Tony La Russa pulled out another of his sleight of hand tricks today, stating that Chris Carpenterwould be the Game 2 starter in Philadelphia, sending Carpenter out just three days after throwing a complete game shutout.
There's no doubt Tony has his reasons. We talked this morning about Jaime Garcia and how he does much better at home, ruling him out of the first couple of games. It seemed fairly obvious, then, that Edwin Jackson would be the much better choice to go in the second game, until this announcement. As you've probably heard, Carpenter has never--never, mind you--gone on three days' rest in his career.
Josh from Pitchers Hit Eighth and I were chatting on Google Talk this afternoon and he brought up a point that I hadn't considered, namely that Jackson is more of a fly ball pitcher. I recall him going to extremes with that in one of his last starts, as balls continued to fly deeper and deeper, but stay in the ballpark. With Philadelphia's bandbox, those balls would be much more likely to soar over the wall.
However, I wanted to see if that was actually true. Pulling up his Baseball Reference page, I note that he has been a bit more likely to give up the longball since moving to the National League and that his strikeout rate has decreased. His GB/FB is 0.64 and his HR/FB% is at 6%, higher than it has been in his last couple of teams. How much of these numbers are skewed due to the beating he took in Milwaukee, I don't know, but that does have to be considered. Nevertheless, it does look like he'd be an ill fit for Philadelphia. He did not pitch in Citizens Bank Park this season and in his one career game there, he gave up five runs in five innings.
I also think this is a good way for TLR to keep the pressure off of Kyle Lohse. We know that he likes to do that (look at the disastrous attempt back in 2000 with using Darryl Kile as a decoy for Rick Ankiel) and he loves to get the focus on him so that the players can do their jobs without concern. People are talking about Carpenter and whether this decision is the right one. They aren't talking about Lohse having to go up against Roy Halladay.
With Lohse and Carpenter, the latter of which treats 100 pitch games are like warmups, going in enemy territory it does seem like the best way for the Cards to steal a game there and have a chance to win it at home. I'm a little worried that TLR is getting too cute with things and that these kind of moves have a tendency on backfiring, but I understand the logic and it's worth a shot.
Also, per the discussion earlier today, TLR has said that Jake Westbrook will be on the postseason roster, so you can probably go ahead and cross off Eduardo Sanchez, which is too bad because I really think he could make a difference.
Quick plug before I wrap this: you can hear my thoughts on the upcoming series and some on the season that's past on this Popblerd podcast. Garrett and I have known each other for a couple of years, as internet people know each other at least, and it was good to sit down and talk to him about the squad. I hope to have him on my podcast sometime this winter so we can have a chat about the San Francisco squad.
Before the 2006 postseason, I remember looking at the path the Cardinals were going to take and thinking that they really had a legitimate shot. I felt like they could get past San Diego, in part because they always did. I looked at the Mets and thought that the Cards had the pitching edge in that series because Pedro Martinez was unavailable. I looked at Detroit and again thought the Cards had the edge because of their pitching and how they were playing, having everyone healthy and ready to go.
I look at this 2011 postseason and, while they don't necessarily have all the edges that the 2006 squad had, I really do like their chances. Getting past Philadelphia will be tough, but it's a team that the Cards have beaten in the regular season so I don't think there will be as much of an intimidation factor as there might be with some other teams. Couple that with a fairly experienced squad and I think they can beat Philadelphia in five.
I'm not sure who wins in the Arizona/Milwaukee series, but I think the Cardinals can hang with either of them. The Cards went 4-3 against Arizona and 9-9 against Milwaukee. Arizona has a big top two of Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy, but the Cards can counter those and have been able to get to those guys as well. As for Milwaukee, a matchup against them in the NLCS would be epic. You know it'd go seven games and all the stops would get pulled out. The Cards have proven they can beat their aces (though Yovani Gallardo can give them fits) and the Brewers have done damage against the Cards. Again, I'm not saying that the Cards would definitely win against either of those teams, but I think there's a legitimate case to be made that they could.
