Game Two of the NL Divisional Series between the Pirates and Cardinals was another boat race. This time, the Pirates prevailed victorious.
The conceit in the Game One recap was simple: Sometimes the starting pitchers decide the game. That much remained true in Game Two. Lance Lynn came out roaring, fanning the first two batters with a bat-evading slider reminiscent of Adam Wainwright's curveball domination in Game One. But, whereas Wainwright paid for one mistake on Thursday, Lynn paid for his mistakes over and over again on Friday.
Trouble started in the second inning. In establishing a theme with this series, the opposing pitcher again assisted his own cause. Just as Wainwright started the rally in Game One with a seven-pitch walk, Gerrit Cole drove in the game's first run with a line-drive single. In a way, the Cardinals asked for it, or at least for Cole to bat. Pedro Alvarez had doubled, Russell Martin had made the inning's second out, and Mike Matheny then chose to intentionally walk Jordy Mercer.
Intentionally walking anyone that earlier is often questionable, but it made sense for a few reasons:
1) The walk didn't advance the lead runner;
2) There were two outs in the inning;
3) The pitcher was on deck.
Of course it is worth pointing out Cole's regular-season line (.206/.229/.206) is better than the league-average mark at the position (.132/.164/.169). Yet that performance came in a small sample, and the difference isn't enough to call Cole a good hitter. It didn't matter. Lynn fell behind 1-0 then threw a fastball over the plate, which Cole hit into center field.
Lynn made a habit of missing with his fastball, and the Pirates, in turn, made a habit of hitting his fastball. In the next inning, Justin Morneau singled on a 1-2 fastball up and over the plate. Alvarez then homered on a 1-0 fastball that was—you guessed it—up and over the plate. That made it 3-0. Flash forward to the fifth inning and Morneau and Marlon Byrd doubled on consecutive secondary pitches that were in unideal locations. A walk to Alvarez later and Lynn was out of the game.
The troubling aspect for the Cardinals is how it continues a streak of disappointing postseason starts for Lynn. Though he spent last year's Wild Card Game and Divisional Series in the bullpen, he made two starts in the Championship Series and failed to pitch beyond the fourth inning on either occasion. The Cardinals won't have to make a decision this series about whether Lynn remains in their postseason rotation, but if they advance it could be a point of contention.
What wasn't a point of contention was the Pirates starting Cole. No starter with a similar innings total had a better Game Score in their worst start than Cole did this season. In that start, Cole allowed four runs on six hits and a walk over five innings. Good? No, but he needn't be much sharper than that today in order to give his team a chance to win. As it turns out, he was a lot better.
Cole threw six innings before he was lifted for a pinch hitter. He allowed two hits—an early double to Carlos Beltran on a mistake fastball and a home run to Yadier Molina—and issued a lone walk. Add in five strikeouts and the Pirates have to be happy with their rookie's postseason debut. It may not have been a perfect outing, but it was a necessary one after a rough blowout.
- With a day off on Saturday, the Pirates used their best relievers to close out the game. Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, and Jason Grilli combined for there innings, two hits, no runs, a walk, and four strikeouts.
- On the opposite end, St. Louis used six relievers, including Shelby Miller. Edward Mujica, whose role in this series was explained as "right-handed pitcher" pitched a one-two-three ninth inning, albeit with a six-run deficit.
- Game Three takes place on Sunday. The Cardinals will take to the road with Joe Kelly starting. He'll be opposed by Francisco Liriano, who helped the Pirates reach this point with his performance in the Wild Card Game. Here's hoping the venue change sparks a more competitive game than St. Louis provided.