Tag:Edwin Jackson
Posted on: October 15, 2011 6:06 pm
Edited on: October 16, 2011 4:15 pm
 

NLCS Game 6: Cardinals not eyeing Series yet



By C. Trent Rosecrans

Cardinals at Brewers, 8:05 p.m. ET, Miller Park, Milwaukee. Cardinals lead series 3-2.

MILWAUKEE -- For the first time in probably two months or so, the St. Louis Cardinals have some breathing room. For a team that needed every single victory (and every single Braves loss) to just make the playoffs, St. Louis also trailed 2-1 in the National League division series against the Phillies and now actually have a game up on the Brewers and aren't in a "must-win" situation for once. But don't tell that to Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

"One of the neatest things about what's happened to our club from whenever we started smelling a chance to get into the eight-team playoffs, was we took the attitude that tomorrow is the last game of our lives, which means you don't think about anything beyond that," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "And that's really helpful. It's solved a lot of problems, therefore, have no thought about Game 7 and what happens, other than we're playing tomorrow. It's the last game we're ever going to play. And don't want to have any regrets when it's over. If the Brewers beat us, you tip your hat, hey, we did the best we could and you beat us. Not thinking about anything beyond our best shot tomorrow."

Game 6 on Sunday will be a rematch of the Game 2 blowout at Miller Park with Edwin Jackson taking the hill for the Cardinals and Shaun Marcum for the Brewers. Marcum and the Brewers bullpen were battered around a bit by the Cardinals in a 12-4 victory last Monday, while Jackson and the Cardinals bullpen did enough that there was little drama in the Brewers first home loss of the postseason.

A victory by the Cardinals would not only send them to the World Series, but avoiding a Game 7 would allow Chris Carpenter to start Game 1 of the World Series. Because of his heroics in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Phillies, Carpenter didn't get a chance to pitch until Game 3 of the NLDS.

WHO HAS THE EDGE

 

By just about any mark, the Cardinals have the advantage with their pitching -- as Jackson has better stuff and has pitched better recently than Marcum. Several Milwaukee players said they felt Marcum was "due," but that's not exactly how baseball works.

Still, this series has proven nothing if not unpredictable, at least as far as starters go. No Cardinals' starter has pitched six innings and the Brewers' best starter was Randy Wolf, who was absolutely shelled in the NLDS. The St. Louis starters have a 6.04 ERA in the series and the Brewers are hitting .340 off of the St. Louis starters.

What does give the Cardinals another edge is not just their bullpen, but La Russa's ruthlessness to go to the bullpen and use the eight relievers he stockpiled on his postseason roster. This is October, La Russa doesn't care about his starters' feelings, he's just going for the throat of the Brewers, and so far it's worked.

Cardinals' Edwin Jackson: Jackson allowed two runs and picked up a no-decision in the Cardinals' 12-3 victory in Game 2, and despite joining the Cardinals at the trade deadline, he will be facing Milwaukee for the fifth time in a Cardinal uniform. In the regular season, he was 1-1 with a 4.95 ERA in three starts. 

"I don't think either team has an advantage -- there's neither advantage for a pitcher or the batters (with the familiarity)," Jackson said on Saturday. "I mean there's no secret what I have, there's no secret what they can do. It's just a matter of execution. Whether they hit pitches that you miss or whether you throw pitches where you want to and get outs, it's just one of those things where you're not going to change up the game. I'm not going to change up my game plan, go out and attack the strike zone and take my chances with them putting the ball in play."

The current Brewers are hitting .295/.346/.525 off of Jackson, but he's been good against Prince Fielder (2 for 13) and Ryan Braun (3 for 12). Casey McGehee had a three-home game off of Jackson in the regular season, but will not be starting.

Brewres' Shaun Marcum: Marcum is well aware of his recent failings -- Marcum hasn't gone five innings in any of his last three starts and he's allowed at least five earned runs in five of his last six starts.

"There was more than a couple rocky ones heading into, but feel good, arm feels good, body feels good. Just a matter of going out there, keeping the ball down, throwing strikes and trying to get ahead of these hitters," Marcum said. "They've swung the bats well all year long. They've got one of the best offenses obviously in the National League but in baseball, so gotta go out there and make pitches against them."

