Advantage Cardinals. St Louis took a 2-1 series lead over the Detroit Tigers through a combination of a great starting outing by Chris Carpenter and several Detroit mistakes.
Perhaps focusing on Detroit is doing a disservice to Carpenter, but I feel their failings in game three could have a bigger impact on the rest of the series. Several members of the Tigers line-up (Granderson, Rodriguez and Polanco in particular) are struggling to contribute offensively. In a relatively short series, there is no warm-up period. You have to be firing on all cylinders from the first game, otherwise you can find yourself out of the series before you have really started (as happened to the Cards themselves in 2004). The Tigers are going to have to find a way to get their bats hot quickly and they will have to attempt this against Jeff Suppan who pitched extremely well in the NLCS. Suppan took the loss in game three of the 2004 World Series against Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox. No doubt he has been hoping for another chance to win a World Series game, never mind a ring, ever since. It will be tough for Detroit, but no one said winning a World Series would be easy.
Detroit’s bullpen has been a real strength during 2006 so to see two of the key components, Zumaya and Rodney, both suffer bad outings last night doesn’t bode well. In my World Series preview I made a note that this talented Tigers team was a bit short on post-season experience. Zumaya is a rookie and this is Rodney’s first taste of the post-season; therefore the possibility of nerves getting the better of them was always there. That said, anyone can have a bad outing and maybe they were just unfortunate to have one on such an important night. Whether the experience makes them more determined to show their talents later in the series, or if the bad memories linger, could prove crucial to Detroit’s chances of fighting back.
Zumaya in particular had a forgettable night (apologies to all Tigers fans for praising him in my previous post!). You could sense he was getting frustrated: he didn’t like a couple of the home plate umpire’s calls and his frightening velocity was down a notch or two. Whether this played a part in his seventh inning error is hard to say. Throwing to third base was obviously the wrong decision and his poor throw (well-explained by Josh, who has had plenty of practice so far this series in talking about pointing your front shoulder where you want to throw the ball) just made it worse. The fact that those extra two runs did not prove decisive in the final outcome will be of little consolation to Zumaya. He knows he messed up and will be looking for a chance to make amends.
For all of this, the Tigers are far from out of it. Game three was a bad night for them, but a good performance tonight will draw the series level again. Jim Leyland will be telling his team that last night is gone, that they should concentrate on the game ahead. It is easier said than done though and St Louis will do their utmost to capitalize on any self-doubt that may now exist. The Cardinals will be confident that they have dealt a crucial blow by blanking the Tigers and taking the series advantage. Will they go in for the kill tonight, or will Jeremy Bonderman shift the momentum back into Detroit’s favour?
There is a massive difference between 3-1 and 2-2. If the Tigers go down 3-1 they will find it hard to turn things around, particularly if they contribute to their own downfall tonight with more mistakes. If they put game three behind them and take the win they will be favourites in the remaining best of three game series, with the final two being played at Comerica Park. Neither team can actually win the series tonight, but I have a feeling that the team celebrating after the game will also take the ultimate prize in the end.
More good news
I’m sure you will have seen that MLB and the Players Union announced a new five year labour agreement before yesterday’s game. The terms of the new agreement don’t appear at first glance to contain many surprises. The real story of course is the way the agreement was reached: no threats of player strikes, no bitter arguments played out in public, just constructive private discussions that have produced a relatively quick resolution.