NLCS: Mets vs. Cardinals: Jeff Suppan Masters the Metsby Jeff Sackmann
October 15, 2006
In five career postseason series, Jeff Suppan has hardly been a star. But Saturday night, he did everything, leading St. Louis to a 5-0 victory and a 2-1 lead in the NLCS. He threw eight innings and combined with Josh Kinney on a three-hit shutout, saved most of the Cardinals bullpen for another game, and even tacked on an insurance run in the form of a home run off of Steve Trachsel. Everything Suppan did right, Trachsel did wrong: he threw only 21 of 43 pitches for strikes and didn't record an out in the second inning.
It's only thanks to Darren Oliver's heroics that Trachsel's outing wasn't a complete disaster. Oliver came in to a bases-loaded, no-out situation, and after uncorking a wild pitch and letting in a second run on a Jim Edmonds groundout, he shut down the Cardinals for six innings. I hate to sound like a FOX commentator, but that's the sort of contribution that doesn't show up in the standings; with Oliver Perez starting for the Mets tomorrow night, Willie Randolph will need as many fresh arms available as possible.
For the second consecutive game, Tony LaRussa looked like a genius. He didn't have much to do in Game 3, but his decision to ride the hot facial hair and start Scott Spiezio in left field paid dividends. Spiezio contributed the single biggest hit of the game in the first inning, driving in Albert Pujols and Preston Wilson with his second triple in as many nights. It was his only hit of the game, but by the time he came to the plate in the second inning, the Cards were up 5-0.
The story of NLCS Game 3, though, was Jeff Suppan. He threw 99 pitches, 69 for strikes, and allowed only four baserunners. Between a Jose Reyes triple in the third and a Shawn Green walk to lead off the eighth, Suppan retired thirteen consecutive batters. (One of those, Jose Valentin, singled but was thrown out at second base.) Twice during that streak, he turned Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, and David Wright into a three-up, three-down frame.
Despite Oliver's efforts to save the bullpen, Saturday's game doesn't bode well for the Mets. Not only does the bullpen lack a long man going into Perez's start on Sunday, but Trachsel's status is also uncertain. The "injury" that knocked him out of the game in the second inning was probably little more than wildness (of the leg, naturally), but as Trachsel is the Game 7 starter as well, it creates another major question mark not far down the road. Of course, there's a lot of baseball to be played before Randolph has to figure out who'll pitch Game 7, but if Trachsel is injured or ineffective, an already stretched staff just got thinner.
Even without factoring Trachsel into the equation, the Cardinals are, for the first time, clearly in control. By simply winning their remaining games at home, they can clinch the pennant. "Simple" may be a misnomer; beating Perez is one thing, Tom Glavine another. But with Chris Carpenter-John Maine and Suppan-Trachsel to follow back at Shea, there are plenty of opportunities for St. Louis to seal their World Series berth.
Using the probabilities I've been discussing throughout the series, the most Cardinal-friendly way of looking at the teams gives LaRussa's boys a 64.4% chance of advancing. Opting for each team's regular-season Pythagorean winning percentage offers St. Louis a 60.4% chance. Plugging in actual regular-season winning percentages (the method that most favors the Mets) suggests that the Cardinals have a 55.3% chance of taking the series.
When Omar Minaya built the 2006 Mets, he surely didn't envision a must-win NLCS game with Oliver Perez on the mound. But in Game 4, that's exactly what he has.
Jeff Sackmann is the creator of MinorLeagueSplits.com. With Kent Bonham, he founded CollegeSplits.com. Jeff and Kent blog about college baseball and the draft, and you can follow them on Twitter for bite-sized snacks of minor league and college stats. Jeff also has an email address.