From here on, every game is a must win

Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a series.   It’s not David vs Goliath as many experts have suggested.   It’s more like Dolph Lundgren and Claude van Damme in Universal Soldier.  Two capable combatants doing battle night after night, with neither gaining an obvious advantage until the very end.  Like the movie, shamefully something of a guilty pleasure, this will go on and on and on and on.

It’s Just a Pitching Change

The Rangers stole game two against a bullpen that has been as consistent as they have been effective.  The fact that this one time they weren’t doesn’t invalidate manager Tony La Russa’s recent approach, it just means that things happen.  Taken out of the context of a series, games like that are usually won or lost on a single play.  Last night it was the Pujols error, the night before it was Pujols amazing play to end the sixth inning.   As with La Russa, one game does not make Pujols a hero, so the other can’t make him the scapegoat.  Neither team should change their approach going into Game Three, and that’s perfectly fine with me.

Perspective is a Beautiful Thing

Before continuing, please take a moment to read our friend William Tasker’s excellent article, The Cardinals Deserve to Lose ?   William takes a look at a critical moment in the Game Two and uses actual data to form a better thesis than “The Sky is Falling”.  In doing so, William has also unearthed one of my biggest pet peeves, the one sided description of game events.   To be more specific, things such as “the Cardinals bats failed to show up”.

For each successful at-bat, there is an equal and opposite bad pitch.

I don’t think Sir Isaac Newton was thinking about bunting in the ninth inning when he said that, but it is important to understand his point.   The Rangers bats did not show up in Game Two because Jaime Garcia was pitching a gem.  Cardinals fans have seen him do this many times before, so last night shouldn’t have been a total surprise.   I can understand how Rangers fans might look to their team’s trouble and not give due credit to the young lefty.

At the same time, Colby Lewis was just as effective against the Cardinals hitters.  It was equal parts Lewis being effectively wild and Cardinals hitters taking bad swings.  It is when these two get out of balance, bad things happen.  Lewis masterfully frustrated Cardinals hitters in his 6 2/3 innings, just as Garcia had done in his seven.  Instead of lamenting the failure of one part of a team, give due credit to their opposite number – sometimes they are the reason.

Either way you choose to look at it, the result was a most entertaining game.

Must Win From Here On

Since the middle of August, this has been the rally cry of the St. Louis Cardinals.    Every game since has been a must win, or if not strictly a must win,  there was little margin to absorb a loss.   So it was with Games One and Two, and so it will be for the remainder of the season.

Game Three is a must win for the Cardinals for two reasons.

First is simple mathematics.   In order to win the World Series, they will now have to win at least one game in Arlington.   That task is far easier when you win the first game, because that opens up the possibility of actually winning the three game series.

In the bigger picture,  Game Three takes on even larger significance.  Going into the top of the ninth in Game Two, the Cardinals had all of the momentum.   It was a fickle momentum based on home field advantage and a one run lead.  But it was there.  Now it has been lost.   It is imperative that the Cardinals regain that momentum, and quickly.  It is equally as important for Kyle Lohse to pitch a good game because the Cardinals are just 1-1 in masterful pitching performances (see the above section on one sided declarations).  Somebody is going to have to be the John Stuper, Danny Cox, Nelson Briles, Ray Washburn, or Jeff Weaver of 2011 and steal one win on the road.

Game Three is just as important for the Rangers.   As a tennis player wins and loses matches based on serving success, a baseball team must do similarly and take advantage of the precious games in their home ballpark.   The Rangers saw how quickly a World Series can slip away last year, and they are not likely to let that happen now.   As much as it is a must win for the Cardinals, the Rangers look at Game Three in the same manner.

Game Four becomes the equalizer.  Whatever happens in Game Three can be swiftly and thoroughly erased by a good performance in Game Four.   Looking back to the 1964 World Series, as we so often have during this most impressive Cardinals season, those two teams also split the two games in St. Louis.  The Yankees went on to win Game Three and appeared poised to deliver a knock-out blow in Game Four.   It didn’t happen that way, thanks to a Ken Boyer grand slam (remember the bad pitch comment earlier – why did Al Downing throw Boyer a changeup).   The Cardinals would also win Game Five, Yankees Game Six.   The Cardinals bats finally showed up for Game Seven, or the Yankees pitching finally broke down, it was a little of both.

All eyes will turn to Game Five, regardless of how the previous two have gone.   This is back to simple math – either the series will be tied or one team will have a three games to one lead.  Either way, Gave Five will be the most must win game of the season.   It is either an elimination game or it gives one team the luxury of facing their first “we can lose this game” game.

But not so fast.  If there is a Game Six, it is just as must win as Game Five.  Why ?  All you have to do is look back to Game Two to see why you don’t want to put all of your hopes for a World Series title on a Game Seven.   The outcome of a single game is often determined by one pitch, a hit, an umpire’s call or a matter of a couple of inches.  These things are going to happen, and it is a lot easier to accept them if they happen in Game Six, than the final game of the season.  Sometimes a Game Six does turn disastrous, as it did in 1985, but that is the exception and not the rule.

What’s the point of all of this ?   There are still anywhere from three to five must win games left in the 2011 baseball season.   How can you not like that, especially if you are a Cardinals fan ?   The only losers over the next week are the fans of other teams that have turned their attention elsewhere and are missing out on some of the best that baseball has to offer.

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One Response to From here on, every game is a must win

  1. Excellent stuff, Sir Robert. And thanks for the link and the kind words. Good luck, Saturday.


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