Finally, you get to the World Series, and I don't think any team that makes it that far out of the AL doesn't have their own weaknesses. The Tigers can't throw Justin Verlander every night. The Yankees drop off after CC Sabathia. I'm not sold on the Rangers pitching (and, being that the Rays are now beating the Rangers 6-0 in a game that their ace started, there seems to be a reason) and the Rays....well, now, the Rays might make for an interesting time. They have good pitching and a solid offense to go along with it. Just on the face of it, I think Tampa Bay will be the toughest team the AL can send to the Series.
I know it's optimistic, I know it's red-colored glasses, but if the Cards can get past Philadelphia (which, admittedly, is a tough but possible chore), I really like their chances. However, as the players say, we've got to take it one game at a time. And that game is tomorrow afternoon. Go Cards!
The aftermath of Wednesday's excitement is still being felt. Granted, not much on the major networks, as they seem to be pretty focused on some team from the Northeast having some sort of failure. (I don't know, it's the American League and not really worth following.) Still, at least locally, there's some buzz about the Redbird nine.
First off, there's some well-deserved recognition for John Mozeliak. I said in yesterday's post how important that the Colby Rasmus trade was to this team's September run and it's nice that the players recognized that as well. I think they were more on board with that deal than some of the fans were even from the first, not necessarily because they were down on Rasmus (which they may have been) but because they recognized the flaws on this team and that they were being filled. While the Brewers' incredible hot August made it look like the "win-now" component of the deal wasn't going to be fulfilled, the pieces were in place for the incredible September.
It's hard to remember now all the trouble Tony La Russa went through with his shingles this year, isn't it? Where exactly does the time go? It seems like we were just talking about how this was a problem, then how Tony had lost the team and maybe a change was needed. Apparently, all ideas of shaking things up were a bit premature. I don't think there's any doubt now that TLR is back for 2012, if there ever was any. Even a quick exit in the NLDS won't damper what the Cards have been through in the last month.
This team is incredibly focused, as is obvious in this article from Matthew Leach as he lays out all the different obstacles this Cardinal team went through, both on and off the field. A couple of those by themselves, especially the Adam Wainwright blow, would have ruined a lesser team. Putting a number of them in combination should have finished off even the hardiest of contestants. However, this Redbird team never gave up, plugged along, and now are reaping the benefits.
Of course, those benefits include a trip to Philadelphia and a chance to face the most dominating pitching staff in modern times. So, you know, pretty much par for the course.
The rotation has been announced and it will be Kyle Lohse in Game 1, Edwin Jackson in Game 2, Chris Carpenter back home for Game 3. Most likely you'd have Jaime Garcia in Game 4 and then Lohse again in Game 5.
I think that's the way I would have put them as well, given the fact that you couldn't start Carpenter in the first game. That said, it's a bit interesting that Garcia and Jackson weren't flipped. Of course, Garcia has been very good at home and struggled on the road a lot of the season. His ERA at Busch is two runs better than his road one and by just about every measure (save strikeout rates, which are for some reason better out of town), so the logic definitely is having him pitch under the Arch. (Side note: looking at some of his splits, did you know he has a 1.85 ERA in games he wins, a 3.52 ERA in games where he gets a no-decision, and a 7.51 ERA in games he loses? When it goes south for him, it really goes south.)
The only drawback I see to Garcia going in Game 4 is the fact that, if the Phillies are up 2-1 at that point, it's an elimination game, and I think all of us know that there are questions about Garcia's mental toughness at times. Can he handle that kind of pressure? Can he comport himself if an error allows a run, or will it be another flash fire?
Garcia did throw seven strong innings in Philadelphia just three starts ago, but you have to go back to July to see similar results away from Busch. I understand it and it makes complete sense, especially since Jackson is pitching so well right now also, but I can see the potential fly in the ointment.
As far as I know, the roster configuration hasn't been announced yet. It's probably not too hard to guess it, though. Here's what I'd do and I expect it'll be pretty accurate.
Catcher: Yadier Molina, Gerald Laird
Backup catcher is pretty much meaningless here, since Molina will play every inning unless he gets hurt and odds are Tony won't pinch-hit with his catcher. Plus there's no other option, as Tony Cruz only got three at bats in September.
