Mark Ellis 2B
A.J. Ellis C
After suffering two soul crushing defeats to the Cardinals in Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS, the Dodgers return home and hope that they can muster some Blue Magic before it is too late. Both games at Busch Stadium were within reach, yet costly mistakes and the glaring absence of clutch hitting (or any hitting for that matter) sunk the Dodgers and put them at a 2-0 deficit in the pennant bearing series. The Dodgers have come so far this season, but can they overcome this last hurdle to propel themselves ahead of St. Louis and into the World Series?
If they are able to rise to the challenge, they may have to do so without two of their
best players. Both Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez probably won’t be able to play in Game 3 or perhaps only be available to pinch-hit in Ethier’s case. Andre Ethier has been healing from a microfracture of his lower left leg, an injury which was just disclosed publically by Ken Gurnick on Saturday in an article on Dodgers.com. The leg injury had been previously described as “ankle soreness” and “shin splints” rather than a microfracture. It is unclear whether Ethier suffered the fracture on September 13th, or whether the fracture was caused by the trauma of the shin splints. Now Dre’s long absence makes more sense. After playing twelve of the thirteen innings in center field in the marathon Game 1, Ethier sat out Game 2 only to pinch-hit, and he may be available only to pinch-hit in Game 3 as well.
As for Hanley, x-rays were negative on his ribcage, but he underwent a CT scan on Saturday in order to determine the severity of his injury sustained from the Joe Kelly pitch to the ribs in Game 2. The results of the scan were not immediately revealed. Hanley has significant pain while swinging and fielding. My fear is that without our best hitter, which is Hanley, the Dodgers will be rudderless and the offense will fail to spark.
Somehow the Dodgers will need to surmount the potential loss of Hanley and Ethier and turn the momentum in their favor. After all, the Dodgers will be at home for the next three games, they will have their fans support, and the Cardinals have had a history of choking in the postseason (see the 2009 NLDS and the 2012 NLCS). The Dodgers have triumphed after an abysmal start to the 2013 season, they have overcome costly injuries to Zack Greinke, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Hanley Ramirez, Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett, etc. The 2013 Dodgers did not give up even after languishing in last place in the early months, and they did so without their franchise player Matt Kemp for nearly the entirety of the season. The pitching is there, but they will need to dig deep for the heart and most importantly for the offense.
The Dodgers haven’t scored a run since the third inning of Game 1 on Friday night. Michael Wacha and company completely shut them down in Game 2, and the offense has been nothing short of awful. Speaking of awful, October Dodger baseball is supposed to be fun, right? This has not been fun yet. The thirteen-inning nightmare on Friday was almost intolerable, and then Game 2′s shortcomings was almost equally as depressing. Where is that Dodger magic we have seen so many times this season? Where’s our Cuban Missile now? Yasiel Puig is hitless in the series, and we could see his despair as he hung his head in the dugout after he collected a postseason golden sombrero (four strikeouts) in Game 2. Of course the enemy fan bases are ripe with glee as they watch our young superstar flail on the national scene in the biggest series for the Dodgers franchise since 2009. Yet I know there is more to come from Puig, and he just needs to go back to his natural free-spirited approach to the game instead of listening to the voices in his head. We need more wild stallion and less tamed colt.
The Dodger pitching, both starting and relief, has been downright excellent. In fact, the Cardinals haven’t really been mustering much offense either which makes these close losses that much more painful. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke were both masterful in their starts, and the bullpen has done a great job to hold down this St. Louis club. Even Ronald Belisario, who has had a wild season, has pitched scoreless ball and given us a glimpse of the good Beli again. Other than a typical Carlos Beltran moment against Kenley Jansen in the bottom of the thirteenth inning in Game 1 and a bit of a shaky outing from Chris Withrow, I can’t praise the Dodger bullpen enough.
Now the ball will be handed to rookie Hyun-jin Ryu who struggled in Game 3 of the
NLDS but came out without a decision after the Dodger offense exploded in the decisive victory over the Braves. Ryu, who admitted to be nervous, will need to pitch a clean first inning and give the Dodgers a solid start. The 26-year old southpaw only lasted 3 innings in his NLDS start while allowing 4 runs on 6 hits with 1 strikeout and a walk. Chris Capuano had to come in to relieve Ryu, and Cappy pitched three scoreless innings in relief. Capuano was left off the NLCS roster, and Edinson Volquez is instead the long-reliever if need be now. Ryu posted a solid 3.00 ERA with a record of 14-8 in 30 starts with the Dodgers this year. He faced St. Louis once back in August at Busch Stadium, and he picked up the win over the Red Birds after allowing 1 run on 5 hits with 7 strikeouts and no walks in 7 innings of work. The Dodgers hope that Ryu can repeat that performance on Monday. David Freese and Matt Holliday both had two hits off Ryu in that game.
The Dodgers will have their work cut out for them, because big Adam Wainwright will be on the mound for St. Louis. Wainwright is a dominating 4-0 in the postseason, and his last start in Game 5 of the NLDS against Pittsburgh was a complete-game masterpiece. The 32-year old right-hander went 19-9 this season with a 2.94 ERA in 34 starts for the Cards. He pitched 5 complete games and two shutouts and struck out 219 batters. He’s pitched in 15 postseason games with St. Louis going back to the 2006 NLDS. The Dodgers also faced him in the 2009 NLDS, and the Dodgers won that game. All total, Wainwright’s postseason ERA is a scary 2.03. He has struck out 57 and walked only 7 in postseason play. This all sounds very frightening, yet he is beatable. The Dodgers were able to get to him back on August 5th in St. Louis where he allowed 3 runs on 7 hits in 7 innings. Over his career, Wainwright is 4-4 with a 3.10 ERA against the Dodgers in the regular season. Unfortunately Andre Ethier is one of the Dodgers who has hit him well in the past, and the left-hand hitting outfielder has hit 3 homeruns and 7 RBIs against him.
The Dodgers are down, but they are not out. A 2-0 deficit is a tough spot for any team to come back from, but the Dodgers have had a special year with tons of come-from-behind miracles, Juan Uribe jazzy homeruns, Adrian Gonzalez blasts, A.J. Ellis clutch hits, Kershaw gems, Greinke gusto, Ryu Zen-like starts, bearded Brian Wilson antics, Kenley K’s, Withrow whiffs, Beli sinkers, Howell heroics, Hanley homers, Ethier doubles, Mark Ellis second base maneuvers, Punto head first slides, Schumaker relief stints, FedEx deliveries, Michael Young moments, Crawford postseason blasts, Van Slyke’s mustache, Nolasco’s hometown homecoming, Dee Gordon‘s speedy steals, Marmol’s great September, Edinson Volquez’s wild welcome, and Puig’s cannon throws. This team can prevail. I believe.