Amazing what four straight wins, coupled with some Pittsburgh losses, will do for your outlook, isn’t it? On Saturday, we were pretty doom and gloom, what with the Cards losing so many games and the division tightening up. Now, we look at that magic number down to 12, with a postseason berth clinched possibly as soon as today, and we have to have a little spring in our step, right?
After such a tight game on Tuesday night, it was good to see the offense really give the starters some cushion in the last two games. That extended to last night, when the Cards were up 2-0 after one and 5-0 after three after literally knocking Jimmy Nelson from the game. Tommy Pham‘s liner off of Nelson’s noggin was a scary sight–it probably tells you how hard Pham hit it that he wound up on second on the play–but Nelson seems to be fine after spending the night in the hospital as a precaution. Still, a scary thing and something that perhaps affected Pham a little bit, as he struck out the next two at-bats before singling to start the ninth. Whether he’ll be able to shake it off may be something to watch this week, as he may have–and, once you hear the Best Dans in Baseball that we recorded last night, you’ll hear both sides of the argument–worked his way onto the postseason roster. (Hopeful that’ll be out later today, might be tomorrow.)
While I’d be tempted to give the Hero to Pham, who had another three hits including a run-scoring triple in the first, or perhaps Matt Carpenter, who also had another three-hit night and mixed in another home run to boot, I think I want to go with John Lackey as the Hero of last night’s piece. We’ve talked so much about Lackey and how he’s done on the road and I’ve argued that those that think he struggles away from Busch are 1) remembering the early part of the season more than lately, 2) are comparing him to his almost other-worldly success at home, and 3) are letting that blowup in Colorado skew his stats. Counting last night, in his last three road starts he’s gone 21 innings (seven in each) and allowed three total runs. There are other games like that as well–one run in almost seven in Pittsburgh, seven scoreless in Wrigley–enough that the idea of having him pitch on the road in the playoffs shouldn’t really worry anyone. I mean, right now his road ERA is 3.69 and that INCLUDES that disaster in Colorado. Lackey’s been a workhorse and it’s been great to see. (Also nice to see, at least for him, was the fact that he’s earned a lot of the bonuses the Cardinals gave him to compensate for that base $500K salary. I think I saw he’s now earned $2 million in bonuses–still way under what he’s been worth, but at least he’s gotten a little more for his troubles.)
Things settled down a little after David Goforth got into his groove after replacing Nelson, but up 6-0 the game was well in hand. Some might think I’d give Mitch Harris the Goat for the game, given the fact that he allowed the three-run homer in the ninth with two outs. I can’t go that way, though, because if you watched the game, you know that the first batter he faced (Hernan Perez) hit a chopper that Kolten Wong would have easily gathered in and thrown to first to end the game had the ball not hit the infield dirt and spun off to the left while Wong was moving to the right. You know that famous play that Ozzie Smith had while he was still in San Diego, where he dove and the ball wound up bouncing behind him? It was kind of like that, except Wong had no way to recover and get the out.
Harris allowed another hit, then went 1-2 on Jean Segura and threw a pitch that I would have sworn was a strike. I’m not the best judge of the strike zone from my living room chair, but I was pretty stunned when Segura wasn’t rung up. That’s not to absolve Harris from all fault, of course, as he still gave up a pitch that Segura took out, but it was also the eighth pitch of the at-bat. You’ve got to give the hitter a little credit there for staying alive. And, like I say, without that bad hop, none of that happens anyway.
So if not Harris, who does get the Goat? I guess I’ll go with Tony Cruz, who was starting to make sure Yadier Molina got a day off. Cruz went 0-4 and left four men on base. Nights like that are when you really wish Cody Stanley was still available. I know the club still has Ed Easley, but I don’t think anyone thinks the results would have been different with him out there last night.
Matt Adams played in this one and went 0-3, though he did put the ball in play all three times. We also saw Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk pinch-hit, with Grichuk coming up with a base hit. Folks are getting healthy, but this is still going to be a slow process and there’s really not a lot of time left to figure this out. 16 games remain in the 2015 season and you’d have to think you’d need all of these guys playing pretty much every day by the Brewers series next weekend to have any real chance of making the postseason roster.
I take that back. I think Holliday and Grichuk might not need to much, assuming Holliday is able to run by the end of the season. Adams, though, needs to show something, that he’s got his timing and everything back, because there are a lot of other options there. If Holliday and Grichuk are going to play in the postseason, you’d think Stephen Piscotty is going to get a lot of time at first. There’s a battle between Adams, Brandon Moss and Mark Reynolds and an easy solution would be to say Adams still isn’t quite ready. Adams needs to make sure that easy solution isn’t available for the club.
Cubs won three of four against the Pirates, which was good for the magic number and the divisional lead. Unfortunately for the Pirates, they also lost Jung Ho Kang for the rest of the season, which is a huge blow to them. While the Cardinals have dealt with injuries all year long, the one good thing about them is that they happened early enough that it looks like most everyone will be available when it counts the most. The Pirates just took a shot that would be hard to recover from even if you had months left, much less two weeks. Add to that they go on a West Coast trip to Los Angeles (where they’ll face Zack Greinke tonight and Clayton Kershaw tomorrow) and Colorado before returning to face the Cubs and this is a huge test for them. It’d be easy to crumble and just limp into the postseason, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see them pick themselves up and have a good finish, locking down the home field for the Wild Card Game.
St. Louis gets to face off against the only other team still alive in the NL Central. You know Chicago’s going to be feeling frisky after having beaten the Cardinals in Busch last week and winning that series against Pittsburgh. That said, the Cardinals will miss Jake Arrieta, get to match up Carlos Martinez with Jon Lester on Sunday, and are feeling pretty good themselves after that series sweep. All the games are in the daytime, so we should have an interesting series.
It kicks off this afternoon with Lance Lynn trying for a little payback after the Cubs hung six runs on him in 2.1 innings in that series last week. He was a little better against Cincinnati, but Lynn has gone past six innings just twice since the beginning of August. The only good start he’s had against the Cubs this season was in Wrigley, though it was his first start of the season. We’ve seen most of the other starters get back on track after their terrible outings of late. Let’s hope Lynn can do the same.
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In theory, the Cardinals should be able to get some runs today with Dan Haren going for the baby bears. After all, Haren has struggled significantly all season long but especially of late. The problem is, he was going terribly until he saw the Cards last time, then he went seven scoreless. His last start he allowed four runs in three innings against the Phillies, which is more in line with what the results have been for Haren since coming to the North Side. St. Louis needs to be more productive this team and jump on him early. The Cubs are going to have a bullpen game going Saturday, so a strong start could affect that game as well.
The last time I can remember watching the Cardinals and Cubs in a pennant race game in September was 1989. That worked out much better for the wrong team, so it’s time for St. Louis to correct that!