One Day Closer

It could have been a big day for the Cardinals.  Both the Reds and the Pirates were in danger of losing their games against the Mets and the Cubs, respectively.  It could have been a terrible day for the Cardinals, as they were playing a close game while Cincinnati and Pittsburgh could be pulling theirs out.

Instead, it was a status quo day and that is perfectly fine with St. Louis.  Because that means there’s one less day for those two teams to catch the Redbirds, one day closer to a divisional championship.  While it was a bit frustrating to see the Pirates break a 1-1 tie in the ninth and the Reds win 3-2 in 10 innings, at least the Cardinals held up to their end of the bargain and didn’t let those teams get any closer.

You’ve heard the old saying that you have to get to star pitchers early, because you won’t get another chance.  I’m reading a book right now on Smoky Joe Wood and that’s a recurring theme in his starts, he’d give up runs in the first or second, then cruise the rest of the way.  Bob Gibson had a 4.00 ERA in the first inning in his career, over half a run higher than any other inning.  It seems like this is applying to Adam Wainwright as well.

For the second start in a row, Wainwright came out of the bullpen rusty, allowing quick runs, but then settled in and held the other team at bay.  I only heard Mike Shannon‘s description of Jayson Werth‘s home run (and, by the by, so good to hear Shannon back on the radio!) and he seemed to think Werth went down and got a pitch.  Denard Span‘s leadoff single might have been grabbed by another third baseman, though most likely it was a hit no matter who was stationed over there.  So it wasn’t like Waino looked terrible out there.

He settled in and didn’t allow anything more until the eighth, when the first two reached against him.  Then the real show began.  With Edward Mujica bolted to the bench (most fans hoped, at least), who was going to end this thing?  It used to be cut-and-dried, but now, well, let’s just say there was some theorizing going on.

It turned out that when Mike Matheny said it was fluid and it would depend on matchups, he meant every word.  The final parade was Randy Choate, who had it a bit easy since Span bunted the runners over, then Carlos Martinez, who escaped a one-out, runners on second and third jam by getting two groundouts, one of which did score a run.

That left a ninth inning with the Cards clinging to a one run lead.  Before August, this was an automatic situation for Mujica.  Most would have expected Trevor Rosenthal to walk through the doors to start the ninth, but instead Kevin Siegrist came in to get Bryce Harper, then Rosenthal got the last two batters for his first save.

If Matheny can be open to doing things like this and be smart about it, I think it could work.  It’s going to be likely more effective than a hidebound approach of X goes here, Y goes here, plus it may take the burden off these young guys.  It has to be a little easier to come in and know you only need one out or two outs instead of a whole inning.

Since we don’t give Hero tags to entire bullpens, it makes it pretty easy to award last night’s Hero to Carlos Beltran.  His two-run homer in the fifth proved to be the difference on a night where the Cardinal bats were just good enough.  Actually, when you look at it you are surprised the Cardinals wound up with 11 hits and every starter had one.  They could get runners on, they just couldn’t quite get them in.

There was a lot of talk about the field being torn up from the football game this weekend and how the resodding of the field was going to affect things.  Apparently we never considered it to be a home field advantage–the reason Beltran’s homer was a two-run shot was that Jon Jay reached when Harper slipped out there.  Still, you have to hope that the field isn’t going to be a factor either this week or in the playoffs.  I understand why the Cards tried the football experiment, but if it impacts their major product, there are going to be a lot of irate fans and a lot of questions being asked.

I guess I’ll give the Goat to David Freese.  He did get a hit and scored a run, but he also hit into a double play and left three others on base.  It’s not the fairest of things, but that’s the way I’m going today.

Matt Holliday thought he could go last night, but again was a late scratch.  You have to hope that 1) he can get back out there quickly and 2) it won’t affect his scorching hot hitting of late.  With Allen Craig still limited (and, as I’ve said before, I’d be honestly surprised if we saw him in the postseason), they need all the impact bats they have in the lineup.

With all the NL Central teams winning, Washington was eliminated from playoff contention.  Too little too late on their push, which means my World Series championship prediction is totally off.  It also means that the field is set from the National League, though all the seeding isn’t.  For the first time in baseball history, a third-place team will play in October.  Doesn’t seem right, does it?

