Twin Padre Killings on Record Pace

The Cardinals' middle infield defense has helped to carry the team all season by collecting double plays and continue at an unprecedented rate in the first two games of the 2005 NLDS.

Regular readers know that I have been preaching the fact that the middle infield defense has been the most overlooked key to the St. Louis Cardinals' 2005 success.

During the 2005 regular season, the Cardinals led all of Major League Baseball with 196 double plays. That amount shattered the club record of 192 set over 30 years ago, way back in 1974.

The addition of two veterans this season, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek and shortstop David Eckstein, along with the constantly improving stretch and scoop of Albert Pujols at first base came together quickly and effectively this spring to set the cornerstone of this defense.

Another important factor in the team's double play success is the ground-ball inducing pitching rotation, including National League Division Series Game 2 starter and winner Mark Mulder as well as the coaching staff, led by bench coach Joe Pettini, who help the players to be in the right place at the right time to execute.

This defense is not going to be overlooked for long, however, as they have shone on the national stage this week. In both the first and second games of the NLDS, the Cardinals were actually outhit by the San Diego Padres, yet they prevailed on the scoreboard by three and four runs respectively.

One big reason why – the Cardinals turned three double plays in Game 1 and four more in Game 2, each of them killing budding San Diego rallies before they could fully develop.

Those four double plays Thursday tied the NLDS single-game record, set by the Atlanta Braves on October 3, 1995 and the Houston Astros on October 10, 2001. The Division Series record in one contest is five, registered by the Minnesota Twins last postseason, on October 5, 2004.

The Cardinals' total of seven twin killings in just two games is already severely threatening the NLDS record for most double plays in a series, set by the Braves in 2003 with eight. The Division Series record is nine, written into the books by the 2004 Twins.

At this pace is there any doubt that the NLDS series record will be broken this coming weekend in San Diego? After all, the Cards have already claimed a piece of the single-game mark.

Here is a log of the Cardinals' NLDS double plays so far:

Game 1, second inning: Mark Sweeney singled. To avoid a collision at first, Albert Pujols slid and replays showed he beat the runner to the bag. Tony La Russa came out to back Albert up in the argument. Eckstein took an error on a ball by Ramon Hernandez, but a 6-4-3 double play ended the threat.

Game 1, third inning: Dave Roberts collected a one-out single to right. Ryan Klesko singled where Pujols would be standing if he hadn't been holding the speedy Roberts at first. However, Abraham Nunez started a great double play as he was guarding the line and grabbed a hot one-hopper, stepped on the third base bag and fired to Pujols to end the inning.

Game 1, fourth inning: Sweeney walked with one out, but a Hernandez 6-3 ended it.

Game 2, fourth inning: Khalil Greene opened with a single to left and was quickly erased in a 6-4-3 started off the bat of Joe Randa. A Xavier Nady chopper ended the inning quickly, proving Mulder was not affected by the long wait in the bottom of the third.

Game 2, fifth inning: Pinch-hitting for Pedro Astacio, Damian Jackson singled to left with one out. Another double play with the also speedy Eric Young was not even close!

Game 2, sixth inning: Ramon Hernandez singled to left with one out. A 3-6-3 off the bat of Brian Giles ended the inning.

Game 2, seventh inning: Greene doubled to right center leading off. A single by Randa put runners on the corners. Another single by Nady collected the run. Pinch-hitter Miguel Olivo ground into a 4-6-3 as Randa took third.

To be continued Saturday…

Brian Walton can be reached via email at =================================================
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