After beating the San Francisco Giants in Game 3 of the NLCS on Wednesday (Oct. 17), the St. Louis Cardinals have a chance to take control of the series with a 3-1 lead if they're able to win on Thursday night.
To do that, the Cards will need a stronger effort from Adam Wainwright than he's provided thus far through the postseason. In his first two playoff starts, Wainwright has allowed seven runs and 13 hits over just eight innings of work. That's resulted in a 7.88 ERA.
St. Louis almost didn't make it to the NLCS because of Wainwright. In the deciding Game 5 of their divisional series against the Washington Nationals, Wainwright didn't even make it out of the third inning as he was pounded for six runs and seven hits. He served up three home runs, one each to Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse.
So should the Cardinals be worried about their former 20-game winner as the Giants attempt to tie the NLCS at 2-2? Or can St. Louis reasonably expect Wainwright to return to his dominant postseason form and give his team a boost when it's needed most?
Though Wainwright wasn't part of the Cardinals' World Series run last year while recovering from Tommy John surgery, he does have previous playoff experience to draw upon. Although most of his prior postseason appearances were as a reliever when the Cards were driving toward a World Series championship in 2006.
That season, Wainwright made nine appearances for St. Louis, three in each playoff run. He couldn't have been much more effective out of the bullpen.
In the NLDS versus the San Diego Padres, he pitched 3.2 scoreless innings while racking six strikeouts and a save. Up next in the NLCS, he saved two games and didn't allow a run over three innings against the New York Mets. Finally, facing the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, Wainwright pitched another three scoreless frames, striking out five batters and earning a victory.
Overall in the 2006 playoffs, Wainwright compiled a 0.00 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 15 strikeouts in 9.2 innings. Opposing lineups hit .194 against him.
In his lone postseason appearance as a starting pitcher before this year, Wainwright allowed one run and three hits over eight innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2009 NLDS. Despite a 1.13 ERA, he took a loss as the Cardinals could only score twice in a 3-2 loss. St. Louis went on to be swept in three games.
Does that really give us much to go on as far as predicting Wainwright's performance against the Giants Thursday night?
Not really, other than to say he hasn't been fazed by the increased pressure and intense scrutiny of the playoffs. Well, for the most part. He was fazed pretty brutally by the Nationals' bats last Friday (Oct. 12) in the NLDS clincher.
Wainwright may not have been at his best coming into the postseason. During September, he was 1-2 with a 4.20 ERA and strikeout rate of 7.5 per nine innings. However, in three of his final four starts of the regular season, he gave up two runs or less.
In his first start of the 2012 playoffs, Wainwright looked strong, allowing one run over 5.2 innings with six hits and 10 strikeouts. He appeared to be ready for another dominant postseason. So did he just have a bad day the second time around against the Nationals?
Wainwright faced the Giants twice during the regular season, finishing with a 1-1 record and 2.13 ERA. In his start versus San Francisco at Busch Stadium on Aug. 9, Wainwright gave up one run and five hits over seven innings.
How has Wainwright fared against the Giants' top hitters? They've actually been pretty successful, though in limited sample sizes.
Buster Posey has batted .400 (2-for-5) with a .900 OPS. Pablo Sandoval has a .300 average (3-for-10) with a .664 OPS. Hunter Pence has 38 plate appearances versus Wainwright, during which he's batted .289 (11-for-38) with a home run, one RBI and 11 strikeouts. Marco Scutaro is 2-for-6 (.333) with a .619 OPS. And Angel Pagan has a .333 average (4-for-12) with an .800 OPS.
Those numbers would seem to suggest that Wainwright could be tested again during this postseason. He has a bad performance to shake off and has to do it quickly.
For the Cardinals to advance to another World Series, however, they'll likely need the Wainwright of 2006 or 2009 to take the mound on Thursday. Based on his playoff history, that guy is more likely to show up than the one who got pummeled last week in Washington, D.C.
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