But it's not as if he's a total basket case, Marcum was one of the team's best starters during the regular season, winning 13 games and throwing 20 quality starts.

"I think the starting pitchers, for example, and the relievers, too, have all proven, including Marcum in Game 2," La Russa said. "When they're making their pitches, they're real good offense on both sides, they're not centering the ball, they're making outs. But these are two very dangerous offenses, and if you happen to get a pitch in the middle against either side, you get damaged quite often. So he's going to try to avoid the middle. He's a pitcher, not a thrower, so is Edwin. If he has good command, he's tough to deal with. Same with Edwin. There's within some skewed numbers, because we got to their bullpen in Game 2. But they got to ours in Game 1. If you look at when either team pitches good, start, our back end, hitters aren't having any fun. He can do that, but hope he doesn't."

LINEUPS

Cardinals Brewers
No. Name Pos No. Name Pos
1 Rafael Furcal SS 1 Corey Hart RF
2 Jon Jay CF 2 Nyjer Morgan CF
3 Albert Pujols 1B 3 Ryan Braun LF
4 Lance Berkman RF 4 Prince Fielder 1B
5 Matt Holliday LF 5 Rickie Weeks 2B
6 David Freese 3B 6 Jerry Hairston Jr. 3B
7 Yadier Molina C 7 Yuniesky Betancourt SS
8 Nick Punto 2B 8 Jonathan Lucroy C
9 Edwin Jackson RHP 9 Shaun Marcum RHP

NOTES

  • The roof at Miller Park will be closed. It is expected to be 52 degrees at game time, and dropping into the 40s during the game. The roof was open for the first two games of the series at Miller Park.
  • St. Louis is 22-19 all-time in potential clinching games.
  • Before Yadier Molina's second-inning RBI double in Game 5, the Cardinals had gone hitless in their previous 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
  • Braun has no reached safely in the first inning of nine straight postseason games, the longest such streak in baseball history.
  • The Brewers' four errors in Game 5 were the most in an LCS game since Atlanta had four in Game 4 of the 2001 NLCS against the Diamondbacks. Second baseman Rickie Weeks has four errors this postseason, there have only been two other errors by second basemen in the postseason. The last second baseman to have five errors in a single postseason was Milwaukee's Jim Ganter in 1982.
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Posted on: October 14, 2011 11:15 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2011 11:29 pm
 

Brewers hand Game 5 to Cardinals

Zack Greinke

By C. Trent Rosecrans

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' 7-1 victory in Game 5 has put St. Louis one game from the World Series, as they lead the series 3-2 after Friday's win.

Hero: Jaime Garcia really got the job done with his bat, as three of the Cardinals' first four runs came off the bat of Garcia. Two runs scored in the second on his grounder that went through the legs of Jerry Hairston Jr. and then he knocked in a run in the fourth on a ground out. Oh, and he pitched too... allowing only one run and striking out five (but did give up seven hits) in 4 2/3 innings. 

Goat: Hairston was the toast of Milwaukee for about 23 hours after his brilliant slide in Game 4 and then his diving stop of a liner by Nick Punto in the second inning on Friday that temporarily saved two more runs. But with the next pitch, Garcia hit a grounder that went right between Hairston's legs, allowing two runs to score with two outs. He wasn't alone in the Brewers error-parade, but his was the first one and the most costly.

Turning point: It's hard to overstate how crucial Hairston's error was -- even though it seems like it's getting beat to death here. With the pitcher up, all the Brewers need is a routine play and it's still 1-0 after two. Instead, it's 3-0 and the seeds of doubt have been sown. 

It was over when … Octavio Dotel came in to face Ryan Braun with two on and two outs in the fifth inning and the Cardinals leading 4-1. Braun came into the game just 2 for 9 with seven strikeouts against Dotel. He left the game 2 for 10 with eight strikeouts against Dotel.

Next: The series returns to Milwaukee with the Brewers' season in the hands of Shaun Marcum. Expect a run of Pepto in Wisconsin. Edwin Jackson can send the Cardinals to the World Series with a victory.

