of hours. My guess is that it’ll look a lot different than the one manager Mike Shildt trotted out in Games 1 and 2.

There are no literal must-wins until a team is on the brink of elimination, but this one feels like a virtual must-win. As it is, they have to take two of three in a hostile environment just to make it back to St. Louis. Best get that first one out of the way as soon as possible lest the virtual must-wins turn into literal ones.

Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz remains upbeat as rehab from broken left ankle nears midway point

oneil cruz rehab
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PITTSBURGH — Oneil Cruz slowly made his way on crutches across the Pittsburgh Pirates clubhouse on Saturday toward a locker replete with a massive walking boot that the towering shortstop still uses to protect the left ankle he broke during an awkward slide home in early April.

The days when he’ll need to rely on the crutches are numbered. Ditto for the walking boot. The 24-year-old’s recovery remains on track, meaning he could return sometime late this summer barring any setbacks.

Given the way Cruz’s left leg rolled up underneath him as he collided with Chicago White Sox catcher Seby Zavala in the sixth inning of what became a 1-0 victory, Cruz will take it. He had surgery the next day and the team optimistically said it expected him to miss four months, a timeline it has not deviated from as his rehab reaches the halfway point.

“You never want to get hurt, obviously, but that’s part of the game and it happens to me,” Cruz said through a translator. “I’m just going to take it the way it is and get better as soon as possible.”

The Pirates have found a way to remain in contention in the NL Central even without their leadoff hitter and one of the more physically intriguing young players in the majors, one prone to testing the limits of StatCast. Pittsburgh entered play on Saturday at 29-27, a half-game back of Milwaukee for first place in a division where no one has been able to run away and hide.

The club has used a handful of players at short to fill in for Cruz, from Rodolfo Castro to Tucupita Marcano to Ji Hwan Bae to Chris Owings. None of them possess Cruz’s unique mix of size, power and speed. Yet they’ve been solid enough to help soften what could have been a devastating early blow to a club that is trying to climb back into relevance following consecutive 100-loss seasons.

Cruz has leaned on his wife and his children to help ease the mental sting of the first major injury of his still-young career. Watching longtime teammates Castro and Marcano – who came up through the minors with Cruz – have some level of success has helped. The duo is hitting a combined .264 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs.

“Every time I see them doing well, it makes me happy,” Cruz said.

Still, they understand they are placeholders for Cruz, who was poised to take a significant step forward following a tantalizing rookie season in which both highlights that quickly went viral on social media – and strikeouts – were plentiful. He worked seven walks in his nine games of the season, showing the kind of patience at the plate that was difficult to come by in 2022.

Cruz believes he is poised to come back stronger than he was when he went down, and the Pirates have been adamant that the hope is he returns this season no matter where the team is in the standings whenever he comes off the 60-day injured list.

While he’s eager to get back he’s also not trying to force things, saying several times he will stick to the recommendations of the medical staff. He has remained engaged, not missing a game of Pittsburgh’s somewhat uneven – the Pirates started on a 20-8 tear followed by an 8-18 skid through May – but overall promising start.

There are also no concerns – at least at this point – about any sort of lingering memories of the slide that derailed his season haunting him during his rehab.

“I should be good when I get out there because when I go out there I understand I’m not going to hesitate,” Cruz said. “I’m just going to go out there and do my best.”

Cruz’s appearance at PNC on Saturday coincided with the team giving out thousands of bobbleheads in his likeness.

Asked if the trinkets bear at least a passing resemblance to him, Cruz laughed.

“They did real good,” he joked. “Ugly, like me.”