MLB: NLCS-St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers

The best British soccer announcers have a way of making any random match seem important. If not important, a posh accent at least lends an air of authenticity to the proceedings. An English-language soccer broadcaster without an accent is one I am unlikely to suffer for long, in all honesty. The best announcers — like the great Martin Tyler to name one — have delightful little phrases and terms they pepper into their call to add color to the game.

“A turn of the screw” or “turning the screw” is one you hear often, generally when the team with the lead dominates possession and continually forces the opposition onto “the back foot.” Watching the Cardinals slowly, methodically, surgically beat the Dodgers tonight, I can think of no other phrase to better describe the National League Championship Series.

The Dodgers might have better players – Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig are better than any one position player on St. Louis and Clayton Kershaw likely gets the edge over Adam Wainwright in a popular vote – but the Cardinals are just a better team. Top to bottom, one through 25, in all facets of the game, the Cardinals look better. Their non-stars are performing, cumulatively, better than the Dodgers stars and scrubs approach. The veteran Dodgers are racked with injury concerns while the Cardinals, outside of Allen Craig, are healthy and productive.

Last night, the Cardinals facade of perfection cracked and the Dodgers seized upon the opportunities. Not tonight. St. Louis didn’t blow the game open tonight, pushing over four runs on two homers and a Matt Carpenter double. They staked a small lead and then politely nursed it like a beer in the new neighbor’s garage. St. Louis snuffed out rallies with key double plays and an astute pick off in the eighth inning which felt like the game ended right that second.

The Cards didn’t make the same kind of mistakes they made 24 hours earlier. Instead of giving away extra bases and extras chances, the Cardinals played a tight “crisp” game. They turned to their excellent bullpen after Lance Lynn battled his way through 16 outs. Mike Matheny‘s bullpen got the next 11 on their own (with an assist to Nick Punto, of course.)

Without Ramirez the Dodgers look top-heavy, calling on Michael Young to play shortstop after a series of double switches removed Hanley’s replacement Nick Punto – not long after he made the base running gaffe featured above. They seem unable to solve the Cardinals pitching staff, but then again it is October 2013 and most pitching staffs are now unsolvable puzzles.

They turned the screw. Slowly yet steadily increasing the pressure on the Dodgers. The Dodgers have their own ways of reliving that pressure, of course. Knowing two starts from Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw is all that stands before LA and a Game Seven coin flip offers a brief respite from the pressure. But it is there. The Cardinals just keep turning the screw, with their timely hits and efficient relief pitching.

All that remains to be seen now is if they can finish the job. Or, just like one year ago, will a team from California disrupt the coronation of Baseball’s Greatest Franchise. Pressure’s on.