Infield: Albert Pujols, Skip Schumaker, Rafael Furcal, David Freese, Daniel Descalso, Ryan Theriot, Nick Punto
Last I heard about Furcal, he's still day to day. I hate to go into Philadelphia with a 24 (or 23, depending on the outfield situation) man roster, but if Furcal really thinks he can go, he'll be on there. If for some reason he's not going to be ready for a week, leave him off, put Tyler Greene in there and then swap them for the NLCS if necessary.
Outfield: Lance Berkman, Jon Jay, Allen Craig, Matt Holliday, Adron Chambers
I honestly expect they'll take Corey Patterson instead of Chambers, but they really shouldn't. Chambers has just as much speed as Patterson, can play probably about as adequate of a center field if not moreso, and can hit better than Patterson can right now. All Patterson gives you is experience, but even that's limited--he was with the 2003 Cubs and that seems to be the only time he played in October. And Cub experience in October--especially THAT October--may not be exactly what you want on the club.
Matt Holliday is already been ruled out of the first game. I'd say that if it doesn't look like he can go, keep him off and you could definitely get Chambers in. However, from what Al was saying on the last broadcast, it was more of a fielding issue than a hitting one, so you'd like to have him on the bench as a weapon for the late innings if that's the case.
Starters: Lohse, Jackson, Carpenter, Garcia
We'll get to Lohse in a bit as we look at Game 1. Talked about Jackson and Garcia and what else needs to be said about Mr. Carpenter?
Relievers: Jason Motte, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Fernando Salas, Arthur Rhodes, Kyle McClellan, Eduardo Sanchez
I expect Sanchez will be removed for Jake Westbrook, though I'm not sure I see any reason for that besides honoring Westbrook for being on the team. He's obviously not going to start any games and I don't know how well he'd work out of the bullpen. Sanchez is a bullpen member that hasn't been worn out, but obviously still has his stuff as we saw on Tuesday night. Having that card up your sleeve for the late innings could be huge.
Tough to lose Mitchell Boggs, because I think he could make a difference as well, but I think looking at his usage patterns, Tony and company don't fully trust him and they've got to be able to do that with those on the roster.
So, Lohse against Roy Halladay. While it looks like a huge mismatch, when you look at the current run Lohse is on, it's not quite as much. Since his meltdown against the Dodgers at the lowest part of the season, he's gone out there five times, won four of them, and posted a 1.72 ERA. If he can keep that up, and when you factor in how he pitched at the beginning of the season as well, it's not unreasonable to think that the Cards can hang with the Phillies in a low-scoring affair.
In that stretch, Lohse gave up one unearned run in over seven innings in Philadelphia, so it's not like he was beating up on weak teams. On the flip side, that does mean that the Phillies have him fairly fresh in their minds. Here are the career numbers:
Hunter Pence and Placido Polanco are trouble and Ryan Howard's had a lot of success, but hopefully he's able to work around those guys and keep other Phillies off the basepaths.
He's going to have to because Halladay is always a handful. Remember (and Cincinnati fans will never forget) his career numbers in the NLDS are: 1-0, 0 runs, 0 hits. I will go out on a limb and say that the Cardinals break into at least one of those 0 columns. They were able to beat him in Philly during that late series (he opposed Lohse in that game as well), in part by jumping on him early. I also remember Halladay saying after the game that he'd "remember that," which just sounds ominous coming from a player like him.
Anyway, here are the career numbers for the Cardinal hitters:
I sincerely hope Patterson's success doesn't get him the nod to make the roster (and even TLR isn't crazy enough to start him in a game like this based on those numbers). Patterson has one groundout in the last three years against Halladay, so it's not relevant at all.
Albert has struggled against Halladay, but hopefully he can come up big in the postseason. We could say that about almost all of them, though, couldn't we? Should be a fun one on Saturday!
On a sad note, Dan McLaughlin was arrested again this weekend on DWI charges, including leaving the scene of an accident. Dan was more than gracious with his time when I got to talk with him last year and, honestly, this year's rotation of on-air guys has made me miss the days of him and Al Hrabosky on there regularly. I know that there were some comments that he made that indicated he wasn't really thrilled with the cutback in his work schedule, which you can well understand.
