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Albert Pujols had a ridiculous National League Championship Series, hitting .478 with two homers and nine RBI in the six games. He entered the series as a legendary hitter, one of the best in baseball history. In this series, he added to the legend.
And there was no way that he was going to win the NLCS MVP Award.
The honor went to David Freese, who went 12 for 22 in the series with three doubles and three home runs, good for a .545 average and a 1.691 OPS. In Game 2, Freese was 2 for 5 with 2 RBI in a 12-3 Cardinals win. In the Game 3 victory, Freese went 3 for 4 with an RBI. He was 1 for 2 with a walk and two runs scored in the Cardinals' 7-1 victory in Game 5. And in Sunday's deciding Game 6, he hit the crushing first-inning homer for the Cards and finished with three hits, three runs scored, and three RBI.
Not a bad finish for a player who missed a couple of months with a broken hand. It took an amazing series to top Pujols' six-game run. Freese's did just that.
The Milwaukee Brewers' season is over following a 12-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the NLCS. Heading into the offseason, the Brewers face the strong possibility of losing Prince Fielder, one of their biggest stars, in free agency. And If one were to judge the reaction of the crowd to Prince Fielder's last at-bat, a groundout, it's but a foregone conclusion Sunday marked his final game in a Milwaukee uniform.
Reading between the lines, it sure sounds like this was goodbye for Fielder. Following the game, his comments resembled more "thanks for the memories" than "I'll be back."
"I love these guys. I've been playing with most of them since I was 18," Fielder said. "So this organization has been great to me. Yeah, man, it's just been good. It's been real."
Still, Fielder said he's yet to make a decision. He's saying goodbye for now, though.
"I'm not thinking about that quite yet. I'm just trying to say goodbye to my teammates. It's the offseason, you're not going to see them at 3 o'clock every day," he said.
Fielder has some time to make up his mind, but on the open market, he'll be a hot commodity this offseason. With a huge payday almost guaranteed, it appears Milwaukee is out of the picture, with Fielder prepared to move on.
On Sunday, though, the attention was on the game, and the Brewers couldn't force Game 6. The Cardinals came out swinging on offense, burying the Brewers with a big outburst of runs in the early innings. For now, Milwaukee celebrates its team, but soon the attention will turn to free agency and the likelihood of life without Fielder.
The Cardinals scored early, they scored often, and they won Game 6 of the NLCS 12-6 to eliminate the Brewers and advance to the Fall Classic.
For Brewers fans, the saddest moment of the 2011 National League Championship Series has not arrived yet.
But there was a sad moment in the bottom of the seventh, when Ryan Braun struck out on three pitches against Octavio Dotel. Braun had a fantastic season and played brilliantly in the postseason before this last game. But Dotel's got his number, and that last out in the seventh marked Braun's ninth strikeout against Dotel in 11 career at-bats.
There was another sad moment in the bottom of the eighth, when Prince Fielder led off and grounded out weakly to second base. Fielder isn't gone yet and it's not crazy to suggest the Brewers might find the money to sign Fielder to a big contract this winter. It seems unlikely, though. Fielder's going to want a lot of money the Brewers probably don't have, and a lot of years that GM Doug Melvin probably doesn't want to give him.
So that might have been Prince Fielder's last at-bat for the franchise that drafted him, and made him a star. Which might make you a little sad, even if you're not a Brewers fan.
At this point, the more interesting debate isn't who is going to win Game 6, but rather who should be NLCS MVP. Albert Pujols singled home Daniel Descalso with two outs in the top of the eighth, his ninth RBI of the National League Championship Series. The hit gave the Cardinals a 12-6 lead, and it also brought Pujols up to a .478 batting average and a 1.469 OPS.
But what of David Freese? His three-run home run in the first was arguably the most important hit of the night, and it was his third homer. In 22 at-bats, he's hitting .545 and had a 1.691 OPS.
It has to be Freese. But then read Pujols' video game numbers again and realize that they probably weren't going to be good enough to be the best on his team.
