There’s plenty to have our eyes on tomorrow.
Chris Carpenter is starting for St. Louis despite making just three regular season appearances this season. The Nationals are trying to improve on their .188 average with runners in scoring position in this series. Washington appears practically unable to touch Cardinals flame-throwing rookie reliever Trevor Rosenthal (whose stuff Bryce Harper referred to today as “fuego”).
It all could factor in tomorrow afternoon.
But in my mind, no storyline will be more significant in Game 3 of the best-of-five National League Division Series than which Edwin Jackson will show up for the Nationals.
There have been times this season when Jackson has been unhittable. When he locates his 96 mph fastball, has his slider working and gets good movement on his change, it’s hard to understand how hitters can put the bat on the ball. But when Jackson is off his game, you usually know it early and big offensive numbers are the result.
Take his last three regular season starts.
* On Sept. 21 against a red-hot Brewers team: 8 innings: 1 run, 6 strikeouts, 0 walks.
* His next time out, against the Cardinals: 1 1/3 innings, 9 runs, 0 strikeouts, 4 walks.
* In the Nats’ regular season finale: 6 2/3 innings, 1 run, 6 strikeouts, 1 walk.
There haven’t been a ton of middle-of-the-road starts from Jackson. He’s usually either pretty darn good or his stuff is very hittable. But he’s not focused on any of the rough starts the last few weeks as he goes into his first 2012 postseason outing.
“At this point, what you’ve done in the regular season, it’s nonexistent,” Jackson said. “You can go out and have a great regular season and have a bad postseason and that’s what everyone remembers. At this point, it’s: What can you do now?”
Jackson’s two starts against the Cardinals this season are perfect examples of his inconsistency. While the Cards roughed him up in St. Louis on Sept. 28, he shut them down a month prior, striking out 10 in eight innings of one-run ball. Luckily, the difference in the two outings isn’t tough to figure out, so Jackson knows exactly how he needs to pitch tomorrow.
“You look at the first outing, I was aggressive, I was throwing strikes, I was in the strike zone, I was ahead (in the count),” Jackson said. “The second start, I wasn’t. It’s pretty simple. If you get behind in the count to these guys and let them get comfortable and know you’re going to come across the plate, they do what they get paid to do real well.
“Like I said, establish the strike zone early and that you are going to throw strikes in and out.”
Jackson has seven games of postseason experience under his belt, something he says will benefit him on the big stage. He hasn’t had a ton of success in postseason play, however; he’s 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA over two separate playoff runs.
Another couple of stats which don’t bode well for the Nats are that they’ve gone just 12-19 in Jackson’s starts this season and are 2-9 in games he’s started following a Nats loss. One positive is that he’s a much better pitcher at home, however, posting a 3.35 ERA at Nationals Park and a 4.78 ERA on the road.
Jackson will go into this start knowing the stakes and the pressure that will be on his shoulders. The Nationals gave him a one-year, $11 million deal this offseason thinking that he’d be able to eat innings and deliver in big games in October. Now’s his chance to do that.
“It’s high expectations on me,” Jackson said. “I have high expectations on myself, as well. This is one of those games where you go out and you try to lead by example. You know, we are 1-1. This is a big game for both teams. Both teams are trying to come out and win this game and go ahead in the series.
“Everyone knows my capabilities. It’s just a matter of being consistent with it.”