This, though, as it comes on the heels of his arrest last year, may be the final straw for him at Fox Sports Midwest. I don't know that at all--this is pure speculation on my part, not anything I've heard from people that might know--but it's tough to swallow that this happened again.
On the flip side of that, Dan has been with the company for 14 years and he's developed into a guy that gets some national work as well. It's also not just as easy as dropping him and going with Rick Horton and Al as the full time team. (At least, I hope it's not--that would be brutal for me personally.) You'd probably have to get a professional in the mix, someone with a broadcasting background instead of a playing background, so you'd have to go out and find a guy like that as well.
Still, the easy thing isn't always the right thing. FSMW has a tough decision to make and I don't envy those that have to do it. I hope that, no matter how the situation gets resolved, Dan can find whatever counseling or rehab that he needs to make sure that this never happens again. He was lucky this time that his accident was of the one-car variety and no one was hurt. There's no guarantee that would happen the next time.
Don't know if I'll be back posting this weekend or not, so if not enjoy the games and you can find me on Twitter, most likely. I do plan on recording the next Conversation With C70 on Saturday, so if I can get it all edited up you'll have that to look forward to!
It started with an innocent remark by Christine Coleman, "Don't stop believing." When I commented that the Blues would be perturbed if the Cards took that song, she said it's too bad that there's no song called "Happy Flight".
Blast it, you put a possible song parody in my path and I'm not going to get anything done for a while.
Remember yesterday, when Tuesday's game was almost the biggest game in Fox Sports Midwest history? Yeah, it got bumped.
WEDNESDAY'S CARDINALS GAME SETS FOX SPORTS MIDWEST RATINGS RECORD
Wednesday's Cardinals game was the highest-rated event ever on FOX Sports Midwest, as the Cardinals beat Houston 8-0 in the final game of the regular season and later clinched the National League wild card. Wednesday's telecast generated an 18.0 household rating in the St. Louis DMA, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The Cardinals Live postgame show continued after the game with a combination of live scenes and interviews from the Cardinals clubhouse in Houston and updates from the Philadelphia-Atlanta game. FOX Sports Midwest was live in the locker room as players celebrated their wild card berth. Cardinals Live Postgame ran for more than two hours and produced a 7.2 rating. Cardinals Live pregame generated a 3.7, ranking second in its 6:30 p.m. time slot.
FOX Sports Midwest was the highest-rated channel in prime time in St. Louis for the 74th night this season.
Cardinals games (148) on FOX Sports Midwest averaged a 9.0 rating in 2011, second in MLB to the Phillies. Cardinals local market TV ratings have ranked in the top three in MLB every year since 2000.
FOX Sports Midwest's coverage will continue during the postseason with postgame shows immediately following Cardinals playoff games.
The previous all-time high rating on FOX Sports Midwest was a 17.6 for the Aug. 10, 2010 Cards game at Cincinnati in which the teams brawled in the first inning. Tuesday's comeback win at Houston now ranks third at 16.5.
Top-rated Cardinals games on FOX Sports Midwest
1. 18.0 Sept. 28, 2011 Cardinals at Astros (Cards win 8-0 in game 162; later clinch wild card)
2. 17.6 Aug. 10, 2010 Cardinals at Reds (Cards pull in to tie for first; first-inning brawl)
3. 16.5 Sept. 27, 2011 Cardinals at Astros (Cards pull in to tie for wild card lead in game 161)
4. 15.4 Aug. 13, 2010 Cubs at Cardinals (first-place Cards top Cubs as part of big week)
Luke's X-Wing has sunk into the swamp and Yoda asks him to lift it out.
LUKE: OK, I'll try.
YODA: No. Do or do not. There is no try.
Luke attempts to bring it out, but is unsuccessful.
LUKE: You ask the impossible.
Yoda lifts the X-Wing out of the bog and sets it on dry land.
LUKE: I don't, I don't believe it.
YODA: That is why you fail.
I didn't really give the Cardinals a chance when they were down 10.5 games as they held Social Media Night. Many of us spent that time lamenting this season, talking about how this would be the fourth in five years that held no postseason, and what that meant for this team and for Tony La Russa. Blogging plans for October included different ideas to alleviate the monotony of no baseball.