That's a pretty good way to encapsulate how this series has gone for the Brewers. They made great efforts to shore up the pitching in the offseason, and for a few months it worked. For one series, though, everything caught on fire.
Will a pitcher named "Eyechart" be the big hero in Game 6?
No. Probably not. But Mark Rzepczynski might well be the winning pitcher in Game 6, having now thrown two shutout innings in a game that looked, for a while, like nobody would ever throw any shutout innings.
Okay, so that's not exactly right. Rzepczynski did allow a run in the fifth, but came back with a perfect fifth when Tony La Russa showed faith in one of his pitchers for the first time since September.
This is a crazy game, but the Cardinals' 11-6 lead is looking pretty good, considering how well La Russa's bullpen has performed in this series, and considering that he still hasn't deployed his best relievers.
According to FanGraphs, the St. Louis Cardinals have about a 95% chance of winning tonight's game. This should be giddy time for fans in and around the St. Louis area. They are, after all, the best fans in baseball*
But all of those good tidings, all of those warm fuzzies, would have gone far, far away with just one injury. Say, an injury to the greatest hitter of his generation. Albert Pujols, maybe. In the bottom of the fifth, Ryan Braun dove to beat out an infield hit -- getting called out on a questionable call -- and in the process, he dove into Albert Pujols. This created a supernova of awesome hitter, but it also hurt Pujols in the process.
Pujols writhed in pain, clutching his right wrist. It was an awful scene, but it looks like everything's okay. Pujols stayed in the game, and took an at-bat in the top half of the sixth. He looks like he's fine.
For a moment, though, the heart of every baseball fan sunk. If there's a Cardinals/Rangers World Series without Albert Pujols, does it make a sound?
*As determined by a national taste test.
Absurd. We've played nine half-innings. Seven of them have featured at least one run. Four of them have featured multiple runs.
The Cardinals just scored two more in the top of the fifth to extend their lead over the Brewers to 11-5. Some of it was good hitting, but some of it was bad defense, as has frequently been the case with the Brewers through this series. Matt Holliday led off with a single. David Freese followed with another single, and it was bobbled by Corey Hart, which allowed Holliday to move to third.
Then Yadier Molina came up, and this happened:
If I heard the broadcast right, the Brewers have set an NLCS record for errors. They've made a ton of errors. They've looked godawful in the field. What's crazy is that, during the regular season, all the metrics liked the Brewers' team defense. They had a positive UZR. They had a positive DRS. They had an above-average BABIP allowed. But this series has been a nightmare.
A run scored on that error you see in the .gif, and runners ended up on second and third. After a strikeout, Adron Chambers lifted a sac fly to left. That's where the scoring stopped, but the Brewers really didn't need Kam Loe to get tagged with a pair of unearned runs. Not now. Not tonight.
The starting pitchers in Game 6 of the NLCS went a combined three innings, allowing eight earned runs. That leaves fifteen innings that both bullpens will need to pick up. So far, it looks like the bullpens are going to give up a bunch of runs too.
Yep. Just past the halfway point in the game. Fourteen runs. Two hours. Good gravy. This is a lawwng game.
The reliever in for Tony La Russa's Cardinals is Fernando Salas, who was the closer at one point this year, and who has had a pretty fantastic season. Again, he came in the game in the third inning. We're through the looking glass. Setup men are long relievers, up is down, dogs and cats living together, et cetera, et cetera.
In the bottom of the fourth, Yuniesky Betancourt continued his efforts to become the guy you refer to for the next twenty years as an example of how anyone can get hot in the playoffs. Used to be Mark Lemke. With a comeback on Sunday, it might be Yuni's turf for decades. Betancourt doubled home Jerry Hairston to get a run back for the Brewers.
With two outs, Casey McGehee walked to put two runners on for Corey Hart, and the right fielder worked an eight-pitch at-bat before striking out to end the threat. I'm pretty sure that's it for the scoring chances, everybody! Go home, nothing to see here!
The TBS crew talked to Tony La Russa in the middle of the fourth inning...
