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Why the Cards can (and will) win the NLDSPosted Tuesday, October 9, 2012, at 7:37 AM
The stomachs of many St. Louis Cardinals fans may have sunk following Sunday's loss of Game 1 of the National League Division Series, but hope returned to St. Louis Monday afternoon.
Despite getting only two innings out of starter Jaime Garcia, the Cardinals offense erupted in the second inning and never looked back. They didn't just hit the Washington Nationals' starter, Jordan Zimmermann; they hit five of the seven pitchers the Nationals threw at them.
When five starters can combine to each have multi-hit games, then things are going good for any team. When those names include Carlos Beltran, Jon Jay, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina, an opposing team has their hands full.
The series may be going to Washington for three games, but Cardinals fans have a lot of reason to be optimistic. Following are five reasons the Cardinals have the goods to put the Nationals to rest on their home turf.
5. Most of Matheny's Moves Are Working
Despite a few awkward moves on Sunday that showed manager Mike Matheny was more playing the numbers than chasing gut instinct, most of his postseason moves have made him look like a seasoned professional.
The decision Friday evening to pull David Freese early in exchange for Adron Chambers' speed was a jaw-dropper at first, but when Chambers crossed home plate it was clear that speed was needed.
Matheny will certainly have some growing pains through his first postseason, but he's a sharper "baseball mind" than many give him credit for. The decision to pull Mitchell Boggs for Marc Rzepczynski Sunday will, with any luck, be the exception, not the rule.
4. (Almost) Everyone Heated Up Monday
With the only exception being Matt Holliday, the entire starting lineup--and then some --showed what this Cardinals offense is capable of.
Carlos Beltran's two home runs and one from Allen Craig were great, but it's the surprises in the lineup that win postseason games. Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso combined to go 4-for-9 with five RBI, a triple, a home run and three runs scored.
You expect high-level production from your middle-of-the-lineup hitters, but if a team is getting this kind of production from their one and seven spots in the lineup, they are nothing short of unstoppable.
The real question is can they keep it up?
3. The Bullpen Is Strong
The Cardinals would never have won the World Series in 2011 without the bullpen stepping up in ways unheard of. It looks like 2012 will be no different.
The Cardinals' only 18-game winner of 2012, Lance Lynn, has been huge for the Cardinals already in the postseason. When Jaime Garcia went down, he really stepped up.
The huge offensive production on Monday gave Matheny a chance to keep bullpen arms like Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly fresh while giving closer Jason Motte a two-day break to rest.
2. Starting Pitching
While the Cardinals didn't get the depth out of Jaime Garcia they had hoped for on Monday, the next three pitchers the Nationals will face could make their road to the NLCS a tough one.
With Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright still to take the mound in this series, the Cardinals' fate lies in the hands of three men any team would be glad to have in their corner.
Can Carpenter relive a little 2011 postseason magic? Is Adam Wainwright ready for another clinch game like the one he shares with his now-teammate Carlos Beltran? Can Kyle Lohse continue the level of consistency that has made him so valuable throughout the regular season?
If the answer to any of these questions are yes, the Nationals need to brace themselves for what is still to come. There are no sure things in baseball, but with Carpenter, Lohse and Wainwright still to pitch, there is little more the Cardinals can ask for.
1. The Nats Inexperience Is Showing
While the Nationals may have won on Sunday, their lack of postseason experience showed through very clearly. It became even more apparent on Monday as they collapsed in front of a frenzied Busch Stadium crowd.
Being on their home turf will help, but the Cardinals have one major advantage even in Washington, D.C.--they've played this game before.
The vast majority of the Cardinals' roster is well-accustomed to postseason play and the excitement and energy that go along with it.
Even rookie Bryce Harper showed his inexperience Monday after striking out four times when a reporter asked whether he was "overanxious" at the plate. His cocky answer showed that he doesn't quite understand what happens in postseason baseball.
These games take the national spotlight, and when a player as hyped as Harper struggles this bad in the postseason, he's going to be asked about it. The answer he gave only proved one thing--that he is just as overanxious as the reporter believed.
It may take all five games, but in the end, I still believe the Cardinals will bring to an end the Nationals' first postseason run.
Follow Corey on Twitter @coreynoles.
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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.
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