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Recap of the Key Matchups from the Dodgers Series and 5 Keys to Winning the Wild Card

Last week before the start of the Cards-Dodgers series I posted “10 Matchups That Have To Give” and promised to follow up after the series on how they went. Better late than never, here is the follow up and, more importantly, five keys stemming from these matchups for the stretch run of the Wild Card race.

10. Cardinals Strike Throwers vs. Dodgers Picky Hitters

Winner: Wash. Overall the Cards pitched it very well last weekend. With only four walks combined in the losses on Friday and Saturday control was not the major issue. Unfortunately, the few walks the Cards did have preceded key home runs by the Dodgers in both games.

X Factor Impact: Overall the Cards played good defense, but Daniel Descalso did have two errors in the loss on Friday, one of which led to a run. The only other Cards error of the series–a booted groundball by Matt Carpenter–was erased when Dee Gordon was thrown out stealing second by Yadier Molina. It was the best throw I have ever seen from a catcher. It was so great Fangraphs posted a GIF of it with no analysis, just so it can be watched over and over…and over.

9. Jaime Garcia vs. Hotels (And Poor Hitting Teams)

Winner: Jaime Garcia. Six innings, one earned run, and Joe Blanton as the opposing pitcher? Sounds like a win to me and it would have been if Jason Motte hadn’t blown his 7th save.

X Factor Impact: With 5 K’s in 6 innings and 15% swinging strikes (higher than his season rate of about 12%) Garcia had plenty of swings and misses.

8. Clayton Kershaw vs. Allen Craig (Actually Matt Holliday)

Winner: Not Applicable. Kershaw was scratched from his start due to a lingering hip injury and Stephen Fife started in his place. After Holliday was hit by a pitch in the first inning Craig did hit an RBI double, though, which was quickly followed by a run scoring wild pitch. The Cards would not score again until the twelfth inning.

7. Andre Ethier vs. The Cardinals Bullpen

Winner: Andre Ethier. Timing is everything. Ethier was only 2-6 with 2 singles and an intentional walk off the Cards pen, so he didn’t exactly tear it up agains the relief corps. One of those singles came off Motte to ignite a ninth inning comeback win on Saturday, though, and that’s all it takes to chalk this one up to Ethier. On the whole, Ethier was one of few Dodgers hitters with a consistently strong series.

X Factor Impact: Jason Motte’s strong numbers against lefties didn’t prevent Ethier from reaching on a single. Motte’s poor slugging numbers against righties make Luis Cruz’s subsequent game tying double less surprising, though.

6. Seeing-Eye Groundballs vs. Dodgers Starters

Winner: Groundballs. The Cards had six groundball hits in game one. Two groundball singles in each of the Cards’ run scoring innings were key to the two runs that were enough to win. Interestingly, Chris Capuano in game two continued to defy logic by getting even the Cardinals to hit the ball in the air. The problem for Capuano is that three of those flyballs left the yard and he only lasted 4 1/3 innings.

X Factor Impact: Hanley Ramirez played a groundball out into a single in the first inning of game one (after which Mark Ellis subsequently played another out into a single). He played a groundball out into a run scoring infield single in the twelfth inning of game four when he took his time flipping it to second. In effect he began the series and ended the series by turning outs into singles and in between he managed to throw away a routine groundball. Thank you, Hanley.

5. Dodgers Pen vs. Cardinals Contact Hitters

Winner: Wash. Once again, timing. The Cards got one run off Ronald Belisario in game one, which was enough to win, and three runs off of John Ely in the twelfth inning of game four. In between the Dodgers pen went 16 scoreless innings. So despite dominating the Cards for almost the entire series, without giving up two late rallies the Dodgers could have been looking at a sweep. The Cards didn’t go down without a fight, though, striking out only 7 times all series against the Dodgers pen.

X Factor: The big lefties still weren’t a factor, but the little lefties keyed both rallies. A Shane Robinson walk and Matt Carpenter single preceded Allen Craig’s groundball single in game one off of Belisario. A Carpenter walk and Jon Jay double accounted for the go-ahead run off of Ely in game four.

4. Cardinals Starters vs. BABIP

Winner: Cardinals Starters. Lynn, Kelly, Garcia, and Wainwright gave up 5, 4, 3,  and 5 hits, respectively. Of those 17 hits, 3 left the yard and of the 7 ER given up by the starters, home runs scoring runners on base via walk accounted for 5 of them; balls in play were not an issue.

