The Dodgers and Cardinals are in an epic battle for National League supremacy. The Cardinals have a 3-2 series lead over the Dodgers in the NLCS, as we enter game 6 Friday night at Busch Stadium. The series winner will be crowned National league champion and will advance to the World Series.
Since the Dodgers are playing the Red Birds, it would be almost sacrilegious if we did not check in with our good friend Daniel Shoptaw of Cardinal C70, or cardsconclave.com , (which is now under the umbrella of the Cardsconclave group) for some inside information about our NLCS opponent. Stacie and I asked Daniel a series of questions about some of the various storylines in this best of seven National League Championship Series. We discussed various topics such as the pitching match-ups, the Cardinal’s struggles against left-handed pitchers, the scariness of Kershaw and Wainwright, and Yadier Molina’s recent hitting slump and game calling abilities. Of course there’s some talk of celebrations, and Yasiel Puig. You can check out our answers to Daniel’s questions over at his blog.
1. I was just wondering what your impression of Yasiel Puig is since there has been a lot of negativity spewed out from the Cardinals fan base toward him. What’s your view on the bat flipping and also the Cardinals celebratory outbursts?
Of course, there’s a different feel when it’s your guys versus the other guys. The “heat of the moment” celebrations, right after a big play, I have no problem with. Puig’s bat flip, for instance, I understood. However, his pointing and gyrating I felt was unnecessary, as was Gonzalez’s “mouse ears” after the home run. That, most especially, seems staged and designed to work things up.
If the Dodgers fist pumped after a big strikeout or clapped after a huge hit, that’s understandable. Like I say, you are in the moment and it’s a natural reaction. I just think some of what we’ve seen has been more preening than celebration.
What set a lot of this off was Wainwright’s comments, which were blown way out of proportion by the media. His comments dealt with Gonzalez yelling at him from third to “throw it to the backstop” and I think that’s what Waino thought was little league. However, in today’s day and age, the truth gets subsumed if a better story can be made.
The biggest thing is if you don’t like something, beat the team and don’t let them do it. Hopefully that’s what we’ll see this weekend.
2. Pitching has obviously dominated in the series with both clubs having equally excellent pitching staffs. The Cardinals staff seems to be loaded with some very talented young pitchers, and anchored by long time ace Adam Wainwright. From watching the series you can tell that Yadier Molina has had a huge presence on the staff. How much has Molina had to do with the development of these young pitchers, and how much does Molina’s game calling abilities effect the pitching staff’s results during games?
Molina is huge in regards to this. If you could quantify it, I bet he’d be the frontrunner for the MVP and it wouldn’t be close. After Shelby Miller threw his one-hitter (leadoff hit, retired the next 27 in a row), he gave all the credit to Molina. Same with Michael Wacha in his near no-hitter. There is no doubt that the transition to the big leagues is much easier when you can eliminate a good portion of your thinking and just follow a maestro behind the plate.
3. It seems that Molina and Wainwright sat down and came up with some interesting game plans to keep the Dodger hitters at bay. Is this true? And how do Molina and Wainwright prepare for games? Are they really doing their homework as much as we think?
Absolutely. There were stories earlier this year that Molina, on his own, came up with a game plan for Wainwright against the Mets, who had been very successful against him. After they implemented the new plan, not so much. Preparation is huge for the whole staff, of course, and Molina plays a big role in that, a role that has probably increased since Dave Duncan stepped away before the 2012 season.
4. Molina is just 3 for 17 in the series with a .174 average. He’s been ice cold in the NLCS. Do you think his excessive workload has had something to do with his recent postseason struggles?
It’s a good question. I need to look back and see if he struggled like this last season as well. That said, you can’t find a hot hitter on the Cardinals–the highest regular before yesterday was hitting about .230–so it’s hard to say that it’s just workload on him. Yadi’s probably suffering from what everyone else is, a major case of really-good-pitching-itis.
5. The Dodgers won game 5 to force a game 6 in which they will have their ace Clayton Kershaw on the mound. Do you think there will be some anxiety for the Cardinal hitters having to face Kershaw a second time around, even though they beat him in game 2?
Of course there’s anxiety. Let me rephrase that. Of course there’s anxiety for the fans. I don’t know that the players will be more worried about this game than they would be any other. That’s not to slight Kershaw in the least–the reason the fans are worked up is the fact that he’s the best pitcher in the game right now. The Cardinals are fairly good about compartmentalizing and focusing, though, and I don’t think they are worried about who is throwing as much as they are preparing for what he throws. They know it’s a tough assignment, but they have dealt with tough assignments before.
6. Last season the Cardinals were in this very same situation against the Giants in the NLCS. They had a 3-1 series lead and were unable to put away the series, dropping three straight to the Giants, and losing the pennant. Do you think this is something on the minds of the Cardinals? Is there some trepidation or fear that the same thing may happen again?
The Cardinals have been pretty adamant that they only reason they think about last year is to make sure that situation doesn’t happen again. They didn’t care for how that felt and they want to avoid it at all costs. If it comes to a Game 7, I’m sure it will be somewhat on their minds (or at least in the back of it), but they aren’t going to be playing out of fear of it happening again. If it does, it does, but they aren’t going to tense up to try to avoid it, I don’t think.
7. The Dodgers are favored to win game 6 because of Clayton Kershaw, but I would think the Cardinals would be favored for a game 7 because Adam Wainwright is pitching. wo do you think will win game 6? Do you think there will be a game 7?
I can’t in good conscience say that there won’t be a Game 7. Do I see a way for the Cards to wrap it up in six? Surely. The Redbirds got to Kershaw more than probably any other team during the regular season, beating him twice. Wacha has been very good and even if this comes down to a bullpen game, the Cards would have the edge. That said, you never bet against the Cy Young, so while I sincerely hope I’m wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both teams play Saturday night.
8. The Cardinals have had problems hitting left handed pitching all season long. why do you think that is?
I don’t know. It’s been a problem on some levels for the last few years. Of course, lefties can be tough for any team but it does seem to be more so for St. Louis. If I was to wildly speculate without numbers, I’d say having a left-handed leadoff hitter and turning Carlos Beltran around probably has some impact. I think this offense really goes when Matt Carpenter can get on and Beltran tends to hit for more power (I believe) from the left side. Again, though, I don’t know that the numbers back that up. If I knew the answer, I probably could make some money!
9. If the Dodgers are able to win the next two games do you think Mike Matheny‘s job could be in danger?
Absolutely not. You have to realize that Mike Matheny was John Mozeliak’s hand-picked guy. He wanted Matheny in that role, knowing that he would have to grow into it. He’s still learning, but he’s now twice had a team within a win of the World Series and done so in both years battling injuries, most especially Allen Craig here in the playoffs. Matheny probably could have had sub-.500 years the last couple of years (well, maybe not, but close) and still been safe. What the Cards really wanted him for was his leadership and his ability to deal with players, something that seems to be going quite well. Many of the players have expressed how much they like to play for him and the rookies playing so well flows out of that. Matheny is going to be here for a long time, I believe
You can check out Daniel’s site at this link here. Daniel manages a very well written and insightful site. Pease check it out for a good read about the Cardinals, and Baseball. You can also find him on twitter here, and on facebook here. You can also check out our responses to Daniel’s questions here.