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Game 2:  Taking minor steps.

Well, it’s Minor and minor.  

Both Game 2 winners, the Braves and Pirates, needed some minor help in evening up their respective series.  For the Braves the key man was actually Mike Minor.  Minor stepped up and did something that seemed impossible: cooled the Dodgers bats.  

Well, sort of.  The Dodgers managed eight hits and finagled a walk during Minor’s 6 1/3 innings on Friday.  What he did was manage to scatter those hits, not quite harmlessly, but he limited the extra base hits and kept the ball in the park.  That gave the Braves a chance to click and to build a lead that the bullpen almost, but not quite, gave away.

Photo by Baseball Schedule, used under creative commons license.

For the Dodgers it was a frustrating day.  They managed 10 hits and four walks but only once executed with the bats.  In doing so they wasted an excellent start by Zack Greinke.  Hanley Ramirez provide all the Dodger offense with a double in the first inning and a two-run home run in the eight to make it 4-3.  His hot bat may well prove to be a difference maker in the playoffs.

The Pirates, down a game to the Cardinals after being blown out in Game 1, turned to their second best hurler, a guy who spent the first third of the season in the minors but who, since getting called up, has been a major part of the Pirates success.  And for a guy who had never faced playoff pressure, young Gerrit Cole looked calm, poised and collected.  He gave up just two hits, one a home run to Yadier Molina and never let the Cardinals get back in the game.  After the A.J. Burnett debacle in game one it was exactly the medicine that the Pirates needed, essentially taking home field advantage away from the Cardinals and added a lot of pressure as the Pirates would be able to throw their ace, Francisco Liriano, in Game 3, giving the Bucs a chance to take the series lead in Game 3.

For the Cardinals, who’d never faced Gerrit Cole before, it was an eye-opening night.  Not only did they get overwhelmed by the young righty, but much to their dismay they saw that Lance Lynn hasn’t quite regained his early-season form.  

Part of that may well be that he’s pitched more innings than ever in his career.  While he did have a good September, his four good starts came against the Cubs, Brewers (twice) and the Rockies.  His August, and his first start in September, were pretty much disastrous adding half a run to his ERA and which included five straight game where he yielded four or more runs  His position of trust in the rotation may well be in jeopardy and the Cards if they survive to face the Dodgers can’t afford that.

Game 3:  Flying High

After losing in Game 2 the last thing the Cardinals needed was a tough draw in terms of the opposing pitcher.  They got to face Francisco Liriano, who all season has been a Cardinal killer -- allowing just two runs over 24 innings during the regular season against the Redbirds.  They scored two runs against him on Sunday, not enough to beat him, but just enough to make him a non-factor in a game that ended up as the battle of the bullpens. After a dramatic home run by Carlos Beltran, who certainly plays like someone who should have the nickname “Mr. October,” the bullpen failed and young Carlos Martinez gave up the game winning runs.  

The Cardinals will go into Game 4 with their back to the wall -- and they get to face righty Charlie Morton, a veteran who is having the season of his career but who the Cardinals have basically owned this season (7.90 ERA) and over his career (6.52 ERA with a 2-9 record).  But they’ll be putting rookie pitcher Michael Wacha who has just nine Major League starts in his career in the hot seat.

The Pirates are looking smart for having brought Marlon Byrd over in a midseason trade.  Not only was he clutch down the stretch and in the Wild Card game, but Byrd is hitting .333 over the first three games of the series with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs  It’s made him perhaps the most valuable Pirate after Andrew McCutchen.  

Game 4 is a bit of tough spot for the Bucs though, as Jeff Locke fell apart after the All-Star break and forced the Pirates to pretty much use Charlie Morton as the fourth starter against a team that has been his nemesis.  At least they’ll be playing at home, but if a Game 5 comes around do they really have the stomach to throw A.J. Burnett again in St. Louis?

The Dodgers went on an offensive rampage, led by one-man wrecking crew Hanley Ramirez who singled, doubled and tripled Sunday night, accounting for three runs and two RBIs in the 13-6 romp over the Braves.  Ramirez is hitting .538 with six RBIs and seven hits in 13 ABs.  Amazingly six of those seven hits have been for extra bases.  If the Dodgers offense continues to look like the best offense in the game it might not matter who they hit against.  And they have to love the match up against 37-year-old Freddy Garcia in Game 4, especially since they are playing at home.

The Braves probably don’t like the matchup quite as much, but considering their young staff has pretty much been battered around maybe a crafty veteran is what the team needs to settle it down.  They certainly have been scoring runs, so the offense probably isn’t the big concern here, nor is Dodgers starter Ricky Nolasco, a pitcher who the Braves only faced once this season.  For them at this point it’s all about the pitching, and all arms will be on deck, even if that means asking closer Craig Kimbrel to step out of his familiar role and pitch early in the game or longer than he’s used to.  They simply can’t afford to let the Dodger offense roll and try to play catch up in Game 4.