LOS ANGELES -- There are must-win games and then there are MUST-WIN GAMES. For the 2013 Dodgers, who trail the Cardinals 3-1 in the NLCS, Game 5 is unassailably of the latter variety. If they win on Wednesday, then the series goes back to St. Louis. If they lose, then the Cardinals are headed to the World Series, and the Dodgers are headed to golf and leisure.
So let's breakdown this pitching match-up -- a rematch of Game 1 -- between Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69 ERA, 135 ERA+, 1.36 WHIP, 1.80 K/BB) and Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63 ERA, 135 ERA+, 1.11 WHIP, 3.22 K/BB) ...
Kelly vs. Dodgers
In Game 1 in St. Louis, Kelly settled down after a spotty first three innings that saw him give up two runs on seven base-runners. Kelly was nonetheless able to wrench a quality start out of his night. He relied primarily on his sinker, which he threw to Dodger hitters almost 60 percent of the time, but that's not unusual for him. What was a bit out of character is that he threw his slider more than usual (17.9 percent of the time in Game 1 versus 10.7 percent usage in the regular season).
Other trends of note ... Hitters presently on the Dodgers' roster have combined to hit .309/.356/.509 against Kelly across 59 regular season plate appearances. Kelly in his career has actually been slightly more effective on the road, in terms of both run prevention and command. On the other hand, the Dodgers this season ranked second in the NL in terms of in weight runs created+ (wRC+) against right-handers and fifth in wRC+ at home.
Greinke vs. Cardinals
Greinke was fairly dominant in Game 1 in St. Louis, as he struck 10 against only one walk and gave up two runs in eight innings of work. He was also strong against the Cardinals in his only 2013 regular season start against them.
In that Game 1 start, Greinke made a point to mix up his offerings. Per Brooks Baseball, here are his usage percentages against the Cardinals in the NLCS opener: four-seamer - 28.9 percent, sinker - 22.1 percent, curve - 19.2 percent, slider - 20.2 percent, changeup - 8.7 percent.
That's the "kitchen sink" approach, for sure. Specifically, Greinke leaned on his straight fastball less often than he did in the regular season while ramping up use of his sinker and slider. Will he again take this tack in Game 5? On the one hand, it worked well in Game 1. On the other hand, Greinke prior to Game 1 talked about how well and how quickly Cardinal hitters make adjustments, so don't be surprised if he deviates. Again.
Elsewhere, Cardinal hitters in their regular season careers have batted .292/.344/.417 in 134 plate appearances (sample size caveats apply, of course). As noted prior to Ricky Nolasco's Game 4 start, the Cardinal offense during the regular season ranked first in the NL in terms of wRC+ against RHPs and second in wRC+ on the road.
Game 5 first pitch is slated for 4:07 pm EST, 1:07 pm local time.