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Posted on: October 13, 2011 1:25 am
Edited on: October 13, 2011 2:15 am
 

Cardinals bullpen retires 12 Brewers in a row

Jason Motte

By C. Trent Rosecrans

ST. LOUIS -- Only the Nationals had more blown saves than the Cardinals this season, as 26 times the Cardinals had a save situation and then lost a lead. But Wednesday, Chris Carpenter left the game after just five innings in Game 3 of the NLCS and said he wasn't worried about the outcome.

"Typically, as a starting pitcher, you're concerned about that -- you don't want to leave 12 outs for your bullpen," Carpenter said. "I was OK with it. I worked as hard as I could. I had confidence in my guys down there. I had confidence in what they were going to do. And they did it again."

NLCS Coverage

Not only did the Cardinals relievers -- four in all -- get the 12 outs needed, they only needed to face 12 batters to do it. No Brewer reached base after Carpenter intentionally walked Prince Fielder with two outs in the fifth. Fernando Salas got three fly balls to get through the sixth, then Lance Lynn had three fly outs in the sixth and stayed in the seventh to get Ryan Braun to ground out for the first out before lefty Marc Rzepczynski came in to face Prince Fielder. Rzepczynski got Fielder to strike out on four pitches before giving way to Jason Motte -- the team's not-closer -- to strike out Rickie Weeks and then stay in for the ninth and get two strikeouts and a ground out, ending the game.

"Get 12 outs against that offense -- it's not going to work very often that you can put four zeroes against their offense," manager Tony La Russa said. "But each guy came in and really stepped up. I thought they were really aggressive, they threw good strikes and didn't fall behind."

There's been an on-going joke that La Russa still refuses to call Motte his closer -- but since recording his first save on Aug. 28, he's had one blown save a 2.91 ERA. In the playoffs, he's yet to surrender a run, recorded three saves and appeared in five games, all while allowing just one hit.

"Now we've got a guy that's throwing 100 mph, has a nasty slider, it's a presence out there, a force, and you just tip your hat to him because he's turned himself into a closer pretty quick," Berkman said, before he was reminded Motte's not been designated the "closer" by La Russa. "Well, he ends the games for us, whatever you want to call it."

There's talk that La Russa would like to get a big-name, veteran closer during the offseason, so if Motte's not the closer, he doesn't have to demote him. For this season, though, the Cardinals turned around their bullpen late in the season when they traded for right-hander Octavio Dotel, left-hander Marc Rzepczynski and starter Edwin Jackson. Jackson allowed the team to move Kyle McClellan back to the bullpen to fortify the back end. 

Salas, Lynn, Dotel and Mitchell Boggs all recorded saves in the second half of the season, but Motte's seem to hold it down lately.

There's also the fact that the guy who more or less invented the modern bullpen usage is pulling the strings -- and for this series he has eight relievers to chose between.

"Tony is the most prepared person I've ever been around. He lives and dies by numbers, by match ups, by lineups," Carpenter said. "I mean, everyone questions at times why he throws different lineups up there. It's because there's reasons behind that. He's put his work into knowing why he's doing that.

"Why does he push the right buttons at the right times? Because he puts in work, he puts his time into knowing when to push the right buttons. There's a reason why he's won so many games he's won. There's a reason why his teams continue to win. There's a reason why he's a Hall of Fame manager and that's because he puts his work in, he's prepared more than any person I"ve ever see, and when he does push those buttons, he has no fear whatsoever, whether it's wrong or right, and he will answer to it if it's wrong and he will answer to it if it's right. And he's not scared about it, and that's what makes him great."

He also has little reason to be scared of his bullpen anymore. Now that fear should be in the opponent.

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Posted on: October 10, 2011 6:14 pm
 

McGehee out of Brewers lineup again

Casey McGeheeBy C. Trent Rosecrans

At first glance, Casey McGehee's 3 for 13 career mark against Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson is less than noteworthy -- but the other three in his line raises some eyebrows. All three of McGehee's hits against the right-hander are homers, and they came in the same game.

In a 10-5 Brewers victory, McGehee hit three homers and knocked in five against Jackson, who was making his second start for the Cardinals after coming over in the three-way trade that sent Colby Rasmus and brought Jackson from the White Sox.