Brian Anderson: Tony, you have managed in 121 career postseason games. Have you ever seen anything like this game, and this series, so far between these two teams?
La Russa: No, not really. It's so unusual because you don't get here without good starting pitchers. Just a freak thing. It's really not fun, to do this to a starting pitcher. On either side. They've gotten you here, both of our clubs. And to struggle like this is tough to watch, but that's the way the game's being played.
John Smoltz: Tony, many people might think this was part of your formula, but really you've just had to react to each game and adjust accordingly.
La Russa: Yeah. Nobody can figure anything out about this game. What you figure, if you get here your starting pitcher is gonna get you to the last third, but you gotta watch. And if all of sudden stuff's not right, you make a change. But it's really tough for Edwin, because he's been great for us, and they were on everything.
As Jayson Stark detailed before Game 6, La Russa and the Cardinals are already setting all sorts of record for pitching changes, innings pitched by relievers in (potentially) a winning effort, etc. This series just isn't something we've ever seen before, and particularly from the Cardinals' perspective.
As one might figure from the 9-4 score, this has been something of a slugfest. There were runs scored in each of the first five half-innings. But that 9-4 score has remained 9-4 now through a full inning of play, which seems worthy of note.
Behind in the bottom of the third, the Brewers went down 1-2-3 against new reliever Fernando Salas. Salas' entry, by the way, means that the Cardinals have gone six games in a row now without a starter pitching in the sixth. Salas made easy work of Nyjer Morgan and Ryan Braun, then nearly allowed a home run to Prince Fielder, which would've blended in with the pattern of the whole thing. Fielder launched a changeup to deep center, but Jon Jay made the catch right up against the wall.
Then in the top of the fourth, LaTroy Hawkins walked Jay to lead off. However, Albert Pujols fouled out, and then Lance Berkman hit a low liner right to Rickie Weeks with Jay on the move. Weeks made the catch and threw to first for the double play, and the inning was over.
So it was 9-4 after two and a half, and it's 9-4 after three and a half. It's good to have a little sanity.
I don't remember Bud Selig's announcement that there would be an NLCS game played on the moon. You'd think that would have been a bigger news story.
After two-plus innings of playoff baseball on Sunday, there have been six home runs already. Shaun Marcum was probably really positive and optimistic at one point before the game. He was wrong. Everyone's hitting dingers off everyone, and no one is safe.
Chris Narveson came in to relieve Marcum, and he had a chance to be a folk hero. "Remember that time when Narveson threw six innings of scoreless relief in the NLCS?" That was a real possibility. It would have been a very baseball thing to happen.
But when you think of the ultimate lopsided pitcher/hitter match-up in baseball, it has to be Chris Narveson vs. Albert Pujols. I'm pretty sure that's it. It's not that Narveson is the worst pitcher in the game -- far from it. But he has the right combination of "around the plate" and "lackluster stuff" that seems like a poor match for Albert Pujols' "very good baseballing."
Pujols' homer is the kind of home run they'll engrave on the wall of a space shuttle to let alien civilizations know what a home run is. It might have been the hardest hit ball of the season, a line drive that was almost still ascending when it went over the fence. That guy is going to make a million dollars this offseason, easy. Maybe two.
After the solo home run, Matt Holliday singled, and David Freese doubled him to third. The Brewers intentionally walked Yadier Molina, but Nick Punto avoided the double play grounder, flying out to right field instead. Holliday just beat Corey Hart's throw, and the Cards went up 7-4.
Then with two outs and LaTroy Hawkins in, Allen Craig chopped a 46-hopper through the middle of the diamond, and the Cardinals took a commanding 9-4 lead. Also of note: LaTroy Hawkins is still an active major leaguer.
Instead of Narveson being a folk hero, he's an ex-pitcher, at least for the rest of Game 6. While it seems like the Cards are well on their way to another World Series, there are probably still a couple dozen runs or so that still haven't been scored.
In case you haven't been paying close attention, here are six baseball players:
Aside from being baseball players, what do they have in common?
