The St. Louis Cardinals’ remarkable late-season run wasn’t enough to catch the NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers.
With the Cardinals winning the last two games of the best-of-seven NL championship series, however, it’s the Brewers who are now playing catch-up.
Right-hander Kyle Lohse gets the ball for the first time in 12 days Thursday night when the host Cardinals try to build a commanding 3-1 series lead and extend the Brewers’ road playoff woes.
Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have Cards as $1.35 home favorites, with the total set at 8 1/2 ‘over’ (minus $1.15).
Trailing Atlanta by 10 1/2 games on Aug. 25, the Cardinals finished 23-9 and clinched the wild card on the final day of the regular season with a victory at Houston and a Braves’ loss to Philadelphia.
As improbable as St. Louis’ charge was, the Cardinals fell short of catching Milwaukee, which clinched its first division title since 1982 on Sept. 23 after defeating Florida and watching St. Louis lose at home to the Chicago Cubs that night on the Miller Park scoreboard.
But now the Cardinals hold the upper-hand against their division rival, and there would be no trip back to Milwaukee if they can win Games 4 and 5.
“We have battled for the last two months or however long it’s been,” Game 3 winner Chris Carpenter said. “We have nothing to lose.”
St. Louis, two victories from its first World Series appearance since winning it all in 2006, will give the ball to Lohse for the first time since he was tagged for six runs and seven hits in an 11-6 Game 1 loss at Philadelphia on Oct. 1.
The right-hander retired the first 10 batters he faced, but he yielded five sixth-inning runs.
“What it boiled it down to, I missed with two changeups all night and both ended up with homers,” said Lohse, who went 6-1 with a 3.23 ERA in his final 10 regular-season starts.
Despite not pitching since the Cardinals’ playoff opener, Lohse has tried to stay sharp by throwing on flat ground. Getting the ball following an extended break is nothing new for the right-hander, who made three starts this season on at least eight days’ rest.
The last time came Sept. 6, when Lohse, pitching for the first time in nine days, tossed six innings of shutout ball in a 4-2 home win over Milwaukee.
Lohse is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his last three starts at Busch Stadium.
That doesn’t bode well for a Brewers team 0-3 away from Miller Park this postseason. Milwaukee is winless in its last eight playoff road games since a 10-0 victory over St. Louis in Game 1 of the 1982 World Series.
“We’re going to prepare ourselves just like we’ve been doing and expect to win tomorrow and hopefully get off to a good start,” Brewers MVP candidate Ryan Braun said.
Milwaukee, though, is batting .211 with 3.3 runs per game on the road during the playoffs after failing to get a hit in the final five innings Wednesday.
St. Louis’ bullpen threw four perfect frames, with Jason Motte getting the save by striking out three of the last four Brewers.
“When that phone rings (in the bullpen), we’re ready to go,” Motte said.
So is Game 4 starter Randy Wolf, who will try to rebound from one of his worst outings of the year.
Making his first start in eight days, and third in the playoffs, the Brewers left-hander surrendered a season high-tying seven runs over three innings of a 10-6 Game 4 loss at Arizona on Oct. 5.
“I think that you have to have a short memory and you have to learn from it, and you can’t beat yourself up over it too badly,” he said.
Wolf is 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in his last two starts at Busch – both coming since Aug. 10 – but after giving up five first-inning runs in his division series start, manager Ron Roenicke might not have much patience if he struggles early.
The Cardinals have scored six first-inning runs in the last two contests.
“When you make mistakes like we did the first inning, they’re going to get their hits, they’re going to score some runs,” Roenicke said.
Albert Pujols, who had an RBI double in the Cardinals’ four-run first inning Wednesday, finished 2 for 2 with two walks and is batting .636 (7 for 11) with four doubles, a homer and six RBIs in the series.
Braun is batting .483 (14 for 29) with two homers and eight RBIs this postseason.