NLCS

Even with that big game under his belt, McGehee isn't in the lineup for Monday's Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against Jackson and the Cardinals.

"I wish we could put one more player in the lineup, if we were in the American League, he'd be in there," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It's tough. The first game he faced him this year he had the three homers and then didn't get any hits off of him his next two games. But yeah, it would have been real tempting to get him in there. I just don't know how to do it with (Jerry) Hairston, the way he's playing defensively and offensively. It's hard to take him out."

Six days after McGehee's three-homer day in August, Jackson faced the Brewers again and held McGehee hitless in four at-bats, striking him out once and then on Aug. 30, McGehee was 0 for 3 against Jackson.

McGehee, 28, has struggled all season, hitting .223/.280/.346 during the regular season, but just .182/.257/.338 with five home runs since his three-homer game. He hasn't started a game in the postseason and had one hit in three pinch-hit appearances in the NLDS.

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Posted on: October 10, 2011 2:20 am
Edited on: October 10, 2011 4:47 pm
 

NLCS Game 2: Miller Time is good to Brewers



By C. Trent Rosecrans

MILWAUKEE -- It's been beat into the ground by this time in the playoffs, but it's only because it's held true -- every game at Miller Park is crucial to the Brewers, who held baseball's best home record and struggled on the road this season. So far, the Miller Park faithful has seen four postseason victories and no losses. The Brewers also lost both of their road games in Arizona in the first round, furthering the storyline.

Sunday, the Brewers came back from an early deficit to beat the Cardinals, giving Milwaukee the early lead in the series and keeping the momentum alive at home.

NLCS

"The atmosphere here is something that we really feed off of, I think it's one o fate big reasons we've been so successful here at home," Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun said. "Obviously the fans are very passionate. And they're excited. I think they're enjoying it as much as we are, playing meaningful baseball games on Oct. 10. And they're embracing the opportunity, just like we are, and trying to make the most of it."

For St. Louis, getting a win in Milwaukee would mean a chance at clinching a trip to the World Series at home. For a team that came back from 8 1/2 games in the wild card in the last three-and-half weeks of the season and lost the first game of the NL division series, St. Louis is used to performing under pressure.

"Just look at how we've played over the last six weeks -- we've lost some tough games and bounced back, we did it against Philly, we did it in the last two weeks of the season when we needed wins, we're too good of a ball club," St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols said. "This is too long of a series  and whoever wins four games is going to the World Series. Just because they won one game -- you can go to the (Brewers) side and ask them -- it's not over."

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Cardinals' Edwin Jackson: The right-hander's last outing came in Game 4 of the NLDS with the Cardinals facing elimination and he rebounded from giving up two first-inning runs, he allowed just three more base runners in his six innings as St. Louis forced a Game 5 with a victory over Roy Oswalt and the Cardinals. 

The start was Jackson's first postseason start of his career, but not his first appearance, having pitched in three games of the 2008 postseason with the Rays. The oft-traded Jackson has gone 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA in 12 starts and 13 games since coming to the Cardinals, and take out one start and his ERA's down to 2.92. But there's the rub -- that one start you'd need to take out was against the Brewers, at Mlller Park. In just his second start for the Cardinals, Jackson surrendered 10 runs (but just eight earned) in seven innings on 14 hits. The Brewers tagged him for four homers -- three by Casey McGehee and one from Corey Hart to lead off the first inning. 

On Sunday, Jackson was asked about that start -- "What start? It's that simple. I mean, I'm a competitor. I mean, I can take my beatings and I can handle that. It's not my first one and it probably won't be my last."

Jackson followed that start with another against the Brewers -- losing but in better fashion, allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits in six innings on Aug. 9. In his next start in Milwaukee he allowed just one run in seven innings, earning the win.

Brewers' Shaun Marcum: The Brewer right-hander wasn't able to get through the fifth inning in his one start in the NLDS, going up seven runs in just 4 2/3 innings in Game 3. During the season, he flashed moments of brilliance, but also struggled -- evening out to a 13-7 record with a 3.54 ERA.

