Joe Kelly intrigues as NLCS Game 1 starter against Dodgers

Earlier this year — for the only time this year — I live-blogged a Dodger game. Some of you might remember, not that you should, but one of the things that stuck out for me was the appearance of Joe Kelly.

When he entered that May 25 game, Kelly had an ERA of 7.36 and hadn’t pitched in a week, but he was called into service when Cardinals starting pitcher John Gast had to leave with an injury after having faced only six batters.

Facing the Dodgers with none out and one runner on base in the bottom of the second inning, Kelly then proceeded to …

– strike out the next three Dodgers.
– allow a double to Nick Punto, hit Mark Ellis with a pitch and surrender an RBI single to Adrian Gonzalez.
– retire the next four Dodgers.
– allow hits to Dee Gordon (ending an 0-for-25 slump) and Punto in the fourth inning before escaping that jam.
– give up a leadoff homer to Gonzalez and a walk to Matt Kemp to start the bottom of the fifth.
– head for the showers.

Kelly pitched three innings, allowed seven baserunners and struck out six. His wild ride lasted 62 pitches, and while he looked like a lit match in a gastank half the time, he looked unhittable the other half. (From my liveblog: “Kelly has an ERA over 7 but he throws fire. Nothing below 95 mph.”)

Of course, 50-50 effectiveness won’t get it done, but Kelly would improve in 2013. After a stretch in which he appeared in 10 consecutive Cardinal losses, Kelly moved into the starting rotation for good in July — and thrived. His ERA from July 1 on was 2.18, including a 5 1/3-inning winning outing against the Dodgers on August 6 in which he allowed one run. Most recently, Kelly went another 5 1/3 innings in the National League Division Series against the Pirates, allowing two earned runs and picking up a no-decision.

The caveat for Kelly is that he succeeded in the second half of 2013 almost despite himself: 49 strikeouts against 117 baserunners in 86 1/3 innings. Only once did he pitch more than six innings, leaving matters for the St. Louis bullpen to wrap up.

Those six strikeouts in three innings of relief against the Dodgers? He still hasn’t had more strikeouts in a game in his career.

That’s the pitcher who will face Zack Greinke in Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday. Kelly might not be the better hurler on paper, but he could easily keep things interesting.

  • Bob_in_Vegas

    The Dodger batters have proven they can hit anyone . . . or not hit anyone.

    • NoahUCLA

      Agreed. Will it be the Hanley by himself show, or will there be more contributors, and how many more?

  • btimmer

    Kelly’s other start against the Dodgers snapped the road winning streak at 15.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Los Angeles Dodgers ‏@Dodgers10m
    Congratulations to our #PostseasonPride winner, @Erinoid3! You won 4 tickets to the NLCS at Dodger Stadium for this: https://vine.co/v/hHB3eTE1au9

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Los Angeles Dodgers ‏@Dodgers4m
    .@DevinSNorris your submission was a brilliant second. We’re going to send you a baseball signed by Juan Uribe: https://vine.co/v/hXl9idqAtzO

  • Dan C

    Joe Kelly has a 4.19 xFIP, the highest among Cardinals starting pitchers.

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

    Yeah, it’s true — one thing we’ve learned is not to make assumptions based on paper matchups. Didn’t the Giants have Zito beating Verlander last year? Just never know. We *should* get at least a split in St Louis but it IS in St Louis and they’re a good team so you just don’t know. And then the Cards *should* be favored in game 3 matchup even though it’s in LA, but…

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      On that note, I’ll have you know that in something being posted tomorrow, I picked the Dodgers to win five games in the NLCS.

      • SaMoDodger

        Dodgers had better win in no more than six. As things stand now, Game Seven would be a matchup between Adam Wainwright and Ryulascouano. But Clayton and Greinke pitching four of the first six games seems like pretty good prescription for victory.

        • Bob_in_Vegas

          As long as they get some run support! (I know that’s a given, but more often than not this year, losses came from lack of offense rather than bad starting pitching.)

      • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

        Heh. “win five games?” It’s best four of seven, right? So why are they playing that extra game? ;)

        • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

          Because they’re that good.

          • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

            Ah. Okay then.

      • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

        Now that’s optimism! ;)

        I’m too much of a wuss when it comes to superstition so I shall make no picks.

        Except to say I think the Cardinals have won too often in recent years so let someone else for a change!

        • Bob_in_Vegas

          Let’s hope people are saying the same about the Dodgers in a few years!

    • Casey Barker

      I have been looking at Massey ratings recently. He likes the Dodgers and A’s. Braves and Cards are down on the list.

  • ASW1

    In this breakdown by position –

    Crawford > Holliday

    Beltran > Puig

    Cards ‘pen > Dodgers ‘pen

    http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article/mlb/position-breakdown-cardinals-dodgers-evenly-matched-in-nlcs?ymd=20131010&content_id=62774254&vkey=news_mlb

    • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

      Seems fair, though Puig is such an X factor he could be anything. Beltran is great in the post season though so hard to top him. Our pen is a worry after the first 2-3 guys. Our lineup top to bottom beats theirs (on paper at least). We shall see!

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT