Since we last spoke, the Cardinals have gone 3-1 and been able to cut four games off of their magic number. (Message to Pittsburgh: You can start losing at any time now. This 14-3 bit since St. Louis swept you at the beginning of September is getting pretty annoying to us fans that would like to see the Redbirds clinch already.) For the most part, the Cards are looking like a team that should play in October, which is a good look for the last part of the season.
Friday (2-1 win vs. Cincinnati)
Hero: John Lackey. He probably wouldn’t admit it, but it looked like the extra rest did him some good. One run in 7.2 innings, striking out five in the process. Thankfully the Cards got Good Lackey here, because obviously they weren’t going to be able to overcome anything less than that.
Goat: Given what we learned this weekend about the plague that went through the Cardinal clubhouse, it’s hard to assign a Goat, wondering if someone was out there playing through sickness. I don’t think Jhonny Peralta was touched by the evil, though, and he went 0-3 in this one, leaving two on, so he’s our pick here.
Notes: It’s nice that the Cardinals generated offense via the long ball. It was great to see Randal Grichuk and Matt Holliday go back-to-back in the first inning. It’s not nice to see those be the only runs of the game. It turned out to be enough, but often it wouldn’t have been. Again, there was some illness to deal with, but that’s not an excuse that really holds water given how often we’ve seen the bats be completely shut down.
It took four pitchers to get the last four outs of the game. That’s actually a heartening thing, because Mike Matheny realized that Trevor Rosenthal didn’t have it and didn’t stick with him because he was the closer. Randy Choate and Seth Maness stranded Rosenthal’s runners and let the Cards take home the win. Hopefully Matheny will manage with that kind of abandon in October as well, because if there’s any time that “morale building” and “feelings” don’t come into play, it’s the playoffs.
Saturday (8-4 win vs. Cincinnati)
Hero: Kolten Wong. 3-3 with a home run, two RBI, two runs scored and a walk to boot. That’s a great night for the kid and it was a wonderful thing to see the offense come untracked, even temporarily.
Goat: Jon Jay was 0-3 in the leadoff role. Sure, he scored a run, but going hitless in the leadoff slot is a real good way to get your name in this section.
Notes: Michael Wacha pitched in this one and while he didn’t overwhelm (only one strikeout), neither did he pitch his way into a season-ending shutdown (he goes against Arizona this weekend). He threw 78 pitches and was a reasonable facsimile of himself, enough that probably both sides of the debate on whether the Cards were rushing him back had more fuel for the fire. Wacha’s pitching without his changeup, which has to be a tough thing for him and a huge question mark for the Cardinals. Assuming he doesn’t find it and Lackey has another good outing tomorrow, Wacha’s going to be pitching out of the playoff bullpen and well might be this year’s Shelby Miller, not getting much time on the mound.
Nice to see Tony Cruz come through with a big home run. Putting up three runs right there from an unexpected source had to give the team a big lift and put them well on their way to winning the game. Grichuk went deep for the second straight night while pinch-hitting for Oscar Taveras and has locked up a spot on the postseason roster, which is something I don’t think many of us saw coming even a couple of months ago.
Jason Motte got the last out in the fifth and picked up the win, likely his last such tally in a Cardinal uniform and definitely his last in Busch Stadium in the regular season. I don’t think Motte makes the postseason roster–there’s just too much uncertainty when he pitches–but getting the out here and having a perfect inning on Sunday at least kept him in the conversation. With Matheny, you just never know, but it’s hard to justify him over some other well-deserving folks. It’d be nice if Motte could return to St. Louis on a cheaper contract, but likely there will be someone out there to pay for his experience and betting his velocity will return as he gets further away from his Tommy John surgery.
Sunday (7-2 loss vs. Cincinnati)
Hero: Daniel Descalso. When Dirty Dan is your Hero, odds are things didn’t quite go the way you planned. Descalso still gets a lot of slings and arrows going his way even as he’s hit pretty well in his time during the second half. Even so, he’s not usually the key cog, just a lower level piece. In this one, though, he went 2-4 and scored a run, which was big for an offense that sputtered greatly.