They've all hit home runs in the first 2½ innings of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
In case you're wondering, six home runs is quite a lot of home runs. It would be a lot of home runs after nine innings, let alone 2½ innings. I mean, crazy let alone 2½ innings.
The record for home runs in postseason game is 7, set in three League Championship Series games and one World Series game. In chronological order:
In all four games, the team that hit more home runs won.
In other news, if you look at the years of those NLCS's, it seems that we were just about due for a game like this.
Why did Fernando Salas start warming up in the Cardinals' bullpen in the bottom of the second? One possible reason: Tony La Russa was jealous of the Brewers. A second possible reason: Edwin Jackson is getting his ass kicked.
Yes, the Cardinals knocked Shaun Marcum out of the game after one inning. Yes, the Cardinals added a homer against Chris Narveson in the second. But where you'd think five runs would make for a big, comfortable lead, the Cardinals are currently leading by one as I write this. One run.
We told you that Corey Hart led off the bottom of the first with a dinger. Well, Rickie Weeks led off the bottom of the second with a dinger, knocking out a fastball thrown down the heart. But wait, the Brewers weren't finished. Jerry Hairston Jr. legged out an infield single - sliding into first and injuring his shoulder in the process - and two batters later, Jonathan Lucroy got a 3-1 fastball and blasted it out to left-center. Just like that, it was 5-4.
Edwin Jackson had allowed two homers total in his previous nine starts combined. He's already allowed three today, and we've got a long, long way to go.
To the top of the third. I hope you didn't make big Sunday plans.
The St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen has been fantastic, and might finish the National League Championship Series having gotten more outs than the starting pitchers. Which would also be fantastic, in the strictest sense of the word.
Oddly, though? If one team is better-equipped to deal with a starting pitcher who lasts just one inning, it might be the Milwaukee Brewers. Their roster essentially includes their No. 5 and No. 6 starters from this season, in Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada, both of whom presumably can pitch two or three innings before giving way to the more usual relievers. Meanwhile, with Jake Westbrook left off the NLCS roster, the closest the Cardinals have a "long man" is probably Lance Lynn, who started a dozen games for triple-A Memphis this season.
And it sure looks like both managers will have plenty of chances to test their bullpens.
Stick around, folks. The Cardinals are ahead 5-2, but it's still really really early.
That sounds really dark. Nothing severe happened to Shaun Marcum. He just pitched really poorly in a baseball game. After allowing four runs to the Cardinals in the top of the first, Marcum was pulled, as Ron Roenicke called on Chris Narveson in relief.
All four runs were earned, so Marcum's current postseason line reads:
16 runs (all earned)
It's certainly looking now like Marcum won't get another opportunity to try and make things right.
The best tweet of the occasion, from Joel Sherman:
You think LaRussa is jealous that Roenicke got to go to the bullpen 1st?
When a team scores four runs in the top of the first inning, as the Cardinals just did against Shaun Marcum and the Brewers, it can do an awful lot to pull the crowd out of the game. Indeed, the Cardinals succeeded in keeping what's been a boisterous Miller Park audience to a low murmur. But the thing about doing that in the first is that the home team still has a ton of time to try and turn things around, and it took all of six pitches for the Brewers to give their crowd something to cheer about.
I shouldn't say the Brewers. I should say Corey Hart, because truth be told, Corey Hart did all the work, unless you count Edwin Jackson and Yadier Molina. Jackson went to a 2-2 count against Hart to lead off the bottom of the first, and then came with a thigh-high inside slider. Hart beat the crap out of the ball, launching a massive fly ball that flew out to deep center. Solo homer, 4-1.
That was all the Brewers would do, as the next three batters made outs, but that's how quickly runs can get scored. As thrilled as the Cardinals must be with their early effort, odds are they're going to need to score more.
Woke up at 7:00 a.m. today. Typed out that headline. Went for a walk. It was the most efficient way to use my time.
That's the thing about the playoffs -- everything gets so skewed and distorted. The first paragraph is supposed to be a Shaun Marcum joke. But he's a good pitcher. Or he was.
