Posts Tagged ‘Matt Holliday’

By W.G. Ramirez

Set to meet for the fourth time in the Fall Classic, the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox open the World Series with Game 1 at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox are trying to win their third crown in 10 years. St. Louis, meanwhile, is aiming to take its second title in three years and third in eight seasons. And as starters Adam Wainwright and Jon Lester will toe the slab Wednesday night, I had a chance to sit down with a Josh Johnson, starting pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, for his insight on this year’s Classic.

“Two really good teams, should be a really good battle, hope it goes seven games,” said Johnson, in between workout regimens at a local gym. “That’s the only thing I look for whenever I’m not rooting for one team.”

Johnson, who has pitched in both the National and American Leagues, said everyone he could think of told him the Los Angeles Dodgers were destined for the World Series, but he tried to warn them.

“I said don’t sleep on the Cardinals, they’ve been there, they’ve done it, they find ways to plug guys in … and win ball games,” he said. “They know how to do it. Don’t put anything past them.”

St. Louis opened a 3-1 lead over Los Angeles before dropping Game 5. But the Cardinals closed it out by thumping Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in the Game 6 clincher.

Time and time again, they proven there’s nobody’s been better than the Cardinals when the season is on the line. After winning the final two games of their best-of-five division series against Pittsburgh, the Cardinals are 8-1 when facing postseason elimination the past three years.

Now they’ve got the Red Sox, who know a thing or two about resiliency, as they became the second AL team in the three-division era to go from worst to first. After tying the Cardinals for the best record in baseball during the regular season, Boston defeated the wild-card Rays 3-1 in the division series, winning both home games. Boston beat Detroit 4-2 in the ALCS to capture its 13th pennant, going 2-1 at Fenway Park despite nearly getting no-hit in the opener.

Johnson said what impresses him most about the Crimson Hose is their patience at the plate, from top to bottom.

“That whole lineup, they have a lot of guys who are patient, and I’ve always struggled with that,” said Johnson, whose four-pitch arsenal finds him throwing a lot of strikes, and eventually turning to his slider for an out pitch. “They’re both pretty patient, but I think the Red Sox have so many guys who are patient, but also have power.”

And as tough as St. Louis’ pitchers are, he said, they could face the same frustration he does against hitters who don’t mind waiting for their pitch, or will simply lay off and take walks. Johnson noted fellow-Las Vegas Shane Victorino as one of the Red Sox’s most dangerous hitters to face because of the fact he can hit from both sides of the plate, he can the ball anywhere in the zone and he knows how to hit off-speed pitches very well.

“Shane’s always been a good hitter, especially off-speed up in the zone,” Johnson said. “He’s just a tough out, probably one of the toughest out for the Red Sox.”

That became evident in the final game of the ALCS, when Victorino drilled a grand slam over the Green Monster to put the Red Sox ahead for good. And while few in this year’s matchup have faced the opposing pitchers, both Victorino and Jonny Gomes – two former NL players – each have homered off Wainwright.

On the other side, Johnson said Boston pitchers need to be wary of Allen Craig, who hit a major league-leading .454 with runners in scoring position but hasn’t played since Sept. 4 because of sprained left foot, is set to return. Craig is set to be the Cardinals’ designated hitter in Games 1 and 2.

“The guy raked all year, and then got hurt; but he’s one of those guys who can just step in, and I would suspect he’s going go to come off the bench or be starting and still be hitting it.” Johnson said.

Johnson also noted the Red Sox should fear Matt Holliday Carlos Beltran, who has finally reached the first World Series of his 16-year career after three painful losses in Game 7 of the NLCS.

As for the pitchers, Johnson said there’s no one hotter on the planet than Michael Wacha, the NLCS MVP who has been almost unhittable lately. The 22-year-old rookie lost a no-hit bid against Washington on an infield single with two outs in the ninth inning of his final regular-season outing, then pitched 7-1/3 hitless innings at Pittsburgh before Pedro Alvarez homered in Game 4 of the NLDS. With the Cardinals facing elimination, Wacha won 2-1 to send the series back to St. Louis. In the NLCS, he outpitched Kershaw twice and threw 13-2/3 scoreless innings.

“Wacha has been unbelievable, he’s been their guy … and he’s been throwing the ball well,” Johnson said. “It’s contagious, once you get in that groove, you don’t ever want to get out of it. Days go by fast, your start comes up a little quicker, and that’s what you want.”