I still didn't fully believe even after they swept the Braves in mid-September to pull within 4.5 games. It was better than alternatives, of course, but 4.5 still seemed pretty formidable. I remember thinking the sweep was nice, but I'd have been more excited if it had put them closer to 2.5 or so behind the Braves.
I'm not sure I even was completely on board going into last night's game. This team so often pulled the football out from in front of us that, even with the cushion of only one of four options putting them out of the playoffs, I held my breath that it wouldn't happen.
And now..... And now the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, a team left for dead earlier in the year, a team that set a National League record for double plays, a team with an Albert Pujols that had his long-running streaks snapped, this team is one of the four NL teams playing in October and have a reasonable chance of making it to the World Series.
Seriously, Hollywood would have tossed this script as being written by a novice screenwriter with no idea how movies actually work. Nobody could suspend their disbelief that much.
As for the game, it was a bit anti-climatic, but nobody in Cardinal Nation was complaining. Five runs in the first? The pitcher batting before he throws his first pitch? Yes, please.
With Hero Chris Carpenter on the mound, a couple of runs was probably all the team needed, but giving him five runs was license to settle back and start plastering the clubhouse with plastic covers. The Cards tacked on more runs--Carpenter even got into it with an RBI single--but it was vintage Chris Carpenter that was the story. For a while, it looked like he had no-hit stuff and he did only give up two knocks. Eleven strikeouts in a complete game victory and he only threw 106 pitches. That, my friends, is what dominance looks like. Remember when we wondered if he was starting downhill earlier in the season? I'd say he's come back from that quite well.
There were a lot of offensive stars last night as well. Allen Craig proved that even if Matt Holliday is out for the postseason (which sounds like a definite possibility), the offensive chores could be covered. Craig had two hits, including a home run late that pushed the lead out to 8-0. October could be Craig's coming out party as more people around baseball find out who he is.
Two hits and three runs from David Freese was nice as well. If he had hit his first ball a little more to the left, it's a home run in the Crawford boxes rather than a double, but a double was just fine. It's nice to see the offense clicking together at the right time.
Every starter had a hit. Carpenter threw a complete game shutout. I mean, where do you have to dig to find a Goat in this game?
As much as I hate to, we'll give it to Albert Pujols, though this is more related to his work the last week or so than this game specifically. Remember that Albert got up to .305 and got to 98 RBI and we were sure the streak would continue. Instead, he spun out down the stretch, finished at .299 and only got one RBI last night. The .300-30-100 streak is history, just one home run shy of getting both of those marks. It might be the only flaw on the back of his baseball card, and it's not much of one. It's still sad to see those marks go by the wayside, though.
Bill DeWitt commented that, while the Colby Rasmus trade wasn't popular, they aren't standing there without that deal. He's completely right, I think. We saw how important all those pieces (well, maybe not Corey Patterson) were coming down the stretch and especially into October. Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel were a couple of the relievers La Russa would rely on heavily, and I think all of us feel more comfortable with Edwin Jackson in the postseason rotation. We gave John Mozeliak a lot of flak at the time about the deal and later we mocked the "win now" aspect when the Cards weren't winning in August, but the proof is in the results and Mozeliak deserves a lot of mea culpas there.
It was also nice that pitching coach Dave Duncan got to be with the team last night. According to TLR, the team wanted him to be there at the end and they asked him to join them. It's good to know that his wife is doing well enough that he could make the trip. Wonder if he'll be able to do the postseason grind.
The Cardinals get a couple of days off before facing Philadelphia on Saturday. Kyle Lohse was, of course, on the schedule to start the playoff game but I'm guessing he'll get skipped now that that game is no longer necessary. I'm thinking Jackson starts the first game, with Jaime Garcia in Game 2 and Carpenter in Game 3.
We'll talk tomorrow about matchups and how this team could really go deep into October, but for right now, let's just enjoy one really, really wild night.
Are people pumped about the Cardinals and their run to the National League Wild Card? I'd say so.....
TUESDAY'S CARDINALS RATING WAS SECOND-HIGHEST EVER
ON FOX SPORTS MIDWEST
Comeback win was most-watched game this year
Tuesday's Cardinals game generated the second-highest rating ever for an event on FOX Sports Midwest and was the most-watched Cardinals game of 2011.