Marcum's Game 3 start will best be remembered for his flip of his glove after giving up a grand slam to Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt.

"I didn't really see the replay, and I didn't realize I did it until afterwards," Marcum said. "I was like, what the heck did I just do? It reminded me of Ted Lilly a couple of years ago in Arizona, but he slammed his glove down on the ground. It's just a reaction thing. Definitely I didn't realize I did it until afterwards."

Like just about every other pitcher in this series, he's seen plenty of his NLCS opponents -- facing the Cardinals three times in August, going 0-1 with a 4.26 ERA in those three starts and 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in four total starts against St. Louis.

"They know what I'm going to do; I know what approach they're going to take for me," Marcum said. "For me it's a matter of going out and locating, keeping the ball down. I do know what they're going to try to do. They know what they're going to try to do against me. We're going to go back and forth."

Starting pitching advantage for Game 2:

Both starters are so unpredictable that it's hard to give anyone an edge -- it depends on the night.

LINEUPS

Cardinals Brewers
No. Name Pos No. Name Pos
1 Rafael Furcal SS 1 Corey Hart RF
2 Jon Jay CF 2 Nyjer Morgan CF
3 Albert Pujols 1B 3 Ryan Braun LF
4 Matt Holliday LF 4 Prince Fielder 1B
5 Lance Berkman RF 5 Rickie Weeks 2B
6 Yadier Molina C 6 Jerry Hairston Jr. 3B
7 David Freese 3B 7 Yuniesky Betancourt SS
8 Nick Punto 2B 8 Jonathan Lucroy C
9 Edwin Jackson RHP 9 Shaun Marcum RHP

NOTES

  • With his 62nd postseason game in a Cardinals' uniform, Albert Pujols passed Jim Edmonds for most in franchise history. With his single in the first inning, Pujols has now hit safely in 21 of the 26 LCS games in his career, hitting .354 (34 for 96) in the LCS with eight homers and 18 RBI.
  • Based on history, the Brewers' victory in Game 1 puts them in the driver's seat -- in the last 19 NLCS, winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the series 16 times (84.2 percent).
  • Rafael Furcal hsas a hit in each of the nine games he's played at Miller Park this season, with eight of those coming as a Cardinal. He's hitting .323 (10 for 31) here this season and .295 (26 for 88) in his career.
  • Despite the Brewers' prodigious power, Sunday was just the second time in team history Milwaukee hit multiple homers in one playoff game. The only other time came exactly 30 years before, when Pal Molitor and Ted Simmons hit home runs against the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS on Oct. 9, 1981. It was the 37th time Braun and Fielder homered in the same game.
  • Marcum may not have the most success with the Cardinals this season, but he has had success against Pujols and Lance Berkman. Berkman is just 1 for 15 in his career against Marcum and Pujols is 1 for 9.
  • Likewise, Jackson's been good against Braun and Fielder. Braun is 2 for 12 against Jackson and Fielder is 2 for 13. McGehee's three homers are his only three hits against Jackson in his career.
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Posted on: October 9, 2011 7:40 pm
Edited on: October 9, 2011 7:53 pm
 

Braun, Brewers bash their way to NLCS Game 1 win

Ryan Braun

By C. Trent Rosecrans

MILWAUKEE -- When the National League's two best offenses match up, what did you expect other than a slugfest? That's what Ronny's Wallbangers delivered in a 9-6 Brewers victory over the Cardinals to take a 1-0 lead in the NLCS.

Hero: If Ryan Braun was under-appreciated headed into this postseason, he's not going to be after it. Not only did he hit a two-run homer in the first inning, he doubled in two more in the six-run Brewer fifth. It's often said the key to beating the Brewers is to not let Braun and Prince Fielder beat you -- it's beginning to be just hope you can survive Braun and hope Fielder doesn't follow with a big blast, like he did in the sixth. In the postseason, Braun is now hitting .500/.577/1.000 and it's pretty safe he's making a case to add a postseason MVP trophy to the one he could win for the regular season.