Let’s take our daily look at the relevant teams:

Atlanta —–
St. Louis 0.5
Los Angeles 2.0
Cincinnati 2.5
Pittsburgh 2.5

With Atlanta being shut down by the Brewers, it keeps the Cardinals in the hunt for the best record.  Atlanta owns the tiebreaker so the Cards would have to beat them by a game to get it, but it’s something that’s at least reasonable for the Redbirds to play for as well as the divisional crown.

Tonight, Tyler Thornburg will see if he can keep the Brewers’ winning streak alive when he takes on Freddy Garcia and the Braves.  Thornburg has been very effective in his limited time in the rotation, while Garcia has pitched better of late.  With the Braves having little to play for (just the best record), Milwaukee might be able to sneak and get another one.

Mike Leake tries to keep Cincinnati afloat when he faces off with Jon Niese and the Mets.  Leake has been a strong part of the Reds rotation all year and is coming off of shutting out the Astros for eight innings.  Niese has around a 3.00 ERA since coming off the disabled list last month and has an ERA under 4.00 for the year, something that’s pretty impressive given the Mets’ season.

A couple of youngsters are on the mound in Wrigley today as Gerrit Cole of the Pirates faces Chris Rusin of the Cubs.  Rusin did well against the Cardinals, but has struggled of late, while Cole could reach 100 strikeouts in a shortened rookie season this evening.  Pirate fans have to be feeling good about this one.

Late tonight, the final series of the season between the Dodgers and the Giants kicks off with Hyun-Jin Ryu going against Matt Cain.  Cain’s going to want to forget this season ever existed, but he might get a little solace by trying to deny LA home field advantage in any round.  Ryu hasn’t gone in a couple of weeks, so we’ll see if there’s any rust there.

In the main event, the Cardinals have to hit against Gio Gonzalez.  Gonzalez has been basically what you’d expect this season.  An ace for a lot of teams, he takes a back seat to Stephen Strasburg on the Nats but still puts up some quality numbers.  The Cards haven’t faced him this year, though they were able to get to him in the playoffs last year a bit.

Carlos Beltran 13 9 1 0 0 0 0 4 2 .111 .385 .111 .496 0 0 0 0
Allen Craig 10 9 1 0 0 0 1 1 2 .111 .200 .111 .311 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 10 8 1 1 0 0 1 2 2 .125 .300 .250 .550 0 0 0 0
Jon Jay 10 7 2 0 0 0 1 2 2 .286 .400 .286 .686 0 1 0 0
Yadier Molina 8 7 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 .143 .250 .286 .536 0 0 0 0
David Freese 7 7 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .286 .286 .286 .571 0 0 0 0
Daniel Descalso 6 5 2 1 0 0 0 1 3 .400 .500 .600 1.100 0 0 0 0
Pete Kozma 6 5 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 .200 .333 .200 .533 0 0 0 0
Rob Johnson 4 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 .250 .250 .500 .750 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 .000 .250 .000 .250 0 0 0 0
Shane Robinson 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0
Tony Cruz 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Total 81 66 12 4 0 0 3 14 19 .182 .321 .242 .563 0 1 0 0
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/24/2013.

That sample isn’t friendly, is it?  When Daniel Descalso is the top hitter, you have an issue.  That said, the Nationals have nothing to play for now except being spoiler (and, given how St. Louis could tinker with Atlanta’s plans, maybe not that as much), so you wonder if, since this is his last start, Gonzalez will call it a night early.  Probably depends on if the Cardinal bats solve him at all.

Michael Wacha gets a chance to rebound from his rough outing in Coors Field.  That phrase has been applied to many, many pitchers in the last 20 years and there’s no particular reason to think that he won’t be able to do that.  He did allow two runs in five innings to Seattle the last time he was at home, but he’s been pretty solid since joining the rotation.  The Nationals have never faced Wacha, which likely is to his benefit as well.

Another day closer to a divisional title.  The Cards are at Level Yadier Molina, with a four-game magic number to clinch the division.  Be nice to get that down to Level Red Schoendienst tonight, wouldn’t it?

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