Here is a link to my Thursday column. The full text runs below:
SAN FRANCISCO — Right now, you wouldn’t want to be the St. Louis Cardinals.
I understand you can’t be a team. You’re a person. But you wouldn’t want to be the Cardinals, anyway.
Why? Because after losing to the Giants 6-4 on Wednesday, they are facing extinction Thursday. The kind of extinction where your season ends and you take the long silent flight home and the next morning you pack up your gear in cardboard boxes provided by the team and you feel like hell.
You won your division and you were supposed to beat these peculiar Giants who don’t hit with power and have starting pitchers so old they’re ready for Social Security, and they’ve just been murdering you. And now they can put you away.
Believe me, you don’t want to be the Cardinals.
The Cardinals aren’t eliminated yet. But they’re in the hospital bed with gadgets attached to their chest and that tube dripping stuff into their arm and the heart monitor close to flat line, and the nurse is clucking her tongue because things look bad.
The Cardinals’ main problem — actually they have several problems — but their main problem is they keep losing to the Giants. They hang tough in ballgames but, sooner or later, they make the killer mistake. Wednesday night, the killer mistake was two mistakes — two horrendous plays by Matt Adams, the butcher who plays first base — which put the Giants in business and very likely put the Cardinals out of business.
But you may say — quite reasonably — this series ain’t over till it’s over. Sane people would agree. It’s just that Thursday’s pitching matchup in this elimination game for St. Louis favors the Giants. Overwhelmingly.
The Giants are pitching Madison Bumgarner. He may be the best pitcher in the known world. He’s the best pitcher to appear in the postseason for any National League club. He can hit a dime on a fence standing on his head from 60 feet 6 inches away. His stuff is A-plus. And then there’s his temperament.
He doesn’t register a pulse. The game can be chaos, the fans can be screaming, and Bruce Bochy can be pacing the dugout, pulling his cap off and wiping his hand through his sweaty hair and, all the time, Bumgarner is on the mound thinking of making his next pitch. Thinking about nothing else. He’s not just thinking of making his next pitch. He’s dead certain about making his next pitch. And then he makes his next pitch.
It is impossible to imagine the fidgety, self-destructive Cardinals getting over on Bumgarner in this game that almost certainly will send the Giants to the World Series. Call it the Bumgarner Factor.
There is one other factor. The Wainwright Factor, as in Adam Wainwright. He is the Cardinals’ best pitcher. He is an elite pitcher. Because of his elite status, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny made sure Wainwright would pitch Game 1 and Game 5 — just like Bochy made sure Bumgarner would pitch those games. It’s what a savvy manager does with his ace.
But Wainwright lost Game 1. At home. He didn’t last five innings. He had nothing on his pitches. They sort of wafted up to the plate like butterflies. When the butterflies reached the plate, the Giants pounded them with cannonballs. Poor little butterflies.
Wainwright has not been right the entire postseason. I’ve taken to calling him Wainwrong. That’s what he is. Dead wrong. It’s something about a dead arm, a considerable liability in a pitcher.
Wainwright spoke before Wednesday’s game in the obligatory media session. Does this man feel confident? You tell me.
“No, I have not been very proud of my starts this year in the postseason so far,” he confessed. “I also know that I was doing my very best. There was no point in time where I wasn’t as prepared as I’ve ever been for a start, and my arm just didn’t respond like I wanted it to. But I’m very confident going forward.”
Excuse me, but that is one whopper of a quote. He was saying — I think: 1) He was prepared for his postseason starts and tried darn hard and has a good work ethic, so don’t get on his case. 2) But his arm felt crummy and, if truth be told, he needs another arm — like maybe he could arrange a lend-lease on Bumgarner’s arm. Sorry, that’s taken for tonight. 3) In spite of all that, he’s confident about his chances.
Right. And I’m confident I can become skipper of the Giants.
Someone asked Wainwright about a bullpen session he took the other day.
“Yeah,” he said, continuing to make semi-sense, “the positives to take away were, you know, when your arm doesn’t feel the best, you need everything else to be locked in and your delivery to be sharp. My delivery was not sharp. My arm didn’t feel great the last few times out.”
Translation: He has zero margin for error. He can’t put mustard — or ketchup, if your prefer — on his pitches, and if he misses his spots by a fraction of an inch, he’s dead meat.
Here are his final words: “I just have to have all my weapons out there with me, preferably. If not, I’ll grind my way through it and I’ll find a way to make it happen. But it helps when you’ve got all your weapons.”
Translation: He doesn’t have all his weapons and he feels doomed.
After the game, Matheny talked about Wainwright pitching tonight’s do-or-die game. “Nobody else we’d rather have on the mound,” Matheny said. “Adam Wainwright is going to set the tone for us.”
God help the Cardinals. Would someone contact the city morgue?