NLDS Game 3 Preview: Critical swing game rests on Hamels

Posted by Kevin Durso

Philliedelphia/Kevin Durso

The Phillies had a 2-0 series lead in their back pocket. Cliff Lee and the complacent Phillies' offense let it get away. Now, Game 3 becomes all the more crucial, as the Phillies and Cardinals battle for the series lead. Game 3's in the LDS can go either way, but from there, history says the series are very one-sided. How important is this game? Teams that win are 19-4 in the series since the wildcard era began in 1995.

Cole Hamels has the honor of being the swing man. If the Phillies are to be just one win away from their fourth straight NLCS berth, with one possible home game still in play, then he will have to do the job today.

He gets the tough task of facing the Cardinals' offense, who has been very even with the Phillies. The Phillies have outscored the Cardinals 15-11 in this series, but that's not enough to keep the series from being closer than ever.

So far, the real offense for the Cardinals' has come from the bottom of the order. While it was Albert Pujols delivering the game-winning RBI in Game 2, the Cardinals' RBI leaders through two games are surprising. Lance Berkman has three RBIs from his Game 1 solo shot, but he has just one hit otherwise. Pujols has managed just three hits in eight trips to the plate. The real hot hitters are at the bottom of the order. Ryan Theriot is hitting an even .500, and Jon Jay went 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs in Game 2. Rafael Furcal also has hit .333, and put up a multi-hit game in Game 2. Yadier Molina, David Freese and Allen Craig have remained fairly silent, but each is capable of getting a big hit at any moment. Game 1 belonged to Berkman. Game 2 belonged to Jay and Theriot. Game 3 could belong to anybody, and the Cardinals seem to always have a shining star on offense.

Pitching for the Cardinals is Jaime Garcia, who has become a Phillie killer in his own rights. The Phillies have beat him before, but he has their number, and could easily lead the Cardinals in this one. The offense will have to capitalize early and often in this one, or at the very least, make him work, hoping to get to the bullpen. Despite holding the Phillies to just one hit in their six innings of work in Game 2, the Cards' pen has been heavily worked in this series. That could start to catch up with them despite the day off yesterday.

Here's a closer look at the pitching matchup followed by a prediction.

Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79 ERA)
Hamels' last appearance came in the season finale a week ago in Atlanta. He pitched three innings, allowing two runs on a homer by Dan Uggla, and four hits. In his last start, Hamels allowed just one run on four hits to the Mets over seven innings. He took a no-decision, as the Phillies went on to lose, 2-1. Wins have been very hard to come by for Hamels, who has just two since Aug. 1. Both were in complete game efforts. In that time, however, Hamels has not allowed more than four runs in a start, which will be crucial. In nine career starts against the Cardinals, Hamels is 2-3 with a 3.27 ERA. In 12 Postseason starts, Hamels is 6-4 with a 3.33 ERA.

Jaime Garcia (13-7, 3.56 ERA)
Garcia allowed four runs on four hits to the Astros in his last start, lasting just four innings and taking a no-decision. Garcia has not lost a start since Aug. 24, when he allowed seven runs over five innings to the Dodgers. One of his starts since then was against the Phillies, where he allowed one run over seven innings in a no-decision. Despite showing signs that he can be hit around, Garcia has only lost two games since August, and both saw him give up more than four runs. Aside from his last start in Houston, he has allowed three runs or less in every start since August. Tony La Russa elected to go with Garcia in Game 3 because of his excellent home record. At home, he has a 2.55 ERA, and is 9-4 in 15 starts. In six career games – four starts – against the Phillies, Garcia is 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA. This will be Garcia's first appearance in a Postseason game.

Phillies 2, Cardinals 3

I hate to go in this direction, but I'm hoping a little reverse psychology plays its favor on the Phillies. Honestly, with the way they hit in Game 2, I just don't see the Phillies getting many chances off Garcia. Hamels will be good on his end, but this will end up very similar to Game 3 of the 2010 NLCS, when the Phillies were held to just three hits in a 3-0 shutout loss to the Giants and Matt Cain. Hamels wasn't terrible in that game either, but he had no room for error. That might as well be the case here.

The only way the Phillies have a chance is if they sense any nerves in Garcia. This is his first Postseason start, so knowing the pressure riding on him as compared to Hamels, a Postseason vet, could be a difference. Still, the Phillies have their work cut out for them in this one, and unless they change the whole pattern that has gone with this series and season – Garcia's dominance of the Phillies, the Cardinals' offense getting clutch hits, etc. – then the Cardinals will be the team with the chance to move on in Game 4 on Wednesday.

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