The 13-6 comeback win at Houston produced a 16.5 household rating in the St. Louis DMA, according to Nielsen Media Research. It peaked at a 21.8 rating (and 34 share) from 10 to 10:15 p.m., which translates to more than 273,000 St. Louis households tuning in at that time. FOX Sports Midwest was the highest-rated channel in prime time in St. Louis for the 73rd night this season, and the game was the No. 1 program in St. Louis for the entire day. The Cardinals Live postgame topped its competition with a 5.8 rating from 10:45 p.m. to midnight.
Tuesday's win pulled the Cardinals into a tie with Atlanta for the NL wild card lead. Game 162 airs tonight on FOX Sports Midwest at 7 p.m. It's preceded by the debut of the FOX Sports Prep Zone at 6 p.m. and the Cardinals Live pregame show at 6:30. FOX Sports Midwest will bring viewers updates from the Phillies-Braves game throughout the night.
If the Cardinals advance to a tiebreaker and/or the playoffs FOX Sports Midwest will air postgame shows immediately following games.
Top-rated Cardinals games on FOX Sports Midwest
1. 17.6 Aug. 10, 2010 Cardinals at Reds (Cards pull in to tie for first; first-inning brawl)
2. 16.5 Sept. 27, 2011 Cardinals at Astros (Cards pull in to tie for wild card lead in game 161)
3. 15.4 Aug. 13, 2010 Cubs at Cardinals (first-place Cards top Cubs as part of big week)
It's a phrase that Tony La Russa likes to use a lot. He may not want to say that Player A is the best, but he'll say he's "tied for first." Personally, if there's anyone out there that wants to start a Cardinal blog, "Tied For First" is a great title for it, in my opinion. Now, at least when it comes to the wild card, we can finally say that the Cards are tied for first.
It sure didn't look like it was going to be that way. Jake Westbrook did his best Goat imitation, giving up five runs in less than three innings. With the score 5-0, it looked like the Cardinals, as has been their nature at times this year, had again fallen flat and missed an opportunity, as Atlanta was in the process of being stomped by the Phillies as well.
However, the offense that had been dormant since the blown save against the Mets showed back up, and just in time. Immediately after allowing the Astros their runs, the Cards came back and tied the game in one inning, thanks to Skip Schumaker's bases-clearing double. I was wondering if they were able to be patient and start beating on Henry Sosa, and they finally did. When the parade of relievers started, you knew that the Cards had the advantage, and they eventually capitalized on it.
We'll give Nick Punto the Hero tag for his four hit night, including a home run. (Ironically, in his first at bat I told my daughter it was unlikely he'd hit a home run since he had zero on the year. I'm doing just great with my "expert" analysis down the stretch.) He wasn't the only one that had a big night, though. Allen Craig came in for Matt Holliday and showed that there wasn't any drop off. Lance Berkman had three hits as he continued to torment his old team. Ryan Theriot had another big blow, a two-run triple that gave the Cardinals their first lead of the night.
Then there's the bullpen, who did an outstanding job all the way around last night. Mitchell Boggs stopped the bleeding that Westbrook caused. Marc Rzepczynski struggled some, loading the bases with nobody out, but got a big double play and allowed only the one run. Eduardo Sanchez, who hadn't pitched in the big leagues since June, came in and was dealing, striking out two of the four batters he faced. If he's back, that's going to be a big boost during potential postseason play. Fernando Salas and Octavio Dotel were solid, and Edwin Jackson even got a chance to pitch an inning, allowing a couple of hits but not letting them score.
Possibly the only disappointment, save from Westbrook's implosion (and hey, aren't we glad we have him for another year?), was the fact that Albert Pujols went 1-6 with no RBI. His average is sitting right on .300, meaning he needs probably a couple of hits to keep that mark tonight. It looks like he'll come up short on the RBI side without a big blow tonight as well. He's four for 22 since getting to 98 RBI, which either means he's pressing or he hit the worst-timed slump possible. Of course, if he cracks a two-run homer in the first, we'd all be happy. (I tried this yesterday with no luck, so we'll try it again.) AP may also get another shot at the marks, as any wild-card play-in game would count toward the regular season statistics.
