Right now, every game is a must win if the Cardinals want to go to the playoffs. Can we agree on that? Any loss puts them in a bad position. This is a tightrope over Niagara Falls and any loss could send them plunging into the water.
So losing–again–to the Cincinnati Reds is a real, real good way to get wet.
You have to legitimately ask that if any team that gets three runners to third with less than two outs against a team that gives out home runs like they were candy on Halloween but gets only one of them home (and that one on a double play ball) really deserves to be one of the last National League teams standing. Seriously, you have Kolten Wong on third with NOBODY out in the ninth, just begging to tie up the game, then ground out, not-deep-enough fly out, ground out. I think fans have to be forgiven if they threw up their hands then and said they were done.
Yet you wake up this morning and, still, the Cardinals are just a game out of the wild card as San Francisco lost to the Rockies. It’s still feasible, even if another day marked off the calendar makes it a bit harder. The Mets, at least, are playing like they would like to see October. The Giants and Cardinals are just trying to see which drunk can stand the longest. It’s not pretty.
The situation that got the most attention probably had to be the bottom of the sixth. With two outs, Stephen Piscotty singled and Jhonny Peralta doubled, putting runners on second and third. That brought up Brandon Moss and people everywhere were screaming for a pinch-hitter. I feel like if Mike Matheny had managed with urgency, he’d have made a move there. It’s 2-1 at the time. Moss is 0-2 in this game and has one hit in the last week, a flare that fell in. Now, granted, that’s all the Cardinals need here, but that’s not exactly what you go up planning for. He’s not even walking right now for you to think that maybe he could just get on and Aledmys Diaz can do something. If the game was 4-1 and you really needed a home run, sure, you leave Moss in on the off chance he runs into one, a chance that is getting longer and longer each passing day. But you don’t. You need a base hit.
You aren’t limited to outfielders with this expanded roster, but you could use Tommy Pham there. Pham has all of three at bats over the past week and has just as many hits as Moss over the time span. He’s hitting just .176 in September, but that’s over 100 points better than Moss.
You could use Jose Martinez. Sure, it’d be strange to use the guy that’s just up basically because he was on the 40-man roster, but Martinez has six hits in his time in the bigs and has been very effective in pinch-hit situations as of late. It might be a bit of a blow to Moss’s ego, but I think Moss would understand it and even if he doesn’t, it’s about winning ballgames, not making friends and influencing people.
You could even go with Kolten Wong. Sure, after the game in Wrigley you don’t want him playing outfield if you can help it, but you could bring in Pham or Jeremy Hazelbaker in the top of the next frame. Get the runs, then figure out the playing field.
None of those things happened. Moss came up, struck out (which had to be the odds-on favorite for results), and THEN was removed for Hazelbaker in the top of the next frame. Obviously, in a 2-1 game you are going to want defense, but if you are going to take him out anyway, HIT FOR HIM. Moss is not the guy that we saw most of the year. It wasn’t a home run or bust situation. He needed to be hit for there and he wasn’t.
Not saying that any of the guys mentioned would have come through. We don’t know that, even with Wong’s pinch-hit triple in the ninth. The issue is that all of them give you a better chance to win. Tony La Russa made a career out of playing the percentages, even if the increase in the move was minuscule. Matheny doesn’t have that edge, it feels like. Whether that’s a drawback or not is up to your evaluation of the manager.
We’ll give the Goat to Brandon Moss, who wound up 0-3 with two strikeouts. Even if he probably shouldn’t have been in the last situation, he was and he didn’t come through. We’ll give the Hero tag to Seung-hwan Oh. Kevin Siegrist allowed a leadoff triple to Adam Duvall in the eighth inning (a ball that Randal Grichuk, who was almost the Goat, didn’t play all that well) but got the next guy to strike out. Oh then came in and struck out the next two batters, keeping the score 2-1 which felt huge. He also got two outs in the ninth before being hit with a ball and leaving the game, with Zach Duke getting the final out.
At best, the Cardinals are going to split a series against a 90-loss team in the last week of the season. At BEST. Why should this team get into the playoffs? I mean, I guess you could ask similar questions about the Giants as well. Maybe we should just skip the Wild Card game and let the Mets go straight on to playing the Cubs?
Given that the above isn’t going to happen, the Cards try again tonight to look like a playoff team. Alex Reyes goes for St. Louis, which feels like a good thing. Reyes has had some struggles, but he’s limited damage and the Cardinals have won his games. His first appearance was a scoreless inning against the Reds in August and he got a start against them in Cincinnati, going six innings and allowing just two runs while striking out seven.
Dan Straily is up for Cincinnati. He’s been one of the Reds’ better pitchers, not allowing more than three runs in any of his September starts. His last time out, he gave up just one tally in 6.2 innings against the Brewers. He’s allowed just four runs in 14.2 innings against the Cardinals this year, so St. Louis doesn’t quite have him figured out. At least not yet.
Mets are off tonight while the Rockies and Jon Gray tackle the Giants and Johnny Cueto. Cueto’s been dominant against the Rockies this year and been pretty solid overall, so the Cardinals have to win and hope. There are no more stumbles on this tightrope. The next misstep gets them dunked. We’ll see how good their skills are!