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Pleasant surprises for the Cardinals in the NLDSPosted Thursday, October 11, 2012, at 9:13 AM
While the National League Division Series still is underway, the St. Louis Cardinals have a lot to be thankful for.
Production from the big bats in a lineup always is a must in the postseason, but it takes more than that to get big wins.
The real key lies in everyday players. Those players who put up decent numbers in the regular season, but don't exactly set the world on fire, can carry a team such as the Cardinals deep into October.
David Freese's stellar postseason performance in 2011 is a prime example. Sure, he had been good with the bat and average defensively in the regular season, but when October rolled around it was like a switch turned on and things began to click for him.
Following are a few of the Cardinals more pleasant surprises as they begin their tour of the 2012 MLB postseason.
Lance Lynn in relief
Lance Lynn was a solid pitcher for the Cardinals in 2012.
When Chris Carpenter went down, Lynn was given a hefty task: Keep the Cardinals alive without him. That's exactly what he did.
Lynn amassed 18 wins and showed the team a young pitcher who exhibits many of the same characteristics as Carpenter himself. Lynn is headstrong, confident, is not easily shaken and has a real passion for the game.
Following a short streak of weak starts, a mini-vacation in the bullpen helped to line him out and get him ready for what was to come.
In the first three games of the 2012 postseason, Lynn has thrown a total of 3.2 innings with six strikeouts. Every time he came in, the Cardinals were in a jam and he managed to work through it.
That is the kind of performance that wins games in October.
Young shortstop Pete Kozma had a great September. He got good timely hits and, despite a handful of crazy errors, has played decent defense.
When October rolled around, his bat seemed to die. Overall in the postseason he is batting .143 (2-for-14).
The pleasant surprise with Kozma came on Wednesday afternoon, when he hit a 3-run home run to help break Game 3 of the NLDS open. It was his only hit on the day, but timely hitting is what has carried the Cardinals to where they stand today.
The fact that Chris Carpenter is even on the roster defies the odds. The fact that he has been competitive has been huge for the Cardinals.
He struggled several times during his 5 2/3 inning outing Wednesday, but the Nationals were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position against Carpenter.
The difference in Carpenter and the "average" pitcher is that he has the grit and attitude to work his way out of jams. A pair of runners isn't near the concern with Carpenter on the mound that it is with many other pitchers.
He's not quite mechanically the pitcher of last October, but he's on his way there. If the team can stay alive, anything is possible with Chris Carpenter on the hill.
The Nationals' Offensive and Pitching Struggles
Whether it's due to the inexperience on the October stage or some other unseen struggles, the Nationals' slide also has been a huge boost for the Cardinals.
In three games, Nationals starters have gone only 13 innings combined and given up 11 runs on 16 hits. Their bullpen also has given up 11 runs. Numbers like that don't advance in the playoffs.
Surprisingly, their offense has been virtually shut down as well. Although they've had 28 hits, they have only managed seven runs over the three games and left 28 runners on base while going 6-for-28 with runners in scoring position.
If the Nationals don't turn things around -- immediately -- they could be packing up for the season as early as Thursday evening.
The Cardinals have the Nationals backed into a corner, all they have to do now is finish the job; and they have two games with their two best starting pitchers to get it done.
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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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