Three keys for the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLCS

St. Louis must rely on Lackey to continue revival, provide cushion for bullpen

Three keys for the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLCS

ST. LOUIS -- Headed to San Francisco on the high of stealing a 5-4 win over the Giants in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday night, the Cardinals know they'll need to win at least one of the three games at AT&T Park to ensure there is another game at Busch Stadium this season.

With Game 3 on tap for Tuesday (3 p.m. CT on FOX Sports 1), here are three keys as the Cards look to take a 2-1 series advantage:

  Date Recaps Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video
1. Lean on Lackey
No active pitcher has thrown more postseason innings than John Lackey, and the Cardinals hope to ride that experience to another win. Lackey pitched the swing game of the NL Division Series, and his performance that night against the Dodgers helped the Cards take the 2-1 series advantage. He has the opportunity to tilt a postseason series in St. Louis' favor again.

Lackey has enjoyed a late-season revival since joining the Cardinals at the Trade Deadline, and it seems no coincidence that rest has played a part in that. The Cards built in extra days off for Lackey in mid-September, and he followed by allowing three runs in his final 14 1/3 innings of the regular season. He was even stronger after a long layoff leading into his first postseason start, during which Lackey held the Dodgers to one run and five hits over seven innings. In six postseason road starts, Lackey is 1-2 with a 2.92 ERA. He'll be pitching this game on a weeks' rest.

2. Provide ninth-inning breathing room
It was nothing new for Cardinals fans to watch Trevor Rosenthal pitch himself into a mess as he tried to close Game 2 on Sunday. What was rare was that he didn't find a way to also wiggle his way out of it. Rosenthal, who did convert 45 of his 51 save opportunities, has made a year out of making the ninth inning interesting. His walk rate (5.4 per nine innings) was up dramatically, and he allowed 41 percent of first batters faced to reach.

With 1-2-3 innings a rarity and the Cardinals unlikely to make a closer swap, the Cards' best method of decreasing the ninth-inning drama would be to provide Rosenthal with more of a cushion. He had a one-run lead to hold in Game 2 and was unable to do so.

3. Rally around Yadi
The Cardinals are hoping for the best but also bracing for the worst when it comes to Yadier Molina's availability for the rest of this NLCS. Molina suffered a left oblique strain on a sixth-inning swing in Game 2 and immediately left the game and the ballpark for further evaluation.

This club, though, has rallied behind Molina before, doing so just months ago when he missed seven weeks recovering from a thumb injury. The Cards went 22-19 in his absence, with Tony Cruz and A.J. Pierzynski filling in behind the plate. Manager Mike Matheny had Cruz fill in for the final innings for Game 2, but the Game 3 matchup would favor a Pierzynski start. He is 8-for-21 with a double and three RBIs in his career against Giants starter Tim Hudson.

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.