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October 15, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

NLCS Game Three Recap: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 0

by Ben Lindbergh

The Dodgers dropped back-to-back starts by Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw on September 7 and 8. The Cardinals squandered 11 regular-season starts by Adam Wainwright. So it’s not as if what we’ve seen over the first three games of this NLCS has been without precedent.

But “with precedent” is a far cry from “predictable.” A 2-1 St. Louis lead over Los Angeles isn’t so strange, considering the Cardinals’ home field advantage, but the way we got here was weird. Thus far, every game has gone to the team with the inferior starter, even though the three aces who’ve come up empty have combined for 21 innings and allowed five runs (four of them earned), with 20 strikeouts and two walks. And the National League’s two best offensive teams have combined for nine runs in three games, with the Dodgers enduring a streak of 22 consecutive scoreless innings.

When we say the playoffs are a crapshoot, this is what we mean.

Monday’s St. Louis loss had a lot to do with defensive miscues, just like Saturday’s Los Angeles loss. This time it wasn’t an A.J. Ellis passed ball and a bad throw by Carl Crawford that did in the loser, but a Jon Jay misplay in center and a throw to the wrong base by Kolten Wong.

Jay allowed a Mark Ellis fly ball to fall for a double between him and Carlos Beltran to start the fourth; the ball probably could’ve been caught by either outfielder, but neither called it, which has to be blamed on Jay. Two batters later, Adrian Gonzalez drove in Ellis with another double, giving Los Angeles a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The Dodgers scored their third run in the eighth when second-base sub Wong retrieved a bloop single by Hanley Ramirez and threw it to Daniel Descalso at the second-base bag, where runner Mark Ellis had already arrived. Meanwhile, Carl Crawford—who had started the play on second—was motoring around third on his way to home, where he would barely beat the relay from Kozma. Had Wong thrown home himself and cut out the middleman, he would’ve cut down Crawford.

Those weren’t the only mistakes St. Louis made. Jay, who’s having an awful series defensively—he also misplayed a Mark Ellis liner in Game One—was fooled by a big swing by Hanley in the first and stepped back instead of forward, allowing a popup to dunk in for a single between center and second. Beltran was slow to back up Jay on a fly ball to center to lead off the fifth, playing an A.J. Ellis extra-base hit into a triple. And worse, Descalso—pinch running for David Freese, who was removed with a calf injury sustained at the plate—killed the Cardinals’ most promising rally with a terrible TOOTBLAN in the fifth, getting doubled off second on a liner to center after back-to-back singles to start the inning. Not a banner day for the fundamentals, but that doesn’t make the Dodgers any less pleased that they managed to stave off an actual must-win game for at least another day.