Underestimating St. Louis against Arrieta could be Cardinal sin
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Not a team in baseball in more than 2½ months has beaten Jake Arrieta.
Not a team that has allowed the Cubs even a single hit has done it since June. Not the Mets, not the Dodgers, not the Cardinals, not the Pirates – before or during the playoffs.
So the Cardinals on Monday, at home, in Game 3 of the Division Series?
Not a chance?
Not so fast.
If there’s one team in baseball who knows how to beat the best pitcher on the planet in the playoffs, it might be the Cardinals – who did it four times over the past two postseasons.
“I think there’s something to be said about that,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, when asked how their success against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs the last two years will help Monday against Cy Young favorite Arrieta.
“We’ve gone up against a number of teams and a number of pitchers where everybody kind of ruled us out,” Matheny said. And this team has responded well in the past.”
It is the Cardinals, in fact, who are disproportionately responsible for tagging Kershaw – the most dominant pitcher in baseball in recent years – with the label of postseason flop.
Kershaw, the Dodgers’ powerful left-hander, won the last two NL Cy Young Awards, going 37-12 with a 1.81 ERA in 60 starts over those two seasons – and went 0-4 with a 7.15 ERA in four playoff starts against the Cards, two in the ’13 NLCS, two in last year’s Division Series.
“I feel like we’re a different ballclub with Jake on the mound; he sets the tone,” Cubs first-baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “But that’s a great team. They find ways to win against any pitcher, any time. So we’ve got to show up on Monday and be ready to play.”
Before those four run-ins with the Cardinals the last two years, Kershaw was 1-1 with a 2.59 ERA in four postseason starts.
And they didn’t do it with any single hitting hero or secret weapon off the bench or power binge.
In Game 1 of the Division Series last year, they did it like this (trailing by four): opening the seventh with a single, single, single, single, strikeout, single, strikeout and double.
Kershaw didn’t make it out of the inning; the Dodgers didn’t make it out of the series. Five of the six Cards with hits that inning are on this year’s playoff roster.
“It’s something to have in the archives,” Matheny said, “but that doesn’t necessarily, automatically turn into any kind of production.
“More so than anything else, I think it keeps our club from being overwhelmed by maybe all the noise that comes along with a matchup like this.”
The Cardinals also represented a rare speed bump in Madison Bumgarner’s historic postseason run for the world-champion Giants last year (1.03 ERA in 52 2/3 innings). He gave up as many earned runs in an eight-inning start against the Cardinals during last year’s NLCS (three) as he did the entire rest of his postseason, with the Cardinals leading most of that game until losing after the bullpens took over.
Advantage against lefties? The Cardinals hit left-handers slightly better than righties last year.
This year? They’ve hit right-handers better than lefties by a bigger margin (.261-.230 batting, .326-.307 on-base percentage, .736-.662 OPS).
“I don’t take anything for granted. I don’t think any of us do,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I hope not. The other teams are really good. The team we’re playing tomorrow is very good. So you can’t assume anything.”
The Cards already handed Arrieta one of his six losses, though it came on May 7, almost seven weeks before his record-setting run of 21 consecutive quality starts through last week’s wild-card game (17-1, 0.81).
“Obviously, going up against Arrieta, he’s a great pitcher,” Cardinals starter Michael Wacha said, “but you just have to worry about your own game. You can’t worry about who’s on the other side.”
He should know the blueprint. Despite a miserable September (2-3, .788) that included two losses to the Cubs, Wacha has played this role before—the winning pitcher as a rookie in both 2013 postseason wins against Kershaw, including a 1-0 game.
Not that any of this means the Cardinals will look any better against Arrieta than anyone else has lately.
“I just intend to keep us in the game,” Arrieta said, “regardless of the circumstances, whatever comes up.
But I like my chances to go out there and win us a ballgame.”