NLCS

Goat: Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia just didn't have his best stuff, but was able to get some help from the bottom of the Brewers lineup to avoid a big Brewers first inning. However, even after his team staked him to a 5-2 lead, he couldn't hold onto it. He probably should've been taken out earlier (more on that in a minute), but he didn't help himself by giving up a single and a double to start the sixth, only to see Braun and Fielder come up and finish off his game.

Turning point: Tony La Russa had Octavio Dotel warming up in the bullpen ready to come in for the fifth inning. Garcia gave up back-to-back doubles to Corey Hart and Jerry Hairston to lead off the inning, it seemed to be the end of Garcia's night. Except La Russa never got off the top step, even with Braun and Fielder coming up. Both Braun and Fielder were 2 for 8 in their lifetime against the right-handed reliever, with both striking out six times. Braun had a double against him, while Fielder also had a walk. The first-guessing on La Russa's tactic quickly turned to second- and third-guessing when Braun doubled and then Fielder homered -- and then La Russa took out Garcia.

It was over when … In the seventh inning, St. Louis was trailing by three, but had runners on first and third with no outs and Albert Pujols coming to the plate. It was pretty much the dream scenario for the Cardinals -- but Takashi Saito, pitching to his second batter, got Pujols to ground into a double play. Sure, a run scored to make it 8-6, but it took the air out of the Cardinals' hopes. 

Next: Game 2 pits St. Louis right-hander Edwin Jackson against Milwaukee's Shaun Marcum at 8:07 p.m. ET on Monday at Miller Park in Milwaukee. With Sunday's Game 1 win, the Brewers have won all four postseason games played in Milwaukee this year. Jackson pitched twice in Milwaukee against the Brewers this season -- getting rocked for 10 runs (eight earned) in seven innings on Aug. 3 and then giving up just one run in seven innings on Aug.30. Marcum fared worse at home than on the road this season, going 5-4 with a 4.81 ERA at Miller Park and 8-3 with a 2.21 ERA elsewhere.

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Posted on: October 8, 2011 6:24 pm
Edited on: October 10, 2011 2:17 am
 

Cardinals vs. Brewers NLCS preview

NLCS

By C. Trent Rosecrans

MILWAUKEE -- The National League Central is often overlooked or looked down upon -- but not this year, as the NL Central champs have to fight off their divisional rival with the winner headed to the World Series. What makes this matchup even more fun is that these two clubs don't like each other one bit.

There was a dust up late in the season between Milwaukee's Nyjer Morgan and the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter. There was also an accusation by the Cardinals that the Brewers were using different graphics on the Miller Park scoreboards to create an advantage while the Cardinals were batting. And even Saturday, Zack Greinke got the ball rolling by making comments about Carpenter, which got Cardinals manager Tony La Russa upset.

It's a contrast in style -- if only in the surface style. The Brewers are young, brash and loud. The Cardinals sit on their porch and tell them to get off their lawn.

On the field, both teams have some impressive individual pitchers, but got to the playoffs on the strength of their bats. While the Brewers won the National League Central, the two teams split their 18-game series during the regular season. While it won't bring in the ratings like some bigger markets might, it should appeal to true baseball fans.

TEAM INFORMATION

St. Louis Cardinals (host games 3, 4, 5*)
90-72, NL wild card winner
ALDS
: Defeated Phillies in 5 games -- View coverage of NLDS Phillies-Cardinals
Manager
: Tony La Russa
Regular-season batting statistics: .273 batting average (1st in NL), .341 on-base percentage (1st), .425 slugging percentage (1st)
Regular-season pitching statistics: 3.78 ERA (8th), 1.31 WHIP (10th), 2.45 K/BB (5th)
Star player: 1B Albert Pujols -- .299/.366/.541, 651 plate appearances, 37 HR 99 RBI

Miwaukee Brewers (host games 1, 2, 6*, 7*)
96-66, NL Central champions
ALDS
: Defeated Diamondbacks in 5 games -- View coverage of NLDS Brewers-Diamondbacks
Manager: Ron Roenicke
Regular-season batting statistics: .261 batting average (3rd), .325 on-base percentage (5th), .425 slugging percentage (1st)
Regular-season pitching statistics: 3.63 ERA (7th), 1.24 WHIP (3rd), 2.86 K/BB (2nd)
Star player: LF Ryan Braun -- .332/.397/.597, 629 plate appearances, 33 HR, 111 RBI

*if necessary

WHO HAS THE EDGE?

