Cardinals at Nationals
Offenses: True to their regular-season form, the Cardinals have built up a huge plus run differential (23-9), only to find themselves in a Game 5. It's been all or nothing — 20 runs total in Games 2 and 3, but only three runs and six hits combined in Games 1 and 4.
They didn't do much damage against either of the Nats' left-handed starters, but pounded Jordan Zimmermann the starter (not the reliever) and knocked out Edwin Jackson in five innings. And after early success (particularly in Game 2) against the Nats' bullpen, they were blown away in the late innings of Game 4. Allen Craig and David Freese are hitting .400, and there's no more-dangerous post-season hitter than Carlos Beltran.
The Nationals have been shut out once, and eked out two one-run wins in low-scoring games, the latter while getting only three hits. Four of their nine runs have come on solo homers, and they haven't stolen a base in the series. Ian Desmond is the series' leading hitter at .467, Ryan Zimmerman is at .375 playing through a sore right shoulder. But Bryce Harper (.056) and Danny Espinosa (.083) are struggling.
Starting pitchers: Gio Gonzalez is up against it. He has to rebound from a sub-par Game 1 in which he walked seven and threw 110 pitches in five innings, yet escaped with one run allowed. And if he doesn't, the 800-pound gorilla in the clubhouse also known as the Stephen Strasburg shutdown issue is sure to reignite. The good news is Gonzalez threw a complete-game, five-hit shut out at the Cards on Aug. 31, and is coming off a 21-win regular season that will earn him serious Cy Young Award consideration
Adam Wainwright is the Cardinals' true ace, although Kyle Lohse certainly has stepped up as Wainwright has worked his way back to form after missing 2011 due to Tommy John surgery. Wainwright struck out 10 in 5.2 innings in Game 1, and in two starts against Washington since Sept. 28, has allowed only two earned runs in 11.2 innings. However, the Nats pounded him on Aug. 31 — six runs and nine hits in 2.2 innings.
Bullpens: The overall series numbers skew in the Cardinals' favor, thanks in part to their offense beating up a couple of Nationals relievers in the Game 2 blowout. The Cardinals' late-inning threesome of Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte are lined up for Game 5, as only Boggs pitched in Game 4. Cris Carpenter also could appear.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Managers/strategy: Mike Matheny has come under some fire, primarily for the Game 1 decision to let situational lefty Marc Rzepczynski face rookie Tyler Moore in a key spot, rather than either setup man Mitchell Boggs or closer Jason Motte against Chad Tracy. Matheny also chose to save Motte for a potential save situation that never materialized in Game 4, as Lance Lynn gave up Jayson Werth's walkoff homer in the ninth.
Davey Johnson should be the NL Manager of the Year for all he's done in guiding the Nationals to a breakthrough season. He won't get out-managed in Game 5.
Momentum: The Cardinals failed to capitalize on Gio Gonzalez's wildness, and let Game 1 slip away. Then after two easy wins, they couldn't solve Ross Detwiler or the Nats power relievers in Game 4. But they've been in tough situations and elimination games more than enough times in recent postseasons, and know how to execute and win in them.
The Nationals are playing with an edge, and are at home, where they have been terrific all season. But strangely, there's more pressure on them than the defending World Series champions, who have come in as wildcard underdogs.
Orioles at Yankees
Offense: It sure doesn't seem like it, but the Yankees have a 13-9 edge in runs scored in this series. But remember that five of those came in the ninth inning of Game 1. That leaves eight runs over the other 42 innings. Derek Jeter is hitting .421 despite playing in pain, and you know Raul Ibanez (3 for 6, two homers) will be back in the starting lineup for Game 5. Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher's struggles are well-documented, but Robinson Cano also has gone 0-for-10 in the last two games — which probably means he's due.
The Orioles are hitting only .208 in this series, and only Nate McLouth (3) and Chris Davis (2) have more than one RBI. Adam Jones (.105) and Matt Wieters (.118) have created a black hole in the No. 4-5 spots, and four regulars have sub-.200 batting averages. Showalter could turn to right-handed bats Lew Ford and Robert Andino in place of Jim Thome and Ryan Flaherty against Sabathia, as he did in Game 1.
Starting pitchers: CC Sabathia has peaked at the right time. He was outstanding in Game 1, and has allowed only six earned runs in his last 32.2 innings over four starts. But the Orioles have had some success against him in previous starts this season, scoring 13 runs in 18.1 innings, and beating him twice.
As yet another symbol of the Orioles' unlikely success, Jason Hammel has made only three starts and pitched 14.1 innings since the All-Star break, and hadn't pitched in almost a month before holding the Yankees to two runs in 5.2 innings in Game 1. He also allowed two earned runs in six innings in an April 30th loss to New York. You can bet he'll be on a short leash in this game.
Bullpens: Both have been great, but also have been pushed to the limit after 43 innings in four games, including 25 in the last two days. So don't be surprised to see a starting pitcher such as Andy Pettitte or Wei-Yin Chen log innings if needed.
You can bet that everybody will be available for Game 5, but Darren O'Day has thrown 3.2 innings and Jim Johnson 3.0 innings in the last two games, while Rafael Soriano logged 3.1 innings and David Robertson 3.0 innings in Games 3 and 4.
Managers/strategy: Joe Girardi is showing great courage in a tragic time. You can question his lineups if you'd like, but the fact is, he really doesn't have many good options or combinations at this time, when several hitters are struggling.
Buck Showalter is the biggest reason why the Orioles have overachieved their way to the LDS, going 31-10 in one-run games. He seemingly has made no mistakes, has neutralized Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher, and minimized damage done by Robinson Cano.
Momentum: With their Game 4 win, the Orioles are 2-0 in elimination games in this postseason, also beating Texas in the wildcard game. They've played the Yankees to a deadlock not only in this series, but in the season series as well, and are way past the point of being intimidated.
The pressure clearly is on the Yankees, whose age is showing, and who are facing a manager who'd like nothing better than extract a measure of revenge with an upset in this series. But if momentum is defined as the day's starting pitcher, they should be just fine.
HBT: Controversial umpire Angel Hernandez blew another call that nearly cost the White Sox a win on Friday, earning the ire of manager Robin Ventura.
Add another near miss in this 2013 baseball season - this time it was Detroit's Anibal Sanchez falling just short of a no-hitter.
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