We knew back in spring that the Cardinals bats would be a big part of any chance at post-season. We cringed when we kept hearing how the team was sacrificing defense for the offense, and it almost worked. The bats were mighty, although the did have periods when they fell silent. The almost worked was referring to the giving up defense part. At the trade deadline, the acquisition of Rafael Furcal went a long way to shoring up the left side of the Cardinals infield. The Cardinals would not be taking Happy Flights today, if not for the stellar defense of Furcal.
There is an old saying, good pitching will defeat good hitting. Of course, the implication is “most of the time.” All it takes is one look at the NLDS Box Score to understand how profoundly true this is. The Phillies pitching (ok, they are not good, they are great) did indeed silence the Cardinals bats, most of the time. What the Cardinals were able to do is cluster together enough hits to support the good pitching of their own.
Game Two of the NDLS was a total team effort. Ryan Theriot and Jon Jay combined not once, but twice, to eventually tie the game late. An Allen Craig triple and Albert Pujols single turned out to be the game winner.
David Freese, looking totally overmatched up to that point in post-season, was the slugging hero of Game Four. He would drive in four of the Cardinals five runs on a pair of extra base hits: a double and long home run to center field.
And who can forget the top of the order, providing just enough with a pair of extra base hits off Roy Halladay in the decisive Game Five as Chris Carpenter pitched the game of the year, if not decade.
Although somewhat suppressed in Game One of the NLCS, they erupted like Mt. St.Helens in Game Two. It was a relentless affair with Rafael Furcal being the only starter without a hit. That’s OK, he may have saved the game with another acrobatic defensive gem.
But that’s the obvious part. It’s all over the video highlights.
With the way the season started for the Cardinals, who would have thought that the bullpen would be one of the keys to their post-season success. But it is. One look at Game Two of the NLDS will have you making those crazy cartoon eyes. Fernando Salas, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, Mitchell Boggs, Arthur Rhodes and Jason Motte combined for 6 scoreless innings. But it was so much more than that – they allowed just two base runners (a two out single by Jimmy Rollins and Chase Ultey being hit by a pitch). Over those six innings, they would combine for 6 strikeouts.
Five of those same relievers would combine for three innings in the Game Four win. Fernando Salas would give up a run on two hits, the others were perfect. The key to their success – NO WALKS. No extra base runners. Just batters stepping up to the plate, and quickly sitting back down.
The Cardinals bullpen came up big again in the NLCS. Trying to avoid a collapse similar to what happened to Jaime Garcia in Game One, Tony La Russa went to his bullpen with just one out in the fifth inning. Arthur Rhodes, Lance Lynn, Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte were not just effective, they totally shut down the potent Brewers offense. Two base runners by walks and just one hit were all that the relievers gave up. That one hit was a mammoth Prince Fielder home run off Mitchell Boggs. In defense of Boggs, the game was well in hand at the time and he was just pitching to get quick outs. Lance Lynn gets the award for most efficient pitcher in post-season history – one pitch for an inning ending double play. And the win.
The bullpen was what got the Cardinals to a fifth and decisive Game Five in the NLDS. If the Cardinals do go on to win the NLCS, we will look back to Game Two and the marvelous work turned in by the bullpen.
Bats and the Bullpen – the new Killer Bs.