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Beating a lefty a must for Cardinals

Beating a lefty a must for Cardinals

DETROIT -- The facts are that the predominantly right-handed-hitting St. Louis Cardinals had the second-worst record in the National League this season against left-handed pitching. It's an anomaly that could come back to bite them in the World Series.

In the wake of Sunday night's 3-1 loss to veteran Detroit Tigers left-hander Kenny Rogers in Game 2 at Comerica Park that evened the best-of-seven series at a game apiece, the Cards must find a way of beating a southpaw at least once in the final five games to win the title for the first time in 24 years.

The Tigers have scheduled three more lefties: Nate Robertson in Game 3 on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium, plus Rogers again in Game 6 and Robertson Redux in Game 7 back here if the series goes that far.

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"We haven't lost all our games against left-handers," said Cards general manager Walt Jocketty after Rogers shut down Jocketty's club on two hits over eight innings in the cold and damp climate Sunday night. "We'll figure something out. If I had an answer, we'd find a way to fix it. But I don't."

The Cards were 23-34 with a .264 batting average against left-handers during the regular season. And in the postseason they are 3-3 in games opposing left-handers have started.

They defeated the Padres' David Wells in the first round and were 1-1 against Mets left-hander Tom Glavine in the NL Championship Series. They had big trouble against 25-year-old Mets left-hander Oliver Perez, losing once, although they scored five runs on nine hits, and winning Game 7 and the series when Perez left the game after tossing six innings of one-run, four-hit ball.

They also were scoreless in Game 3 against veteran lefty reliever Darren Oliver, who allowed three hits over six innings after right-handed starter Steve Trachsel couldn't get out of the second.

"It's something we pay attention to just because during the season it never seemed to make sense," Cards manager Tony La Russa said about his club's strange problems against left-handers. "Because we paid attention to it, we had our ideas about how we could improve what we've done or what we would do against them.

"The last two times a left-hander started, we won the game. We won Glavine's game and Perez's game. So we have the left-handed thing solved."

The strange part about all of this is that the club's big right-handed hitters had no problems against lefties during the regular season.

Albert Pujols hit .336 with 10 homers and 26 RBIs in 68 games. Juan Encarnacion hit .316 with seven homers and 28 RBIs in 78 games. The switch-hitting Scott Spiezio hit .318 in 56 games. But Jim Edmonds, the only true lefty-swinging regular in the batting order, was an anemic .156 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 49 games.

Though La Russa wouldn't divulge his "ideas" about how to rectify the problems against left-handers, because "that's scouting-report stuff and we don't talk about scouting-report stuff -- there's a team still out there trying to beat us," he has now taken to dropping Edmonds to sixth in the batting order against left-handers in the postseason rather than his usual cleanup spot.

The move has met with positive results. Edmonds has batted .333 (6-for-18) with a homer and three RBIs in eight postseason games against left-handers, and the Cards have played .500 baseball.

"I have no answer for any of this," said David Eckstein, another right-handed swinger who hit .280 in 65 regular-season games against left-handers. "The good thing is we beat Glavine and Wells when we had to. It's a strange stat. I'm not a guy who looks closely at stats. I take it game by game."

Game by game, they'll have right-hander Jeremy Bonderman in Game 4 and another shot at rookie righty Justin Verlander in Game 5. The Cards whacked around Verlander in their 7-1 Game 1 victory Saturday night.

But even if they win those two, they'll still have to solve Robertson in Game 3 (or possibly Game 7) or Rogers if the series heads back to Detroit.

It's not an impossible task.

"It's kind of weird," Spiezio said. "We've got a lot of guys who are good hitters. I don't know if it's just a weird thing or pressing too hard because we know that. [Sunday night] we went out there with a game plan and didn't think about any of that stuff. Most of us know Kenny pretty well, but he kept us off balance."

Weird or not, if the Tigers left-handers continue to keep the Cardinals off balance, they'll go home empty-handed again, without their first World Series trophy since 1982.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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