When the bloggers, Twitterers, and other social media types gathered in St. Louis on August 25, we thought we were just going to get a chance to enjoy a baseball game and then start a relatively boring September. Instead, 30 games later the Cardinals have enjoyed a September for the ages, a September that will be talked about in Cardinal Nation for years to come, invoked anytime a team is on the fringes of a race. "It could happen," we'll say. "Remember 2011."
That said, the example will hold much more punch if the Cards can finish the job. Erasing a 10.5 game deficit is nice, but if you lose out on the final day, it's probably more devastating than if you'd lost it somewhere in the middle of the month.
There's no doubt, though, that if you had to pick one pitcher on this staff to pitch in a lose-and-go-home type game, it'd be Chris Carpenter. Carpenter has the big game experience and has the deserved reputation of being able to come up big when things are on the line. With Adam Wainwright on the shelf, there's no other option that's more appealing.
Carpenter has been able to shut down the Astros in his career, though there are a few of these guys he's not faced yet. Here's what the numbers look like:
Albert's had success against him and Skip has as well, but the others are more hit and miss. Holliday is out with a recurrence of that finger issue, which is too bad since he has good results against Myers as well. Hopefully a day or two of rest and Holliday will be back in there if the Cards head to Philadelphia this weekend.
St. Louis is right now living the dream. Let's just hope they don't wake up until they are popping champagne corks this evening.
The Atlanta Braves keep trying to give the wild card away. The St. Louis Cardinals just won't take it.
Knowing that Philadelphia had already disposed of the Braves, the Cards rallied late in the game, but were unable to win it in regulation. That's always a problem on the road, where one bad pitch, one bloop hit, and you are done. Which is pretty much how it happened.
Even though Octavio Dotel lost the game, I don't want to give him the Goat tag. He pitched a solid ninth and gave the Cardinals another chance, plus that leadoff double in the tenth wasn't his fault, Brian Bogusevic just fended off the pitch and happened to drop it where nobody was able to get to it. Now, if he's able to field a bunt, perhaps Dotel is able to get him at third, but once there's a runner on second and nobody out, it's very tough to keep him from scoring.
I think you have to look at an offensive player for the Goat in this one. Time after time the Cardinals had their chances to get some runs and take control of the game, and time after time they failed to do so. I'll give the tag to Ryan Theriot for his double play in the fourth, plus his detrimental play in the ninth, not only being unable to advance Yadier Molina from second but, since Molina was running on contact and Theriot hit the ball right to the pitcher, he eliminated a great threat with Molina being thrown out at third. Then, somehow, Theriot was unable to steal second even though he had a decent jump and Mark Melancon threw a curveball. Still not sure how that happened.
David Freese's double play with nobody out in the fifth was a tough thing to take as well, as the Cards got bases loaded in that inning and just scored one. A base hit in that situation might have made for a completely different story.
There still were Heroes in the game, though, most notably Lance Berkman, who came through with a two-run double to tie the game in the eighth and keep some hope alive. With any luck, the Cards would have used that to go on and win, but they were just not able to do it.
To add injury to insult, it looks like Rafael Furcalwon't play again in the regular season after straining a hamstring. Furcal has probably been a bit overrated in his time here in St. Louis, but that's partly because of what he was replacing. I'm guessing Nick Punto will get the start at short the next two games.
Albert Pujols had a number of chances last night to add to his 98 RBI, but he wasn't able to do so even though he went 2-5 to up his average to a bit over .301. I'm afraid this is going to be like 2007, when he came up just short of getting to 100 runs. I bet he winds up with just 99 this year. Now, I'd love for him to hit a two-run homer in the first tonight and prove me wrong, but that's just my gut feeling.
The Cards have to put together a two-game winning streak and probably hope for a tiebreaker game now. The Phillies aren't starting Cole Hamels tomorrow after all, instead having a bullpen game where Hamels may appear in the middle of the game somewhere. That gives the Braves a big edge and you have to assume they'll win that one if you are the Redbirds.
