Remember when going to Pittsburgh was like Busch Stadium East? When the Cards would roll into town, sweep the Bucs, and then move on to stronger fare? When Albert Pujols would come in and they’d have to check the structural integrity of the place after the Cardinals left? Those were good times. Apparently, times completely unlike what we have these days.
The Cardinals have to miss the play-in game to have a chance for an extended playoff run, I’m afraid. Not because of the chance they’d play Pittsburgh and Francisco Liriano in that game. Even if that doesn’t happen (and Cincinnati losing last night to Colorado makes it increasingly likely in my mind that they’ll be unable to surpass both teams for the divisional crown), if Pittsburgh wins the division, they’ll have a little more flexibility in setting their postseason rotation. Which means that you know Pittsburgh would have Liriano lined up for Game 5 of the NLDS, making that road much tougher.
All that left-hander has done in three starts against the Cardinals spanning basically a month is allow 10 hits, two runs, struck out 20 and walked five. For a reference point, Shelby Miller allowed eight hits and five runs in less than five innings last night.
Miller is our Goat, of course, because as soon as he allowed the two runs in the first, it was likely the game was over. I thought that, being that Liriano wasn’t being pinpoint in the first couple of innings, perhaps he would wear down or the Cards would starting getting to him. Besides the fact that it never came to fruition, once Miller gave up two solo homers, it was time to start wondering if we’d see newest Cardinal John Axford in this game. (I was puzzled when he didn’t show in the game until I heard he’d had flight troubles getting back to Pittsburgh. Again, though, character guy. Could have stayed in Pitt after the team left, but he wanted to go home, see the family, make the arrangements, that kind of thing.)
Of course, the way Liriano was pitching just one of those home runs by themselves would have been enough. The Cards have now gone 18 innings without putting a run on the board. They were facing some good pitching in Liriano and Homer Bailey, it’s true, but a stretch like that against the two teams closest to you in the division is tough to stomach.
You have to give the Hero tag to Matt Holliday, who had two of the four hits and one of the two walks. If everyone could have gotten on base half as much as Mr. Holliday, this would have been a totally different game. Instead, save for Shane Robinson‘s walk in the second, five through eight went 0-12 and Matt Carpenter went 0-4 leading off. Only kind of game you can win with that kind of night is a 1-0 or 2-1 game and even that’s unlikely.
Enough of that. As miserable as it was, it was just one game. With Cincy losing, the lead stays three over them, it’s just now a tie for first place, a tie that will be broken tonight and hopefully in a good way.
The hopes of staying in first place rest upon the shoulders of Lance Lynn. Lynn was pretty good the last time he was in PNC Park (six innings, three hits, one run) but not as good the last time he saw the Bucs (5.1 innings, eight hits, four runs).
He’s been able to contain Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen, which is a good thing. On the whole, Lynn’s been a little iffy on the road with an ERA close to five, but being that he’s had success against the Pirates this year, it means the Cards definitely have a chance.
The other reason they have a shot is that A.J. Burnett is going for the Pirates. Burnett did shut St. Louis down the last time they visited his fair city (seven innings, three hits, one run) but that was one of the rare good outings that Burnett has had against the Redbirds.
I’m a little surprised that the numbers here are as low as they are. It seems the Cardinals are often able to get to Burnett, though of course that might be tinged by memories of his second start against them in Pirate black. It’s either really good or really bad for Burnett. If he’s still in there in the sixth tonight, it might be one of the former.
We’ve got a contingent of Cardinal fans in Pittsburgh, including Christine Coleman and our own Dathan Brooks and Dustin McClure, so hopefully they have more fun on their trip tonight than they did yesterday!