Columnists and reporters from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch will be sharing their views with Los Angeles Times readers during the National League Championship Series.
By getting all tangled up in (Dodger) blue in Game 3, the Cardinals fumbled away the opportunity to put the champagne on ice in advance of Game 4.
There will be no chance of a St. Louis celebration Tuesday, no chance of the Cardinals sweeping the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.
If anything, during a messy and hopelessly incompetent 3-0 loss to the Dodgers on Monday in Game 3, the Cardinals played as if they had overindulged in champagne.
This was one fuzzy-headed performance.
Cardinals hitters were owned by Dodgers lefthanded starter Hyun-Jin Ryu. Jon Jay and Carlos Beltran played the outfield as if blindfolded. Third baseman David Freese left the game because of a "tight calf" and his status for Game 4 is uncertain. Daniel Descalso, pinch-running for Freese, was doubled off second base to snuff the lone St. Louis threat.
Instead of having a locked-down 3-0 series lead, the Cardinals gave the Dodgers hope, confidence, a chance to get dangerous hitter Yasiel Puig cranked up and a clear shot at leveling the series at 2-2. This was a wobbly night for the Birds on the Bat.
The Cardinals still lead this best-of-seven competition, two games to one, so let's offer an encouraging assessment: If Lance Lynn can keep the ball inside Dodger Stadium, and if the Cardinals' hitters are able to remember that the object of the game is to score runs, then the visiting team can go up 3-1, with at least a theoretical chance of beating Zack Greinke in Game 5, and then get to that champagne and the World Series.
At this point, that qualifies as an overly optimistic slant, because the St. Louis offense has vanished. And this series is starting to look a little like the 2012 NLCS, when the Cardinals experienced systematic failure to lose three consecutive games and blow a 3-1 series lead to the San Francisco Giants.
Am I being premature in my anxiety?
This much is certain for now: The Dodgers were defanged, down and demoralized after the first two games. And the Cardinals helped them get to their feet by playing one of their worst games of the season.
And if the Cardinals allow the Dodgers to tie this series 2-2, all of the momentum shifts to Los Angeles, and all of the pressure creeps to the St. Louis side.
If this series goes the full seven, the Dodgers would start (in order) Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Ryu in the final three games. That is, unless Manager Don Mattingly opts to throw Greinke on short rest in Game 4.
If the current alignment stays in place, here's what Greinke, Kershaw and Ryu did to the Cardinals in the first go-round: 21 innings, two earned runs, and nine hits allowed in 68 at-bats, a batting average of .132.
Through three games of this NLCS, the Cardinals have scored four runs, three earned, and are batting .134. They have scored two runs in the last 28 innings.
The offense is missing, just as it went missing against San Francisco last year, and Manager Mike Matheny and batting coach John Mabry had better locate it, and soon.
Starting pitchers Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Greinke, Kershaw and Ryu have limited St. Louis hitters to a .137 batting average, and had a 1.85 ERA in the matchups.
Yes, these are excellent pitchers. Yes, this is a small sample size. However, the postseason is a small sample. And if you can't muster more offense than this, you'll be going home.