Cardinals 3, Dodgers 1: Bullpen implodes (again), season on the line

We all knew the bullpen was going to be an issue in the playoffs, and we really shouldn’t be surprised. Yet, the bullpen put the Dodgers in a 2-1 series deficit with a subpar performance.

Scott Elbert – you remember him, right? – came into the game in the seventh inning of a 1-1 game to face Yadier Molina, Jon Jay and Kolten Wong. Naturally, Molina led off with a double, followed by a sacrifice bunt by Jay. Runner at third, one out for Wong. He had a solid season, but I don’t think anyone expected what happened next. That’s right, a 2-run home run that was the difference in the ball game.

There was a ton of bitching on Twitter about this – and rightfully so – but this wasn’t on Don Mattingly. He shied away from J.P. Howell because of the home run he gave up to Matt Carpenter in Game 2. With Paco Rodriguez not 100 percent healthy and no other viable options, Elbert – who logged all of 4 1/3 innings this season – was the guy. He looked pretty good in Game 1, but he grooved a fastball to Wong that put the Dodgers’ season in jeopardy.

There may not have been a lot of relievers available at the trade deadline – Joakim Soria and Andrew Miller were traded, and Joaquin Benoit was on the Dodgers’ radar – but to not add a reliever of any worth before both trade deadlines is all on Ned Colletti. Now, I’m not saying I wanted to see Joc Pederson traded for a reliever (even though I joked about it on Twitter), but the Dodgers had other pieces that could have landed them some kind of upgrade.

Anyway, Hyun-Jin Ryu was fantastic in his first start in 23 days: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 pitches, 59 strikes. One mistake pitch to Carpenter was the only blemish. The Dodgers’ formula of great starting pitching has played out (well, save the seventh inning of Game 1), they just haven’t been able to finish.

Major League Baseball’s RBI leader (as Rick Monday and Kevin Kennedy love to drone on about on the radio) Adrian Gonzalez missed two opportunities to drive runners in from third base with one out. Both times, he “flied” out to shallow left field. That’s not what the Dodgers needed in a close game. Luckily in the sixth inning, after Yasiel Puig led off with a triple, Hanley Ramirez was able to knock him in.

The Dodger offense was neutralized by John Lackey, who had his best outing as a Cardinal at just the right time: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 100 pitches, 68 strikes. He was in control after the second inning. The Dodgers had him near 40 pitches after two innings, but he obviously settled down after that.

The Dodgers threatened in the ninth inning, but with Ramirez and second and Carl Crawford on first, Juan Uribe flied out to right field. With two outs and Cardinals’ closer Trevor Rosenthal struggling with command, A.J. Ellis — who has been amazing in the playoffs — inexplicably swung at the first pitch and also flied out to right field to end the game.

Now, the Dodgers didn’t lose because of the home plate umpire, but Dale Scott was horribly inconsistent tonight. He never called the same pitch the same way and sometimes gave the corners, sometimes didn’t. It’s hard to succeed – for both teams – when the strike zone is wildly inconsistent.

Case and point:

Fun (not fun).

With the Dodgers’ season on the line, they send Clayton Kershaw to the mound on four days’ rest. He’ll face Shelby Miller. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. Pacific time. If the Dodgers extend the series to a Game 5, the pitching matchup would be Adam Wainwright against Zack Greinke. That’d be fun, if nothing else.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.