NLDS Game 3: Let’s Finish This Off Tonight, Shall We?

I still haven’t gotten over how Game 2 ended, and it’s been nearly two days. Even moreso, I still can’t comprehend the fact that this series – which, even though we laughed at the pundits predicting a Cardinal sweep, we knew would be a difficult battle – could be wrapped up today.

I’m incredibly interested to see how Cardinal fans recieve Matt Holliday tonight. My prediction? He gets the largest ovation in the house. That’s partly because St. Louis baseball fans have such a great reputation of being welcoming, but also partly because I’m sure they don’t want to lose him for the rest of the series – and kill any chance they may have had of re-signing him this offseason. It should be noted, though, that while we’ll all remember Holliday’s gaffe for years, it’s hard to put the blame entirely on him. As Cardinals blog Viva el Birdos notes:

That said, his error Thursday meant that, rather than having a 100% chance of winning the game, we “only” had an 86.7% chance of winning the game. Many have pointed out the obvious – that if Holliday catches the ball, we win the game. Well, if Ryan Franklin gets either of the next 2 hitters out – Casey Blake and Ron Belliard, btw (not exactly A-Rod and Teixeira!) – we win the game also. And if he gets only 1 out of the next 4 hitters out – Blake, Belliard, Russell Martin and the always potent Mark Loretta – we go to extra innings and still have a chance. Ryan Franklin’s transgressions were much greater than Holliday’s.

That’s not how it’s going to look in the history books, but it’s 100% true. Speaking of closers, anyone still complaining about Jonathan Broxton, by the way? I thought not. Even the LA Times is doing favorable stories about him now, which they should have been doing all along.

*****

Tonight, we’re looking at Vicente Padilla against Joel Pineiro, and I have to admit I have absolutely no idea what to expect from either one. If “Adam Wainwright vs. Clayton Kershaw” was a hot matchup between two young stud pitchers, “two guys who got unceremoniously dumped by AL teams in recent years” isn’t quite the same thing.

Pineiro was another one of Cardinal pitching guru Dave Duncan’s famed reclamation projects, and won 15 games with a 119 ERA+ this year. But there’s a lot more to it than that, because A) his worth two months of the year were August and September, as he had a 4.64 ERA in those two months, alternating good starts (3 times allowing just 1 run) with bad (allowing 7 ER twice and 4 ER three times). And B), Pineiro’s been rocked by the important cogs in the Dodger lineup. If there’s ever a time for Manny to bust out of his slump, facing a guy who he’s hit 4 homers and put up a crazy .424/.500/.788 line in 38 plate appearances would be a hell of a start. Casey Blake’s been great as well (1.226 OPS in 22 PA), well everyone else has had relatively small sample sizes, except for Jim Thome, who’s unlikely to face Pineiro anyway.

padilla.jpgOn the other side, Vicente Padilla is making his playoff debut. He was great for the Dodgers down the stretch, and absolutely dominating (10 K in 5 IP) against Colorado on the last day of the season, pitching himself into this start. What’s really interesting, though, is Padilla’s history against the Cardinals. He’s faced just eight of them, and we can eliminate four of those based on being backups or pitchers (Joe Thurston, John Smoltz, Jason LaRue, and Troy Glaus). Against the remaining four?

Mark DeRosa – .523 OPS in 24 PA
Albert Pujols – 1.000 OPS in 9 PA
Matt Holliday – .542 OPS in 8 PA
Julio Lugo – .583 in 10 PA

Other than DeRosa, those are all pretty small samples, but three of the four have performed poorly and Joe Torre seems determined – rightly, I’d say – to not let Pujols even have a chance to hit. So Padilla will be facing 7 guys who’ve either never seen him at all or very few times, 1 guy who he owns (DeRosa), and the pitcher. How many times have we seen the Dodgers get dominated by guys they’ve never seen before just because of unfamiliarity? No one’s ever questioned Padilla’s stuff, so that combination could lead to great things tonight.

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While I of course want to see the Dodgers take the sweep tonight for obvious reasons, I will put out there that there is one nice silver lining if they lose, and that’s that Chad Billingsley would get to pitch in Game 4 tomorrow. With Hiroki Kuroda’s availability for the rest of the playoffs still in doubt, Billingsley would presumably be lined up to be the Game 4 starter in the NLCS, scheduled for Monday, October 19.

Billingsley hasn’t pitched since facing the Padres on September 29, so if he doesn’t get to start tomorrow and then is asked to go in Game 4 of the next round, he’ll have had 19 days between outings. I don’t mind getting a young guy extra rest, but nearly three weeks between starts is a really tough request, not to mention one who’s had the issues that he had late in the season.

Letting him make a start tomorrow is not worth wanting to see this series extended, because if they lose tonight and he’s not sharp tomorrow we could easily be looking at a do-or-die Game 5 with a motivated-for-revenge Chris Carpenter on the mound, and no one wants that. It’s just a small positive that could come out of losing today’s game.

*****

As you’ve probably heard, Tony Abreu was officially traded to Arizona to complete the Jon Garland trade. I hated the trade when it happened, saying:

Look, if it’s Abreu, I’m going to be really unhappy. He’s a 24-year-old with a .991 OPS in AAA this year, and looks to finally have put his career back on track after two years of injuries. With Orlando Hudson headed back into free agency this offseason, I was strongly in favor of letting him walk and giving Abreu a crack at the second base job. Now – again, if it’s him – the Dodgers have just handed a division rival an excellent prospect for 5 mediocre starts of Jon Garland?  

Survey says… We’ll of course have more to say on this once we know who the player is going back to Arizona. Right now, the feeling is more “worried” with a good chance of “horrified“. 

So what did we get out of Garland? 36.1 IP over 6 starts. Five of those were decent before he imploded in his last one, but I haven’t changed my mind on this. The Dodgers will likely have a huge hole at 2B this offseason (I can’t see either Orlando Hudson or Ronnie Belliard being the Opening Day guy next year) and they handed a talented young player to a divison rival for 36.1 solid innings that had almost no bearing on the pennant race or, so far, the playoffs. Great deal, that.

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