X Factor: Victorino did steal second twice in game three after reaching via error and walk, with the first steal leading to a run. Interesting note on the Dodgers lineup in this regard. Victorino hit second on Saturday, stealing with Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez hitting. On Friday he reached with no outs when he was hitting sixth ahead of Luis Cruz, but did not steal as Cruz, A.J. Ellis, and Josh Beckett went down in order. Typically the risk of stealing is worth the gamble with weaker singles hitters at the plate, but not with power hitters up (like Kemp and Gonzalez). The problem (without considering factors like how the respective pitchers hold runners) on Friday was that Cruz quickly went down 0-2 in the count. With Cruz at a severe count disadvantage, if Victorino had gotten thrown out the inning likely could have finished with Cruz and Ellis making outs, leaving Beckett to lead off the following inning. If Victorino did make it and Cruz went down then worst case scenario for the Cards would be to pitch carefully to Ellis with a base open ahead of the pitcher and likely deal with Mark Ellis with two outs.

3. A.J. Ellis vs. Swinging

Winner: Swinging. Ellis’s line from this weekend: 12 PA’s, 0 H, 0 BB, 5 K’s. He saw only 43 pitches, 30 of which were fastballs or cutters. The Cards came at him (as the PITCHf/x location chart to the right demonstrates) and they won.

X Factor Impact: The pitcher’s bunting ability is not applicable when Ellis fails to get on base once in the entire series.

2. Adam Wainwright’s Off-Speed vs. The Dodgers Lineup

Winner: Wainwright’s Off-Speed. Specifically the question was how Wainwright’s breaking pitches would fare against the Dodgers. He dominated, making one mistake to Andre Ethier (a change-up, Ethier was 0-2 against the cutter), which ended up in the right field seats.

X Factor Impact: Wainwright didn’t look tired to me.

1. Bullpen Gas vs. Cards Hitters

Winner: Wash. It’s already been noted that the Dodgers pen dominated the Cards, but still managed to give up eventual game winning runs in games one and four. The run scoring hits in those two games: Allen Craig’s single on a fastball, and Jon Jay’s double off John Ely on a fastball. The Dodgers heat kept the Cards on the ground and limited production, but it didn’t turn into strikeouts and the Cards managed to hit it when they had to.

X Factor Impact: The Cards didn’t do much of anything against the Dodgers pen, but the little production they did get came in high leverage situations leading to wins.

5 Keys to the Stretch Run

Here’s what this last weekend’s series should tell us about the last two weeks of the season:

1. Defense Matters

Edge: Cardinals.

Key Cards Player: Daniel Descalso. He can’t be as bad as he was this weekend. If he is, then we better hope Pete Kozma can be significantly better.

Key Dodgers Player: Hanley Ramirez. My new favorite Dodger, let’s hope opposing teams hit it to Hanley if they hit at anyone.

2. Aces Must Win

Edge: Cardinals.

Key Cards Player: Adam Wainwright. He was great Sunday and he will have to be great in his final three starts.

Key Dodgers Player: Josh Beckett. He’s not the Dodgers ace, that title belongs to Clayton Kershaw, but Kershaw is out indefinitely with the hip injury so it falls to Beckett to carry the staff. He pitched well against the Cards and pitched great tonight until he tried to pitch the 8th inning. After giving up 3 ER Beckett left the game to the bullpen, which allowed three more to fully relinquish the six run lead the Dodgers had built.

3. Ensure That Leads = Wins

Edge: Dodgers.

Key Cards Player: Jason Motte. All season it’s been the middle relief that has given it up and, indeed, on Saturday they blew it again; but with only 14 games left losing a lead in the ninth inning is especially deflating.

Key Dodgers Player: Brandon League. Both League and Belisario have been dominant as of late at the back end of the bullpen, but for now it appears that League is in charge of the 9th inning.

4. Groundballs with Eyes

Edge: Wash. I can’t predict luck, but the Cards have lived and died all season on hard ground balls finding holes.

Key Cards Player: Jon Jay. Not only does Jay beat a ton of balls into the ground, but if they turn into singles he has the ability to get himself to second base.

Key Dodgers Player: Matt Kemp. Not because he needs to hit seeing eye groundballs, but because to the extent that the top of the order finds ways to get on base he has to turn the power back on to drive them in. Not a bad start tonight hitting a game winning home run in the ninth.

5. Schedule

Edge: Cardinals. Both teams have the Nationals and Reds, but the Cards get Houston twice and the Cubs, while the Dodgers have to play the Giants and surging Padres.

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