The St. Louis Cardinals managed four hits against Jon Lester tonight. Koji Uehara pitched tonight so we know the Cardinals four hits and zero walks total. They came to the plate a grand total of 30 times. Rearrange that order any way you like, that isn’t going to get it done.
Despite what the pregame shows and twitter moaners say, the order in which this collection of batters is not the issue. The rotting remains of Allen Craig are an issue. That Craig’s a better option than Matt Adams is an issue. The disappearance of leadoff man and regular season line drive machine Matt Carpenter is an issue. That there is no way to sufficiently shuffle the bottom of their order is a very real issue.
Carlos Beltran shifted to the cleanup spot tonight as Cardinals manager Mike Matheny looked for a spark. Grasping at straws, it also meant Carlos Beltran watched the final out of the game from an agonizing distance, rather than settling matters with his prodigious bat.
Given how good Koji Uehara is and how bad the Cardinals offense looks, does it really matter in the end? You can’t hit a game-winning home run down two runs without anybody on base. These issues have the Cardinals down three games to two in the World Series, needing to win twice at Fenway Park if they want to keep their title hopes alive, after they fell 3-1 to Jon Lester and the Boston Red Sox.
For the second time this series, the Cardinals offense gave them next to nothing. Game Five was also the second time Jon Lester started against St. Louis. At this point, maybe the Cardinals offense is only as bad as Jon Lester is good. Matt Holliday provided St. Louis’ only offense with a massive home run to center field.
The team is hitting .211/.268/.295 against left-handed pitching this postseason with 40 strikeouts and 14 walks. Part of that is consistent with their regular season performance against southpaws (.238/.301/.371) but a lot of has to do with facing Jon Lester twice.
His cutter and ability to mix inside and out makes him very tough for any lineup, to say nothing of the vulnerable Cards. Issuing zero walks and allowing four hits – one of which was a solo home run – means Lester only pitched from the stretch a precious few times. When he did face a situation with runners on base, he himself made a huge defensive play to keep the inning under control.
Because of this domination, John Farrell showed incredible faith in Lester late in the game, speaking to both his belief in his starter and, possibly, a disdain for the meagre Cardinals offense.
Farrell let Jon Lester hit with two runners in scoring position with the score just 2-1 in the seventh inning, rather than going with a pinch hitter as the situation suggested. Did the Red Sox manager believe one run was enough? He only wanted six more outs from Lester to build the bridge to Koji Uehara.
Lester got him five — Koji was good enough to pick up the slack. Post-game, Farrell said he would have stuck with Lester even if the game was tied. Easy to say now because the game is over but, having thrown just 69 pitches, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
The Cardinals offense looks slack, unable to match their pitching staff which has made one mistake too many for two consecutive nights. After Mike Matheny let Jonny Gomes beat him with Seth Maness on the hill, he stuck with his ace Adam Wainwright against the bottom of the Red Sox order – they managed to string a few hits together and push across the deciding runs. Perhaps pulling Wainwright in favor of a left-handed pitcher to face Jacoby Ellsbury when the Sox advantage was still just a single run.
Even if Randy Choate or Kevin Siegrist do their job in this hypothetical situation it still demands an inept offense does its fair share. Scoring even one run appears a significant request at this point, silly as that thought is to express.
Adam Wainwright was otherwise terrific in a far more tradition tilt for this extraordinary series. No fireworks or weirdness. No bad defense or profound mental errors. Just two good pitchers, one that allowed a few too many base runners in one inning. Two straight wins for Boston and the chance to clinch at home.
Michael Wacha awaits. It won’t be easy, no matter how hard the Cardinals offense tries to make it that way for the Red Sox juggernaut of destiny.