CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

Middle men doing big damage in NLCS

Middle men doing big damage in NLCS

Middle men doing big damage in NLCS
MILWAUKEE -- On a night when his Cardinals teammates had banged out 12 runs and 17 hits in a 12-3, Game 2 win over the Brewers, Octavio Dotel immediately flipped the conversation's focus to pitching.

The veteran reliever said it over and over again -- the same seven-word sequence four times, in fact -- during a span of one 34-second answer. The repetition, indeed, becoming his best method for reinforcement.

"It is going to be," he would state in the affirmative, "about pitching."

More

Innocuous as such analysis may be, it did, on this night, seem partially out of place given what had just transpired in this National League Championship Series game at Miller Park. Not only had the Cardinals just thumped their way to a series tie, but Monday's offensive outburst had come on the heels of the Brewers bashing nine runs on 11 hits (three homers) in Game 1.

For two days, the offenses have monopolized the spotlight, leaving the pitchers, with a few worthy exceptions, relegated mostly to sideshow material. And yet, Dotel, ignoring all this oozing over the offenses, managed to put his finger precisely on the key to this series.

"Our offense is a good offense, and they also have a good offense," Dotel continued. "It's going to be [about] who can hold those hitters out of balance. Whoever gets those guys out more [is] going to have better results."

Dotel was speaking specifically about Milwaukee's 3-4-5 punch of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks. Through two games, that trio has followed the script and pestered St. Louis pitching. It was largely behind a six-RBI output from Braun and Fielder that the Brewers claimed a Game 1 win.

On the other side, though, is a just-as-mighty threesome of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman that has conjured up plenty of its own problems for opposing pitchers. Led by Pujols' four-hit, five-RBI night on Monday, the Cardinals erased the Brewers' hold on home-field advantage.

Sure, production hasn't been limited to the middle of each lineup. But the most prolific damage has certainly been concentrated there.

Therein lays the challenge for both pitching staffs. Because through two NLCS games, it certainly looks like the staff that can minimize the problems posed by the opposing 3-4-5 hitters is going to be left playing into late October. In a series where the two clubs are fairly even in most statistical categories, consider this the series changer.

"That's usually what it comes down to when you have these type series," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Their offense is pretty deep all through their lineup. They're still the three big boys. Our guys, it doesn't get any better than our three and four hitter[s]. They've got to keep them off the bases."

The Cardinals' big three has combined for 11 hits, eight RBIs and six runs scored through Games 1 and 2.

"It's upon us to definitely control that," said Brewers reliever Kameron Loe, who gave up hits to Pujols, Berkman and Holliday all in his seven-batter appearance on Monday. "That middle of the lineup can hit home runs, can put the bat on the ball. It's up to us to keep them off base."

For Milwaukee, its trio has driven home nine, while scoring seven times and knocking nine hits.

"We just have to make our pitches," said Cardinals pitcher Marc Rzepczynski. "Their entire lineup is good, and so is ours. If we can control Braun, Fielder and Weeks, we'll take our chances with Albert, Lance and Matt any day."

It would seem that, if a counterpunch is being sought, that the right two starters are headed to the mound in Game 3 to provide it. Staff aces Yovani Gallardo and Chris Carpenter have an ability to tame even the best offenses, as both have routinely shown.

And yet, the numbers would suggest a respite might not actually be on the way. Neither Carpenter nor Gallardo has limited the middle of these lineups all that well.

The Brewers' potent trio has a combined .328 average, six homers and 12 RBIs in 58 at-bats against Carpenter. As for Gallardo, he has allowed Pujols, Berkman and Holliday to hit at a .333 clip off him. The three have combined for six homers and 20 RBIs in 72 at-bats.

Oddly, it's actually Game 4 starters Kyle Lohse of the Cardinals and Randy Wolf of the Brewers who have had much more success.

Limiting the production of these big bats will also very much rely on keeping runners off base in front of them. The Brewers' big three totaled five hits on Monday, but with Corey Hart and Nyjer Morgan going 0-for-6 in front of them, the RBI opportunities were at a minimum.

Conversely, Jon Jay reached base three times in front of Pujols on Monday. He scored every time.

"When I got the big boys behind me, my job is simple," Jay said after his three-hit night. "Just get on base. If I can get on base, it gives them the opportunity to do what they do, which is drive in runs."

Now it's the onus of both pitching staffs to see to it that the complexion of this series changes.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less