SAN FRANCISCO -- The Cardinals may not have a defense problem, but they sure do have a timing problem.
St. Louis' sixth error of the postseason, a bobble by shortstop Pete Kozma in the second inning, cost the reigning World Series champions dearly in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday night. Kozma fielded Ryan Vogelsong's slow roller with runners on the corners and one out, but he lost the ball in his attempt to transfer it to his throwing hand.
Brandon Belt scored on the play, as he almost certainly would have regardless. Kozma explained afterward that he planned to throw to first base, rather than home plate. Still, had he made the play, it would have been a man on second with two out, instead of first and second with one out.
When Angel Pagan struck out, it should have been the third out. San Francisco added three more runs after that strikeout to take a commanding 5-0 lead en route to a 6-1 win. The game was never really in doubt after the big inning.
Most unearned runs allowed in an LCS
"I just missed it," Kozma said. "I thought I had a handle on it, and the ball just popped out."
Kozma's error followed what seemed to be another missed defensive opportunity in the same inning. Belt led off the frame with a deep drive that bounced off the wall in right field. Carlos Beltran gave chase but then pulled up on the ball as it rolled to center fielder Jon Jay, allowing Belt to triple on a ball that appeared destined to be only a double.
Carpenter was charged with three unearned runs, giving him six in two starts in the NLCS. That's more unearned runs than any other club has permitted in the entire postseason. The Cards have allowed 12 unearned runs in 12 postseason games, more than twice as many as any other team. Their six errors are right in line with other teams that have played deep into this postseason. What has resulted from those errors is not.
"It happens," Kozma said. "And they capitalized. If they make a mistake, we probably will capitalize. That's the name of the game. The more outs you give them, the more times they can hurt you."
St. Louis is playing without one of its key defenders, shortstop Rafael Furcal, but on the whole, Kozma has filled in well. And, again, the Redbirds haven't played particularly poor defense overall this October. But when mistakes have happened, they've mushroomed.
Lance Lynn's throwing error in Game 5 of the NLCS turned out to be a major key in that game. Two errors contributed to a four-run inning against Carpenter in Game 2. The Cardinals are 6-1 this postseason when they don't commit an error, but just 1-4 when they do.
"You make a mistake, especially in the postseason, you're going to pay for it," said Jay. "That's just the way it's gone for us. Every time we've made a mistake, the other team has capitalized on it. That's the way baseball goes."
It can't continue going that way if the Cards are going to keep playing, though. Errors, as the players note, happen sometimes. No team plays perfect baseball for long.
What has happened again and again for the Cardinals is that those errors have turned into big innings. Whether that's a matter of poor pitching or poorly timed errors, it's a very real problem as Game 7 approaches.
"Errors definitely happen, but the key is how many unearned runs you allow," said third baseman David Freese. "If you make an error, either your pitcher picks you up or the defense comes back to help the pitcher out of that inning. At no point are unearned runs good. Those are obviously frustrating."