by Charlie Miller
Today is a day that Major League Baseball had in mind when it expanded the playoffs for what was to be 1994, but due to the strike, actually began in 1995. Four playoff games, three of which could be elimination games. All in one day.
It will be tough to match last Wednesday night for a four-game set that ranked as the best ever, but with three teams’ seasons on the line, today is must-see baseball.
Beginning today at 2:00 ET, Tampa Bay will attempt to stave off elimination at home against Texas. Then at 5:00 St. Louis hosts Philadelphia in the only non-do-or-die affair. At 7:30 the Yankees will be in Detroit trying to extend their season another few days and force a Game 5 back in New York. Milwaukee and Arizona begin at 8:30, but I suspect most of the nation will catch only the last few innings after the Yankees-Tigers tussle. The Diamondbacks will try desperately to avoid the embarrassment of being swept at the hands of the Brewers.
Philadelphia at St. Louis
Obviously the key to this series is giving up three runs in the first inning. Both winning teams have done just that so far. While it was not a surprise that the Phillies’ Roy Halladay retired 21 batters in a row after the hiccup in the first inning of Game 1, it is nothing less than a shock that the Cardinals’ bullpen hung up a zero after Chris Carpenter couldn’t get past the third inning of Game 2. So which will it be in Game 3?
Cole Hamels and Jaime Garcia will start today giving both managers reason to believe the three-run first innings are a thing of the past. Garcia has been at his best at home, and was stingy against Philadelphia this season. Facing a lineup without Chase Utley, Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino or Carlos Ruiz, Garcia stifled the Phillies at Busch Stadium back in May over eight innings, allowing just one unearned run. A few weeks ago, Garcia pitched seven strong innings at Philadelphia allowing a run in a St. Louis win in 11 innings.
Even though that was after the Phillies had clinched, most of the regulars played for Philadelphia. Ryan Howard and Ruiz appeared as pinch hitters.
Phillies’ starter Hamels has held St. Louis hitters in check throughout his career (.257 OBP), but has won just two of his five decisions. In 27 innings at the current Busch Stadium, Hamels has allowed just 19 hits and six walks in 27 innings while striking out 29.
However, his only start against the Cardinals this season came last week and resulted in a 5-0 St. Louis win. Allen Craig doubled and was chased home on Albert Pujols’ homer in the first inning. Could that be how the game starts tonight? Craig later homered off Hamels and reliever Joe Blanton.
With the starting pitching that the Phillies will continue to trot out every night, it’s difficult to see a scenario where the Cardinals win this series. The St. Louis bullpen will reveal its propensity to cough up leads before this five-game set is over. The Cardinals may force a Game 5, but the Phillies will move on to the NLCS.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.