Goat: Kevin Siegrist. It’d be easy to go with Sam Tuivailala here and I was definitely tempted to, but if Siegrist can come in and do his job, Tuivailala doesn’t get into the situation that he did. Siegrist walked back-to-back hitters, leaving the rookie who not long ago was pitching A ball to try to clean up the mess. Which he did, if you consider the bases empty after a home run cleaning up. (Most of us don’t, really.) It wasn’t your typical situation for Siegrist–both batters he faced were right-handers–but he’s still got to do better if he doesn’t want to go home after Sunday’s game. He’s right there with Motte, I think, easily left off the NLDS roster.
Notes: I do want to apologize to Matheny. On Gateway Sunday night, as Tuivailala came in, I ripped him pretty good, thinking that he was just acting on his stated wish to get Tui some exposure to the home crowd. I didn’t know that the clubhouse was ravaged by the stomach virus and so many options he normally had weren’t available. As Bob Netherton and I discussed on Twitter, even though the results might have been the same, if Justin Masterson wasn’t sick, we’d have used him before Tuivailala. Better the veteran that won’t be here next year be the sacrificial goat rather than the youngster just getting his feet wet in the bigs.
Lance Lynn started this one and while it wasn’t quite the Lance Lynnish start we’ve been used to for most of this season, it still was an acceptable outing. Three runs in six innings will keep you in most games and he was able to pile up nine strikeouts as well. Home runs to Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier did him in, however.
Monday (8-0 win at Chicago)
Hero: Adam Wainwright. While the offense took center stage in this one, Wainwright snagged win #20 with seven innings of shutout ball. Wainwright’s had good games this season, but this one was especially dominating. Eight strikeouts and while he allowed three hits, two of them came with two outs in the seventh. Wainwright was on from the first pitch, which means that as soon as the Cards could score one run, the game was effectively over. When they scored four runs in one frame, you could safely change the channel to watch the new TV season premiere if you wanted.
Goat: When the offense puts up eight runs on 12 hits, it’s tough to find someone to single out for this spot. I don’t feel right about it, but we’ll go with Matt Carpenter. He went 1-4 with a run and a walk, but he did strike out three times as well. This was his first game back after the stomach bug, so it’s probably not fair to put him here, but there’s not a lot of other options.
Notes: Eight runs in Wrigley Field and none of them came via the long ball, though Matt Adams hit a ball about as far as you could to right field without it going out. If that ball was over a bit more, it’d have left the yard, but instead it was just a well-struck double. It was the fourth double of the night for St. Louis–if the double power sticks for the playoffs, that’d be nice. Station to station won’t cut it if you want to play deep in the postseason.
So the magic number is now down to 4, obviously currently worn (likely for the last time) by Yadier Molina but also assigned in the past to Fernando Vina, Matty Alou, Marty Marion and some guys named Rogers Hornsby and Jim Bottomley. It seems unfathomable that 4 won’t be added to the wall out in left field whenever Molina takes it off. Let’s just hope that’s a long time coming.
The Cards were able to take on Travis Wood and deal with him pretty handily, but the pitching assignments for the Cubs the next couple of nights up the level of difficulty. First up is Kyle Hendricks, whom the Cardinals have seen twice in the last month or so but still have yet to really figure him out. In the two starts against St. Louis, Hendricks has gone a combined 12.1 innings and allowed just two runs. The Redbirds do have 12 hits in that time span and he doesn’t strike out many batters, but the hard contact just hasn’t been there.
Tiniest of samples, of course, but perhaps seeing Hendricks for the third time in basically two months will help them get settled into a nice offensive groove. They’ve scored eight runs in two of the last three games and they are playing at Wrigley (though in the cold of night instead of a nice afternoon tilt) so there are some signs things might not be as bad as they look on the surface.
Shelby Miller goes for the Redbirds, looking to extend his streak of strong starts to six (maybe seven, depending on how you count strong starts). This run started against the Cubs, when he allowed just two runs in seven innings. If he can do that again tonight, there’s a good chance he’ll wind up with win #11.
Pretty small sample there as well, though it’s a positive one for the Cardinal righthander. Interestingly, Hendricks was on the other side of his last start against the Cubs as well, a start that was ruined by a rare off night by Pat Neshek and the power of the young Cub hitters.
In Atlanta tonight, the Pirates will send Gerrit Cole to the mound to face Alex Wood of the Braves. Could be another strong pitching performance on both sides, but hopefully Atlanta can help drop St. Louis drop that magic number even faster!