If you watched either of Thursday's National League matchups, you probably weren’t all that surprised. Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw performed exactly like expected, showing why they were the two best pitchers in the National League this year. Others may have been close but both of these guys have been dominating hitters all year round.
It was a margin the Braves would squander quickly due to mental errors both offensively and defensively. And for a while it looked like they might be able to drive Kershaw from the mound, not because of their offensive prowess (which failed to make an appearance), but by working him on pitch counts. After four 4 innings Kershaw had thrown 77 pitches. That didn’t really work as Kershaw managed to pitch through seven and threw 124 pitches.
That pitch count is a bit startling and while Kershaw certainly managed to do it well, you do have to wonder why manager Don Mattingley would have let him throw that many pitches. It’s more than he threw in any regular season game, and the game was really well under control when he sent Kershaw out to pitch the seventh. If the Braves get to face him again in this series, they’ll have to hope that all those pitches stressed his arm enough that he isn’t going to be quite as formidable.
And while the Braves lost 6-1 in St. Louis it wasn’t quite as close for the Wild Card Pirates, who essentially watched the house cave in on them. Wainwright, the Cardinals' ace, absolutely stifled the Pirates, striking out nine and limiting them to just three hits, no walks and one run (a Pedro Alvarez solo home run) over seven efficient innings pitched.
The goat for the Pirates, though, was A.J. Burnett. It was a terrible matchup for him, against the Cardinals ace in a park that has been his personal bugaboo (he had a career ERA of 13.50 at the new Busch Stadium going into the game).
But the Pirates didn’t really have the luxury of slotting him for the third game, back at friendly PNC park (where he’s been outstanding during his career) as they had to use Francisco Liriano, the team ace and the only other pitcher with big-game playoff experience, to win the Wild Card game.
Burnett didn’t last three innings, recording just six outs before getting clouted for seven runs in the third. A big part of the blame for last night really should be laid on the shoulders of Clint Hurdle, who should have limited the damage when he saw just how much Burnett was struggling (he gave up six hits, four walks and hit a batter) right before and after the Beltran home run.
At the moment it’s hard to see the good takeaway for Burnett in the rest of the series, unless perhaps that in game 4 will be at PNC and Burnett might get the call to take the hill there.
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