I thought about titling this post with one of the predictable options, such as “How Sweep It Is” or “Bucs Walk The Plank”, but this one seemed appropriate. Because if this weekend proved one thing, it’s there’s no place like home.
Which is a bit of a turnaround for this team. Remember when they were the best road team in baseball? They were the last to lose 10 games away from their abode. After a 20-9 start, though, they are now 19-26 when they aren’t in Busch. Now, the road seems to be a bit of a dangerous place, which makes their return to under the Arch such a wonderful thing.
Saturday (5-0 win)
Whatever Adam Wainwright found while examining video, it obviously was significant.
Wainwright’s curveball seemed much sharper, which meant that the ace of the staff returned to his rightful place, shutting down the Pirates for seven innings and making a night where the home team only got six hits feel like a blowout. Honestly, when you think back at that game, doesn’t it feel like it was a game that was always well in hand? And yet until the insurance run in the eighth, it was still within one swing of the Pirates tying it up.
That really wasn’t going to happen with vintage Wainwright on the mound, though. He allowed two hits and struck out eight including the side in his last inning. That sound you heard? That was a lot of postseason-bound National League teams getting worried.
Even as dominant as he was, though, he couldn’t win the game on his own. Yadier Molina had two of the six hits and David Freese had two RBI, including a solo home run that landed just about where this one did. Freese is starting to heat up as the season winds down, which has been a theme of his. If he gets going, this lineup gets much better very quickly.
The bullpen did their job as well. Trevor Rosenthal threw a scoreless frame and Seth Maness and Randy Choate combined to finish Pittsburgh off and put the Cards into first place.
A lot of hitters did just enough to miss out on being the Goat, so I’m picking Shane Robinson. Robinson, who has been hitting well of late, went 0-4 in the second slot and left three men on. Nothing atrocious, but just enough for the tag.
Sunday (9-2 win)
0.45. That was the ERA from the starting pitchers this weekend. If it wasn’t for that bum Joe Kelly giving up a run in the fifth inning on Friday, we’d be talking about 20 scoreless innings from the starters.
For the second straight game, the starting pitcher turned in a Hero performance with seven scoreless innings and just two hits. This time, it was rookie sensation Michael Wacha matching what Wainwright did the night before. You really have to appreciate what Wacha has done here. Just a little over a year in professional ball, he’s stepped into the big league rotation and faced the two teams that the Cardinals are battling in a heated pennant race. What’s he done? Just gone 17 innings and not allowed a run. The fact that he only has one win in that span is more a factor of what the team’s done behind him than anything he’s done.
Wacha’s not perfect–he needs to up his strikeout numbers, which we saw him do two starts ago when he struck out seven against Cincinnati–but he’s awfully darn good and already gotten himself into the discussion of postseason starting rotation. He’s got (assuming no changes to the rotation) a home start against Seattle, a road start in Colorado, and a home start against the Nationals left in the regular season. If he can do well in those (especially the last two), you’d have to figure he’s going to be in the mix for a postseason slot, especially if Lance Lynn doesn’t come around.
Not only did Wacha have a great day on the mound, his bases-loaded single in the fifth plated two runs. Seeing him in the postgame interview, it looked like that base hit was the highlight of his day.
He got plenty of help on Sunday afternoon. The Cards jumped out early, continued to extend against Charlie Morton, then had the big fifth inning that eliminated all doubt. Matt Carpenter had another double as part of another multi-hit game. Jon Jay continued his hot streak with two hits. Folks, even Pete Kozma was an offensive force in this one. My jaw dropped when I watched him lace a double early in the game and he got another hit later on. He had four hits in this series, which is as many as he had from July 29 until this series began. Could he have been saving a few hits for the pennant race? Probably a little early to think that. Most likely it was just a nice weekend for him and one that was very much needed.
Molina also broke out of his slump a little bit this weekend, though he went 0-4 in this one. Even with his outburst on Friday and Saturday, Yadi’s just hitting .167 over his last 10 games. You wonder, given the caliber of competition coming up, if we won’t see more days off for Molina. After all, the Redbirds are carrying four catchers, so it would seem reasonable to use that depth when you can.
The Goat for this one, though, goes to Sam Freeman. One inning away from putting up back-to-back shutouts against a formerly first-place team, Freeman walked a batter, gave up a double that broke up the shutout, then hurried after a grounder too quickly and made an error, putting runners on the corners. Fernando Salas came in and cleaned it up as much as possible, though part of that was giving up a sacrifice fly.
While we’re talking about the bullpen, though, there was some encouragement about John Axford yesterday. Axford gave up what was called a single and an error on Adron Chambers, though the radio guys seemed to think it’d have been a double anyway. However, Axford then proceeded to strike out the side and strand the runner. He had to battle Andrew Lambo, going 11 pitches as Lambo continued fouling them off, but he got the job done. If Axford can bring that on a regular basis, that bullpen just gets that much nastier with yet another power arm you can rely on.
St. Louis gets an off day today before facing Milwaukee at home Tuesday night. You’d expect this evening they’ll be watching as the Cubs go to Cincinnati, who performed an amazing sweep of the Dodgers this weekend. We expected that the Cards would be able to get some of those games they lost to the Reds back since Cincy would be facing Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, but they were able to hold their own against those two and win in walk-off fashion. The Reds now are just a percentage point behind the Pirates and 1.5 still behind St. Louis.
Anyway, Cubs throw Travis Wood, which probably is their best chance to win, and he’ll be facing off against Bronson Arroyo. You have to figure the Reds are favored, but baseball is a funny game. Also, Pittsburgh heads down to Texas with Gerrit Cole going against Yu Darvish. Odds would probably be with Texas here, but it’s also hard to imagine the Pirates losing five in a row.
The Cardinals are not only in a pennant race, but they are also in the race for the best record in baseball. Right now, the Braves have the top spot at 85-57, the Dodgers are two games back at 83-59 and the Cards are just another 1/2 game back at 83-60. The Braves struggled this weekend, but figure to get better as they travel to Miami tonight, sending Kris Medlen up against Henderson Alvarez. The Dodgers are also playing, back home against Arizona. Randall Delgado goes for the Diamondbacks, Ricky Nolasco for Los Angeles.
So, best case scenario, Tuesday morning could see the Cards with a two game lead in the division and a two game deficit in the best record race, tied for second there. Probably not likely all those teams would lose, but it’s September, and that means scoreboard watching!
When they take the field again, Shelby Miller will be on the hill. Miller has struggled since allowing one run in seven innings against the Braves. Last time out wasn’t bad–three runs allowed–but he only made it 5.2 innings. If Miller wants to be in the postseason rotation, he needs to step it up in the last few starts. Luckily for him, two of them should be against the Brewers, who he has had success with this season. He only went 5.1 innings in his last start against them, but he struck out eight and allowed just two runs.
Not a lot of exposure, but what there has been hasn’t been good for the Brewers. Hopefully that continues.
Wily Peralta will be going for the Brew Crew in this one. Peralta has struggled much of the year, though he is coming off a quality start against the Pirates. He actually hasn’t faced the Cardinals since May when he did so twice. Both times he allowed six earned runs (the second start he also had an unearned run) and the longest he was out there was five innings. On paper, this is going to be a mismatch, but we’ve seen paper mismatches turn on the Redbirds in the past.
Small samples can be fun, huh? When you see a team hitting almost .500 against you, you can’t be looking forward to that next outing. Then again, it couldn’t get worse, could it?
After today, just one more off day during the season, right before the last series with the Cubs. Catch your breath, because after this break, it’s a wild ride to the finish!