Wainwright struggles again in NLCS opener
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals and their fans have to be wondering what’s wrong with the staff ace.
Adam Wainwright, who won 20 games this season and was especially sharp during the stretch, struggled again Saturday in the Cardinals’ 3-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants in the NL Championship Series opener.
In two starts this postseason, Wainwright hasn’t lasted even five innings either time.
Wainwright conceded after a rough outing at Dodger Stadium in the Division Series opener that he’d aggravated an injury to the back of his right elbow that has bothered him off and on.
Following this loss, he said the elbow “is not 100 percent.”
“It was 100 percent better than it was last time I pitched. So the next time I pitch, I expect it to be better,” he said.
The bigger problem, Wainwright said, was mechanical.
“Foot’s landing too early and my arm swing is too short in the back, so I’ll correct those things and be ready next time.”
Wainwright allowed three runs, two of them earned, and six hits in just 4 2-3 innings. Against Los Angeles last week, he gave up six runs in 4 1-3 innings.
Overall, that adds up to an 8.00 ERA in a pair of playoff starts. And he’s 0-4 with a 5.14 ERA in his last five postseason games dating to last season.
Hardly resembles the pitcher who went 20-9 during the regular season, including 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA and two complete games in September while leading St. Louis to the NL Central title.
Wainwright has thrown a majors-high 512 2-3 innings in the last two years. Facing the Giants, he lacked his usual command of the strike zone and walked three.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Wainwright was “fighting without his best stuff,” but deserved a better fate.
“We make a few plays and we could still be out there playing right now,” Matheny said.
Wainwright didn’t get much help. Third baseman Matt Carpenter’s second-inning error led to one run and second baseman Kolten Wong botched a sure double-play ball, costing the Cardinals another.
Meanwhile, St. Louis hitters put up little resistance against Madison Bumgarner, who pitched 7 2-3 scoreless innings, allowing four hits. He extended his postseason road scoreless streak to 26 2-3 innings, topping the previous record of 23 set by the New York Giants’ Art Nehf from 1921-24.
“He was on top of his game,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Really was hitting spots, using all his pitches.”
Santiago Casilla pitched a scoreless ninth for the save.
Trouble started for the Cardinals in the second. Right fielder Randal Grichuk just missed a great catch of Pablo Sandoval’s double, dropping the ball after crashing into the wall. Matheny briefly weighed an appeal, but passed.
A walk to Hunter Pence and a soft liner by Brandon Belt for a single loaded the bases. Travis Ishikawa’s one-out bloop single scored a run, and Carpenter let Gregor Blanco’s grounder squeeze through his legs for another.
Hunter Pence’s two-on, no-out grounder in the third should have been a double play but Wong couldn’t field it cleanly, allowing Buster Posey to move to third, and he scored on Belt’s sacrifice fly.
Sandoval continued to produce in the postseason. He was hitting .368 with six homers and 14 RBIs in his previous 18 postseason games, and had three hits with a walk and scored a run in this opener.
Security was heavy inside and outside of Busch Stadium. Thousands of protesters are in St. Louis this weekend for a series of rallies and marches stemming from the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown, killed in nearby Ferguson by a police officer. A grand jury is still deciding whether the officer will face charges.
Before the game, about 50 protesters stood near the stadium chanting slogans like “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Black lives matter.”
The Cardinals have been to the NLCS 13 times, more than any other team. History shows they don’t want to start 0-2. St. Louis has never rebounded from an 0-2 NLCS start. The Cardinals dropped both of the first two games at home in 2000 to the New York Mets and eventually lost the series in five games. Two years later, they went 0-2 at home against the Giants and again lost the series in five games.
So much for home-field advantage. Home teams are 8-11 this postseason. Baltimore was the only team with home-field advantage to advance in the division series. So far in the ALCS and NLCS, home teams are 0-3.