Wacha is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in 3 postseason starts.

So all that being said, and even though he’s looking for a good series, who does the eight-year veteran think is going to walk off with the trophy?

“I’ve seen the Cardinals so many times, they just find a way to do it,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what it is; they find a way to get it done.”

A look at the National League wild-card playoff between the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves, at Atlanta (5:07 p.m. EDT) (TBS).

Projected Lineups:

Cardinals: CF Jon Jay (4 HRs, 40 RBIs, 18 SBs, .385 OBP), RF Carlos Beltran (.269, 32, 97), LF Matt Holliday (.295, 27, 102), 1B Allen Craig (.307, 22, 92), 3B David Freese (.293, 20, 79), C Yadier Molina (.315, 22, 76), 2B Daniel Descalso (.227, 4, 26), SS Pete Kozma (.333, 2, 14).

Braves: CF Michael Bourn (.274, 9 HRs, 57 RBIs, 42 SBs), LF Martin Prado (.301, 10, 70), RF Jason Heyward (.269, 27, 82, 21 SBs), 3B Chipper Jones (.287, 14, 62), 1B Freddie Freeman (.259, 23, 94), 2B Dan Uggla (.220, 19, 78, 168 strikeouts), C David Ross (.256, 9, 23), SS Andrelton Simmons (.289, 3, 19).

Starting Pitchers:

Cardinals: RH Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA). Healthy after two years of nagging forearm trouble, Lohse followed up a 2011 season that saw him lead the rotation in wins and ERA with another stellar campaign. The right-hander’s .842 winning percentage topped the majors, while he set a career high with 211 innings pitched and ranked eighth in the majors with a 2.86 ERA. Lohse fires an 88- to 92-mile per hour fastball with late sink movement, while complimenting it nicely with a downer curveball, a quick slider and a stifling changeup he isn’t afraid to throw on any count to any hitter.

Braves: RH Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57, 120 Ks, 138 IP). After missing most of 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Medlen has been the biggest story for the Braves, going 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA as a starter after the All-Star break. The Braves have won 23 straight games with Medlen as the starter going back to 2010. Drafted as a shortstop and part-time relief pitcher in 2006, Medlen will make his first-ever postseason start. He boasts arguably the best four-seam fastball in the bigs, while he also has a knack for spinning his nifty breaking ball as a quality out pitch whenever he’s ready. And while the speed change on his curve is deadly for hitters, he also has a change that baffles batters more times than not.

Series Nuggets:

The Braves won the 2012 series, 5-1.

Over the past two seasons, the series is deadlocked at 6-6.

Ironically, the road team went 4-2 this season, after the home team went 4-2 in 2011.

The Over is a whopping 22-8 when these two play in Atlanta.

These two haven’t met since May.

St. Louis Nuggets:

St. Louis is on winning streaks of 4-1 with a suitcase in hand, 5-2 against winning teams, 5-2 with Lohse on the hill against winning teams and 12-4 overall.

The Cardinals boast one of baseball’s most power-packed lineups with five 20-homer hitters for the first time in franchise history.

After lingering in the top two most of the season, the Cardinals finished  with the fourth-best batting average (.271) in the bigs this season.

Though they rank 17th overall with 159 home runs, manufacturing runs has become the name of their game, as they rank fifth in the league with 765 plated runs.

Since 1996, only the New York Yankees have won more postseason games (94) than the Cardinals (50.) With that, the Cardinals have won three National League pennants and two World Series trophies to their trophy case.

Atlanta Nuggets:

Atlanta is on winning streaks of 9-1 when laying money at home, 7-1 against winning teams, 13-0 with Medlen up at home, 25-1 with Medlen on the hill and 8-3 overall.

The Braves, who returned to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, swept a three-game series in St. Louis and took two of three at Turner Field.

In their lone meeting with Lohse this season, the Braves tagged him for five runs and nine hits over five innings back on May 30.

Last year, Atlanta squandered a 10-1/2-game wild-card lead and lost out to the Cardinals on the final day.

Atlanta’s Chipper Jones completed his farewell tour in Pittsburgh, but is looking to extend the final season of his career in the postseason. He hit .287 this season – his highest mark since stroking a league-leading .364 in 2008 – with 14 home runs and 62 RBI in 112 games.