LOS ANGELES — With his team hitting .184 with 24 strikeouts in 76 at-bats, one-quarter of those from a rookie, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is hoping a change of venue will serve as a revival in the National League Championship Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff has dominated this series by escaping countless jams unscathed. The Dodgers haven’t scored since the third inning of Game 1, and they played Game 2 without their hottest hitter, Hanley Ramirez, who sat with bruised ribs.
Ramirez said he would play in Game 3. Mattingly had no results Sunday from the CT scan on Ramirez’s bruised ribs, suffered when he was hit by a Joe Kelly 95-mile-per-hour fastball. The Dodgers need Ramirez in the lineup and they also need Andre Ethier to recover from a sore ankle that limited him to pinch-hitting duties in Game 2.
Without Ramirez and Ethier, the focus of the offense is squarely on rookie Yasiel Puig and he has wilted under the pressure, failing to put the ball in play in Game 2 with four strikeouts.
“I’m sure he feels pressure because Yasiel is always a guy that’s going forward and wanting to do something at all times,” Mattingly said “He’s gotten himself into some very good counts, but then he seems to chase and it’s only gone so far. They’ve done a nice job with him. I’m sure he’s feeling pressure to do something. The one thing we know about Yasiel is it’s never going to be because he’s not trying to do something. I know he’s giving us everything he has.
“So at this point we hope that this day off is a chance for him to settle down a little bit and get back after it. He’s always bounced back pretty well during the season when he’s had a couple of bad days. There hasn’t been a lot of that, but he seems to have bounced back. We’re just counting on him bouncing back.”
If the Dodgers are to come back, they will have to overcome the brilliant Adam Wainwright, who has allowed two earned runs in 16 postseason innings with 15 strikeouts and one walk. In the past four years, Wainwright has emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball, going 72-41 with a 20-win season and a pair of 19-win campaigns.
“Yeah, thinking back I know it’s going to be rocking,” Wainwright said. “I don’t know how many people are here, but it’s a lot of fans, bigger than most stadiums, I think, and very loud. I love that though. I mean, the louder the better. That plays right into my hands.
“If I know Hanley and Andre, they’ll both be in there tomorrow. They’re both great competitors. But Hanley looks the best I’ve seen him in a long time. His swing looks great. His approach is awesome. As everyone knows, he’s got power to all fields, so he’s a very dangerous hitter and a very tough bat added to that lineup.”
What’s been most surprising about the series is that it’s been dominated by St. Louis’s young pitchers. Kelly, the Game 1 starter, just completed his first major league season, while Game 2 winner Michael Wacha made nine regular-season starts after a minor league call-up.
In addition, the Cardinals bullpen, which has spun 9⅓ scoreless innings in the series, is loaded with youngsters such as Carlos Martinez, 22, hard-throwing Trevor Rosenthal, 23, and Seth Maness, 24. St. Louis has depended on low-salaried, unproven hurlers to take control of the series.
“Well, we’ve had plenty of time to test them when we needed to. It wasn’t part of the plan to test them,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “We needed guys to come in and step in in big situations, and they were able to earn those spots and earn the higher leverage positions. It’s something that’s, I’m sure, surprising a lot of other people. You see some of these guys you’ve never heard of before, and they’ve done a real nice job of being able to, once again, minimize the distractions and be able to just get out there and make pitches.
“We give a lot of credit to our veterans, obviously, with Yadier [Molina] behind the plate and the ability for him to make in-game decisions and adjustments. But overall, the guys are staying the course, doing what they know is right, and doing what they did toward the end of the season, that is just stay in the moment and make good pitches.”
The Dodgers face a must-win situation Monday. In a prime example of the razor-thin difference between victory and defeat, the Dodgers realize they are two clutch hits from leading the series, 2-0. They are 1 for 17 with runners in scoring position and failed to score with runners in scoring position and no outs in the sixth inning of Game 2.
Mark Ellis popped to first base while Puig and Juan Uribe struck out with the bases loaded.
“We can take that as a positive,” Ellis said about being a few hits from two wins. “Knowing that we should have done a little bit better but [St. Louis] is a tough team. They’re a resilient team to beat and a tough team to beat, a tough ballpark to play in so we’re right there, one or two hits away from being up 2-0. So we can take that as a positive.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.