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Cards' offensive funk couldn't come at a worse time

Cards' offensive funk couldn't come at a worse time

Cards' offensive funk couldn't come at a worse time
SAN FRANCISCO -- It couldn't have been a more inopportune time for the Cardinals' offense to go dark in the National League Championship Series. Call it the combined pitching of Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong, but the stark fact is that the Cards have scored a single run since the seventh inning of Game 4 in St. Louis on Thursday night.

The results have been back-to-back losses to the Giants. Three days ago, the Redbirds were on the brink of ascending to the World Series for the second straight season. Now, the best-of-seven series is tied at 3 with a winner-take-all Game 7 at AT&T Park on Monday night at 7 p.m. CT on FOX.

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"Hopefully tomorrow, we break out of it," said Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina after Vogelsong and company shut down his club on five hits in a 6-1, Game 6 loss on Sunday evening. "This is baseball. We face good pitching. We face a good team. Sometimes the game is like that."

It's either feast or famine for the Cards, who have scored 52 runs this postseason in their seven victories, and only five in their five losses, continuing a season-long pattern. In this series, they've plated 17 runs during the three games in which they've beaten the Giants, and only two in their three losses.

A pair of those NLCS losses came in Games 2 and 6 against Vogelsong, who allowed two runs on eight hits in 14 innings for a 1.29 ERA.

Considering that the Cardinals have played without an injured Lance Berkman, that Carlos Beltran has been dealing with a left knee strain, which cost him almost two complete NLCS games, and that Matt Holliday was a late scratch from Sunday night's lineup because of pain in his lower back, it's a wonder it took this long to catch up with them.

"We had a 3-1 lead in this series without most of the people you mentioned," Berkman said. "I'll probably get roasted for saying this, but even when you take Matt out, we still have a better lineup [than the Giants]. They've had good pitching. And good pitching beats good hitting. But up and down the lineup, we're still more dangerous. I would still take our lineup. No disrespect. I just like our lineup."

To his point, St. Louis has a predominantly right-handed lineup that was one of the best offensively in Major League Baseball during the regular season.

"That's got to be his mentality, that's his team," San Francisco center fielder Angel Pagan said when asked about Berkman's comments. "He's never going to say we're better than them. He'll get in trouble."

The Cards' right-handed hitters pounded all types of pitching, finishing third in the Majors in batting average (.274) and OPS (.778). Against right-handed pitching, St. Louis was fourth in the Majors, batting .270, and eighth with a .747 OPS. In total, the Redbirds scored the fifth-most runs in baseball, with 765.

The Giants were 12th with 718 runs scored, fifth with a .269 batting average and 14th with a .724 OPS.

"We're pretty right-handed, most of our good hitters are right-handed," said Berkman, who like Beltran is a switch-hitter. "Vogelsong is extremely tough against right-handed hitters, because he can run that fastball in on their hands. He has a great breaking ball to back it up with."

Against left-handed pitching, the Cardinals were third in the league in batting average (.276) and OPS (.787), which makes Zito's 7 2/3 innings of shutout, seven-hit ball on Friday night at Busch Stadium even more of an anomaly.

It's not as if manager Mike Matheny has many options. Normally, he has three left-handed hitters on the bench: Matt Carpenter, Skip Schumaker and Adron Chambers. And Carpenter had to replace Holliday on Sunday. Carpenter sat against Zito when Beltran was deemed healthy enough to play.

So the Cards basically live and die on their right-handed hitting. And even that it is a formidable challenge for San Francisco.

"They've got a lot of guys to go to, and a deep bench," Giants left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "Matheny has a lot of options, and you have to respect every single guy in that lineup. With Holliday and Berkman, are they a better team? Maybe. But they're a pretty good team right now in the NLCS without those guys.

"That lineup commands respect over there. They're smart hitters. I think that's just a credit to how Zito and Vogey have thrown over the last two games."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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