Then again, I started typing this during Albert Pujols' at-bat. There was one out, a runner on second, and Marcum pitching. Figured, "Welp, better get the 'Marcum-gives-up-a-run' post ready." Why, because he's been bad for three starts after being good for most of his 30+ starts this year? That doesn't make a lot of sense.
But then the playoffs don't often make a lot of sense. And in the span of ten minutes, Marcum was just as bad as he's been all month, and the Cardinals jumped all over him.
Jon Jay singled with one out, and then Albert Pujols walked. He wasn't happy about the walk. Dude wanted to hit.
Lance Berkman singled to drive home Jay for a 1-0 lead, bringing up Matt Holliday. It looked like the Brewers got two huge breaks -- one on Holliday hitting a six-foot tapper, and two when Pujols was called out at home on Marcum's shovel toss -- and they were just one out away from getting out of the jam.
David Freese was sitting changeup. Marcum tends to throw those a lot. And when the ball landed, it was 4-0 Cardinals. And with that, the Cardinals jumped out to a 4-0 in the first inning for the second time in the NLCS. That's a pretty good way to win a playoff series.
Edit: And as I was writing this, Corey Hart hit the sixth pitch of the game out for a homer. Cards 4, Brewers 1
Yes, the Milwaukee Brewers' season now depends largely on Shaun Marcum. Which must scare the Brewers' fans and probably some of their players too, but doesn't seem to have fazed their manager. Jayson Stark:
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has never wavered. He will start Shaun Marcum in Game 6 even though Marcum's ERA in his past six starts is a gruesome 8.18 (30 earned runs in 33 innings).
So how unusual is it for a team down to its last game to start a pitcher with an ERA that hefty? We asked the Elias Sports Bureau. It reports that only one other pitcher in postseason history has started a potential elimination game after compiling an ERA over 8.00 in his previous six starts.
As Stark reports, that one other pitcher was Derek Lowe, who entered Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series with an 8.34 ERA in his previous six starts. Lowe pitched fairly well before getting pulled in the sixth, and of course the Red Sox wound up winning that game and eventually, shockingly, the whole ALCS after losing the first three games to the Yankees.
Even more impressively, Lowe won Game 7 of that ALCS with six solid innings, and the World Series-clinching Game 4 with seven shutout innings against the Cardinals.
All of this augurs well for Marcum in tonight's game and perhaps beyond.
One big difference, though: When Derek Lowe pitched against the Yankees in Game 4, he was exceptionally well-rested. Between his last regular-season start on 3 October and Game 4 on the 17th, he'd thrown just one inning. And because he'd been pitching so poorly late in the season and been knocked out of so many starts early, he'd pitched only 11⅓ innings in the previous month.
With a win tonight in Game 6 of the NLCS, the St. Louis Cardinals will reach the World Series for the first time since 2006, way back when Jeff Weaver was in the majors instead of prison. Well, I'm not sure if he's in prison now, but he probably is. I mean, just look at the guy.
Here is Tony La Russa's Game 6 lineup, with right-hander Shaun Marcum pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers:
I got the lineup from RotoInfo.com, and someone over there suffered quite the amusing Freudian slip:
Hey, Nick Punto is 5'9". That's above average in the general population. As long as he's his listed height, that is. Which he almost certainly isn't.
And because I'm a weak, weak man, here are the microsplits that don't mean anything. Still can't help but look at them.
Whoa. Betancourt doesn't hit Jackson well. Looks like their playoff slugger has been neutralized. Dig those Corey Hart splits. Man, those at-bats would be interesting if we knew which microsplits to pay attention to.
Other than that, it's the pretty standard Brewers lineup. If there was one option available to Ron Roenicke, it would have been to put George Kottaras in for Lucroy to get another lefty bat, but Edwin Jackson hasn't shown any platoon splits over his career (.770 OPS vs. RHB, .778 vs. LHB).
Sunday night in Milwaukee, it's win or go home for the winter for the Brewers; the Cardinals, meanwhile, can win the NLCS with a victory.
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