MLB Playoff Recap: Cards, Giants Advance

For the third time in five years, the National League Championship Series will feature the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals. Both teams moved on after one-run, Game Four victories. The National League's best two regular seasons teams - the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers - are heading home after disappointing post-season runs.

NLDS: Seventh Heaven For Cards, Again

Score: Dodgers 3 – Cardinals 2

Series: Cardinals win 3-1

Game Hero: Matt Adams; game-winning, three-run homer in the seventh

Game Summary: For the second time in four games, the Los Angeles Dodgers had the surest of sure things – Clayton Kershaw on the mound in the seventh inning with the lead. And for the second time in four games, the Dodgers found themselves shockingly on the losing end. In Game One of the series, the Dodgers held a 6-2 lead in the seventh, only to lose the game, 10-9. In Game Four, the Dodgers’ lead was 2-0, and it took just one swing off the bat from Matt Adams to turn the game around completely.

For the first six innings, it was vintage Kershaw on the mound for LA. After coughing up eight earned runs in 6.2 innings in Game One, Kershaw was dominant for the first six innings of Game Four. Going into the seventh, Kershaw had allowed just one hit and two walks. Things unraveled quickly in the seventh, however. Kershaw allowed a lead-off single off the bat of Matt Holliday that scooted past the mound and ticked off the glove of second baseman Dee Gordon. Jhonny Peralta followed with a line-drive to left field that curled an inch past the reach of shortstop Hanley Ramirez. With runners on first and second, Kershaw threw an 0-1 curveball to the lefty Adams, who crushed it over the wall in right. It was the first homerun off a curveball Kershaw has allowed to a left-handed batter in his career.

Adams’ three-run blast turned a 2-0 LA lead into a 3-2 deficit. The Dodgers had built that 2-0 lead in the top of the sixth. Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez led off the inning with singles, putting runners on first and third with no-outs against starter Shelby Miller. Miller got Matt Kemp to hit into a double-play, but the double-play scored the first run of the game. Ramirez was then grazed by a pitch and Andre Ethier walked, ending Miller’s night. Seth Maness took over for Miller and allowed a Juan Uribe line-drive base-hit to right-center. Ramirez trotted home easily, but Ethier was held up at third. The decision not to send Ethier turned out to be a big one, as he would be picked off third by catcher Yadier Molina during the next at-bat. Ethier strayed too far off the base on a ball in the dirt. Molina fired the ball to third. Ethier was originally ruled to be safe, but the call was overturned on replay, ending the Dodgers’ threat.

The Dodgers went quietly in the top of the eighth after St. Louis took the lead. Pat Neshek struck-out Kemp, induced a line-out from Ramirez and got Ethier on a groundout to second. LA would mount a rally in the top of the ninth against closer Trevor Rosenthal, but for a second-straight game, Rosenthal would wiggle out of the jam. With one-out, A.J. Ellis walked. He was pinch-run for by Yasiel Puig. The Dodgers’ superstar struggled during the series and was benched for Game 4. Puig didn’t attempt a steal and was still on first base with two-outs when Gordon slashed a single to left. The rally ended quickly, however, as Rosenthal got Crawford to ground into a force out to end the series.

What’s Next: The Cardinals will move on to face the Giants in the NLCS. The last four National League champions have been the Giants and the Cardinals and that streak is guaranteed to continue into a fifth season. The Dodgers will have plenty of questions to answer this off-season. One question was answered shortly after the game, as starter Josh Beckett announced his retirement.

NLDS: Giants Bounce Past Nationals En Route To NLCS

Score: Giants 3 – Nationals 2

Series: Giants win 3-1

Game Hero: Ryan Vogelsong, 5.2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER

Game Summary: In a series filled with close games, the Washington Nationals knew they had to play a clean game to send the series back to DC. Instead, they were foiled by defensive lapses, a bases-loaded walk and a wild pitch. Despite a dramatic homerun by Bryce Harper, the National League’s best regular season team is heading home and the NL Wild Card game winner is moving on to the NLCS. The San Francisco Giants are now one step closer to winning their third World Series title in five years.

After extending the series with a 4-1 win on Monday night, the Nationals turned to left-hander Gio Gonzalez in a match-up with Giants’ right-hander Ryan Vogelsong. Gonzalez had an up-and-down season for the Nats and he missed time with injury. He came into the game on a short leash. Gonzalez generally threw well, but a few mental lapses in the second inning led to a 2-0 San Francisco lead.

In the bottom of the second, Gonzalez allowed a one-out single to Brandon Crawford. Juan Perez then hit a ball back to Gonzalez that he couldn’t field cleanly and the Giants had first and second with one-out. Vogelsong then laid down a bunt that the Nats couldn’t make a play on and the Giants suddenly had the bases loaded despite only one hit leaving the infield. Gonzalez, possibly rattled by the error and the bunt, walked Gregor Blanco on four pitches to force in a run. Joe Panik hit a soft grounder to first that drove-in a run and the Giants suddenly had a daunting 2-0 lead.

That lead looked like it would be all Vogelsong would need until the fth. He cruised through the first four innings, not allowing a hit until Ian Desmond singled to start the fifth. Harper quickly doubled Desmond home and the Nationals had cut the lead to 2-1 with Harper on second and no outs. Wilson Ramos was unable to move Harper to third, however, and Harper would eventually be stranded.

The score remained 2-1 until seventh. The Giants had the bases loaded and one-out in the bottom of the fifth, but Pablo Sandoval popped out against Tanner Roark and Brandon Belt struck-out swinging on a Jerry Blevins’ breaking ball.

San Francisco turned to hard-throwing rookie Hunter Strickland in the top of the seventh. Strickland earned the save in Game Two, but he allowed solo homeruns to Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera in Game One. Strickland faced off against Harper again in the seventh and the result was the same as in Game One. The Nationals’ left fielder crushed a 97 MPH fastball into the water beyond right field and suddenly the game was tied.

Whatever momentum the Nationals had didn’t last long, however. Matt Thornton got the call in the bottom of the seventh. He retired Gregor Blanco on a bunt groundout to start the inning, but allowed back-to-back singles to Panik and Buster Posey. Aaron Barrett relieved Thornton and he walked Hunter Pence to load the bases. Barrett then uncorked a wild pitch that scored Blanco, giving the Giants the lead. Then the inning got weird. The Nationals elected to walk Sandoval after the wild pitch and Barrett missed the target again, throwing another wild pitch while walking Sandoval. Posey took off from third to try to score and quickly got caught in a rundown. The play was reviewed to see if Barrett had obstructed Posey’s path to home plate but the out was upheld. Belt lined out to end the inning with the Giants leading 3-2.

The San Francisco bullpen took it from there. Sergio Romo worked a quick 1-2-3 eighth inning and gave way to closer Santiago Casilla in the ninth. Casilla retired Adam LaRoche on a flyout to center and then got Desmond to strike-out on a controversial check-swing call. That brought Harper to the plate with the Nationals down to their last out. Harper fell behind 0-2, but he battled back and drew a walk, giving the Nationals a chance. Ramos ended the threat on a groundout to second, and the Giants were once again on their way to the NLCS.

What’s Next: The Giants and Cardinals will start their NLCS on Saturday. The Nationals return home with the disappointment of once again falling short of a World Series title. The run differential in the series was even: the Giants won all three of their games by one run; the Nationals one win was by three runs.

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