Here we go again.
In a way, the Cardinals could say they’ve entrusted their season to a couple of Mikes — Manager Mike Matheny, in his second season with a club he’s taken deep into postseason play two years running, and rookie starting pitcher Michael Wacha, in his first season as a big league ball player despite already winning an NLCS MVP.
Tonight will be a test for both Mikes as the Redbirds face elimination in the World Series for the first time since Game 7 of 2011.
They won that Game 7 and captured their 11th World Series title, but the more dramatic win was easily the elimination game that preceded it — Game 6. David Freese, hometown hero and wonder-story in the making, led the Cardinals to an extra-inning victory and himself to a World Series MVP award — this after also winning the NLCS MVP days before.
If both Redbird Mikes come through tonight in 2013’s Game 6, the Cardinals could be in line for a repeat performance, of a certain kind. A victory tonight and in the subsequent Game 7 would almost assure Michael Wacha of his second series MVP award — just like David Freese.
But if Wacha struggles — either early or preceding a big, looming at-bat by David Ortiz — the focus will shift to Mike Matheny and his willingness to pull his young starter when the game threatens to get out of hand.
Look, no one is pretending this is as simple as fantasy baseball, but Matheny’s decisions regarding pitching match-ups and one-or-two-batters-too-late starting pitching changes have once again come into play in a postseason series.
Matheny does not like to abandon starting pitchers, especially before the 7th-8th innings when he can deploy Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal at the back end of his bullpen — in fact, 6th and 7th inning relief could be the weak underbelly of the Cardinals’ pitching staff — but the St. Louis manager now has no margin for error.
He must be ready for a quick hook and/or a more favorable matchup than Wacha versus Ortiz with the game on the line. Failure to do one or the other at the right time could very likely lead to the end of the season for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Like it or not, the Cardinals are putting their season in the hands of a couple of Mikes.
Let’s run through a few quick notes and observations about Game 6:
Allen Craig must be the offensive force the Cardinals expected of him when they added him to the roster. In a couple of pinch-hit appearances at Busch Stadium, Craig looked unstoppable. But in his two games at DH in Boston, he’s been less impressive. With two hits, no extra-base hits, and no RBIs, Craig is hitting like a light-hitting shortstop (unless your name is Pete Kozma) when given a full game’s worth of at-bats. That needs to change tonight. The Cardinals need Craig’s bat to be the runners in scoring position monster it was for most of the season.
The Cardinals have to pitch to David Ortiz…but not after the 6th or 7th innings. If the game is within reach, and it is at all possible to avoid pitching to Ortiz, the Cardinals should do so. Failing that, no right-handed pitcher should be allowed to even look in Ortiz’s direction. Kevin Siegrist and Randy Choate better be geared up and ready to go, because the season may very well rest on their left arms.
David Freese needs to start this game. There’s been talk of replacing Freese with Descalso at third base, but as long as Kozma is hitting like his little sister, Descalso’s bat is better off at shortstop to start the game. Bring Kozma in late as a defensive replacement, but right now, even Freese is contributing more offensively than Kozma.