Let's break each position down and see which team has the edge…

Catcher: Yadier Molina vs. Jonathan Lucroy
 
Perhaps the best defensive catcher in the game also hit .305/.349/.465 this season … that's Molina if you weren't sure, or weren't watching Game 5 of the NLDS when he threw out Chase Utley at second. Molina seemingly does it all. Lucroy may be best known as the "guy who can't really hit," even if he hit a pretty respectable .265/.313/.391 with 12 homers.

First base: Albert Pujols vs. Prince Fielder
 

You want to talk about a heavyweight battle? You have perhaps baseball's best player versus a guy who had an MVP-worthy season. You also have two of the offseason's premier free agents. Fielder's 27, so who knows exactly who is going to get the bigger contract between him and the 31-year-old Pujols, but there's no question as to who is the better all-around player. Pujols is not only the most feared hitter in the league, he's also a guy who can beat you with his glove and his base running in addition to his bat.

Second base: Ryan Theriot vs. Rickie Weeks
 

Theriot's a much better second baseman than he his shortstop, so the good news is that he's at second base, although he's still not exactly a Gold Glover -- of course, neither is Weeks. Both garner their value with their bats, not their gloves. When healthy, Weeks is probably the better player. But he hasn't looked healthy and he was just 1 for 18 in the NLDS against the Cardinals. At the beginning of the year, this was an easy choice. Today it is, too, but it's the other way.

Shortstop: Rafael Furcal vs. Yuniesky Betancourt
 

Once the Cardinals got Furcal from the Dodgers and he returned healthy, the Cardinals were a much better team. St. Louis has gone 30-20 in games which Furcal has played. Even though his stats are a less-than-impressive .255/.316/.418 with the Cardinals, the threat he brings at the top of the lineup coupled with how much he improves the team's defense, St. Louis is better because of him. The Brewers have Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop.

Third base: David Freese vs. Jerry Hairston Jr.
 

Freese may be one of the more underrated players the Cardinals have. While we all know about Pujols and Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman and even the likes of Molina and Theriot, Freese is a guy you have to watch in that lineup. He hit .297/.350/.441 this season, but injuries have been a problem in his career. When healthy, he's a vital part of the the team's offense after the big boppers. Hairston is a journeyman utility player -- and those are great to have. He's a fantastic role player that has been in some winning situations the last few years, but there's a reason he's moved around both on the field and to different clubhouses. He's always in demand, but he's no longer an everyday player.

Left field: Matt Holliday vs. Ryan Braun
 

If the first base matchup weren't so good, this one would be getting the headlines. Braun would be my choice for the MVP in the National League, and Holliday is one of the more underrated players in the game. Cardinals fans love to hate the guy because of what he hasn't done, while ignoring the production he has put up in a Cardinals uniform. The guy is an absolute monster. However, he's hurt right now -- and like the Theriot vs. Weeks argument, that looms large in this matchup.

Center field: John Jay vs. Nyjer Morgan/Chris Gomez
 

Morgan's the hot name right now for his outrageous and engaging personality. His Game 5 heroics even overshadowed the fact that he hit .188 in the NLDS. As bad as that is, it was better than Jay's .162. Morgan brings enough to the team to give Milwaukee the slight edge. 

Right field: Lance Berkman vs. Corey Hart
 

Hart's another one of those players who gets lost among all the other good players in this series. He hit .285/.356/.510 with 26 homers this season, much of it out of the leadoff spot. But as good of a season as he's had, it pales in comparison to the season Berkman put together. A year after it seemed like he had nothing left in the tank, he was refueled with premium, hitting .301/.412/.547 with 31 homers.

Starting pitching: Jaime Garcia, Edwin Jackson, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse vs. Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf
 

Both teams needed to use their best playoff pitchers on Friday, meaning the Game 3 matchup in St. Louis of Carpenter-Gallardo should be a good one. Garcia's been a different pitcher on the road (the 3.33 ERA vs. 2.92 isn't so bad, but batters are hitting a robust .313 against him away from Busch Stadium and .230 in the shadow of the arch). Lohse and Wolf are wild cards, while Greinke should pitch better than he did against the Diamondbacks. Both have their solid points and their question marks. In the end, it may be too close to call.

Relief pitching: Jason Motte and co. vs. John Axford and co.
 

Give credit to Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak for going out and improving the team's bullpen at the break. For much of the season, the bullpen was a weak point, but Mozeliak strengthened it during the season and the bullpen has become a strength. Milwaukee also went out and made a bold move for a setup man, picking up Francisco Rodriguez. Both teams have to feel good when their manager goes out to the mound to make a change.

Defense
 

Neither team is going to put on a clinic, but the addition of Furcal has improved St. Louis' defense to the acceptable level. Almost. With Pujols and Furcal they have players who can field the ball, so there's that. The Brewers have Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop

PREDICTION

While these may not be the two best teams in the National Leauge, they certainly make for an intriguing matchup. No matter how many times each team says its letting bygones be bygones, they don't really like each other -- and the national spotlight could turn up the heat. The two teams split their 18-game season series, with each team going 5-4 on their home field. The way the Brewers play at home, they could be tough to beat here. In the end, I see it going the distance and the fact that four of the games are at Miller Park being the biggest difference. Brewers in 7.


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Posted on: October 5, 2011 3:54 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2011 5:02 pm
 

NLDS Game 4: Holliday in lineup

Holliday

By Evan Brunell


Phillies at Cardinals, 6:07 p.m. ET, Busch Stadium

The long national nightmare is over: Matt Holliday is in the lineup for the Cardinals, as CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler writes on site.

Phillies Cardinals
No. Name Pos No. Name Pos
1 Jimmy Rollins SS 1 Rafael Furcal SS
2 Chase Utley 2B 2 Skip Schumaker 2B
3 Hunter Pence RF 3 Albert Pujols 1B
4 Ryan Howard 1B 4 Lance Berkman RF
5 Shane Victorino CF 5 Matt Holliday LF
6 Raul Ibanez LF 6 Yadier Molina C
7 Placido Polanco 3B 7 David Freese 3B
8 Carlos Ruiz C 8 Jon Jay CF
9 Roy Oswalt RHP 9 Edwin Jackson RHP

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Oswalt vs. Cardinals: Oswalt has seen the Cardinals plenty, spending 10 years in Houston. He has 197 2/3 innings of history against St. Louis, posting up a 3.19 ERA. He made three starts against the Redbirds in 2011, with a eerie 3.21 ERA, very similar to his career marks. In those three games, Yadier Molina went 4-for 5 and Lance Berkman 3-for-5. Jon Jay is the lone Cardinal to have hit a homer off Oswalt this season, but over his career (and counting the postseason), Albert Pujols has seven homers in 102 plate appearances. Rafael Furcal and Molina also hit Oswalt well historically.

Jackson vs. Phillies: Jackson has bounced from team to team the last few seasons, but has only faced the Phillies once in the regular season, giving up five runs in five innings back on July 28, 2010 while with the Diamondbacks. Over Jackson's career and including the postseason, Raul Ibanez has faced Jackson the most, seeing him nine times and collecting two hits and walks apiece. Only Joe Blanton -- a long reliever for Philadelphia in October -- has gone deep against Jackson. There's no question the Phillies have minimal experience against Jackson, which could work in the right-hander's favor.

NOTES

Full Playoff Coverage
  • Get a load of this statistic, brought to you by the Associated Press: "Placido Polanco singled in the ninth [inning of Game 3], ending a 0-for-29 slump against St. Louis in the postseason. He was 0 for 17 with Detroit in the 2006 World Series."
  • Roy Oswalt is undefeated in the postseason, running up a 5-0 record. Win-loss records mean absolutely nothing when evaluating how good a pitcher is, but it's a nice little narrative. His ERA in the postseason is 3.25.
  • Edwin Jackson has never started in the playoffs but did relieve in the 2008 World Series for Tampa Bay, throwing two innings of one-run ball against Philly.
  • This could be Albert Pujols' final game as a Cardinal and/or at Busch Stadium.
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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com