However, tonight Derek Lowe goes for the Braves and his season has been pretty dreadful. An ERA near 5 for the season and it's over 8 for the month of September. While he could come out and give a great performance, the odds are in Philadelphia's favor tonight, which means the Cards have no choice but to win this one if they want a chance at October.
Jake Westbrook is on the mound for St. Louis and he's beaten the Astros twice this season. Here are the numbers:
Can Westbrook keep from being bitten by Carlos Lee? That could be the difference in a win or a loss tonight. A lot of these young guys he hasn't faced, though, and that could be a problem as well. Westbrook's been solid in September (2.61 ERA, though a 1.60 WHIP indicates he's danced out of some trouble) and hopefully that continues tonight in his last start for 2011, even if the Cards do make the playoffs.
Henry Sosa has never faced the Cardinals, which always brings up warning flags. He's been fairly mediocre in his nine starts, with an ERA approaching five (and over it for his September work). He walks almost as many as he strikes out and his September WHIP is 1.76, so if the Cardinals are patient, they can likely put a lot of runners on. Then again, they did that last night and see what it got them.
The math is simple: win or go home. Two more games, two more wins and the Cards have a chance for more than 162 games. It's time to see if they can work that problem successfully.
One of the great aspects of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance is getting to know other bloggers that follow other teams. One of those is James from Astros County. Long-time readers of this blog recognize the name and the site, as James has participated in pre-season UCB Radio Hour roundtables as well as different projects when the Cardinals and Astros have gotten together.
James and I haven't worked together much since Opening Day, so he was gracious enough to take the time and answer a few questions in advance of the biggest Cards/Astros series in quite some time. I answered some for him as well, so head over to his site soon and see what I had to say.
After the jump, we'll talk about his expectations about this series and whether someone could detour Wandy Rodriguez from the ballpark tonight.
I probably should give up on the whole making proclamations thing. Every time I go to write the Cardinals off, they (and the Braves) give us a new reason to believe.
Let's talk about Saturday's wild game first. Watching that ninth inning, it reminded me of something I said at Social Media Night last month, when the players were answering who had the most underrated pitch. Daniel Descalso answered with Carlos Marmol's slider, because "you never know exactly where it's going." I responded under my breath that neither does he, and that was borne out. Winning a game because the closer walked three guys with two out, forcing in a run, then letting the winning run score on a wild pitch? That starts to look a bit like destiny, doesn't it?
The Hero of that game, as much as Matt Holliday's single was big and Ryan Theriot had a great eye to tie up the game, had to be Kyle Lohse. Lohse allowed a first-inning run, but that was it, going seven innings and striking out eight. In his four September starts, Lohse is 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA, meaning the fact that he will start the tiebreaker game if one is necessary doesn't scare Cardinal fans at all.
You have to give the bullpen some credit too. Just two days after the biggest meltdown in years, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, and Jason Motte combined for two hitless innings with three strikeouts.
It's a good thing the pitching was so solid, because the offense sure wasn't going to keep them in the ballgame. A grand total of five hits, so Rafael Furcal gets the Goat for going 0-4 in the leadoff role. It's a good thing Albert Pujols pushed his batting average so far over .300, because after Saturday and Sunday, he needed all that he could get.
Sunday's game again was an offensive struggle, as Randy Wells kept the Cardinals mainly in check. When your only run before the seventh comes on a sacrifice fly by the pitcher, it's not a hot day for the bats.
However, if Rafael Furcal got to be the Goat on Saturday, there's no doubt he was a Hero on Sunday. His eighth-inning blast ignited the crowd, tightened up a Braves team that had already lost, and after Motte slammed the door hard on the Cubbies, put St. Louis one game behind the Braves with three games left to play.
When John Mozeliak made the deal for Furcal, I don't think anyone expected six home runs out of him in the short time he was in St. Louis. (No one expected 10 errors, either, but that's a discussion we've already had.) If the Cardinals do go on to the postseason, that jolt will be one that is remembered for a long time to come.
Of course, you don't get to that moment without Yadier Molina hitting his own home run in the seventh or Edwin Jackson continuing to dodge trouble through seven innings. Jackson continued to get fly ball after fly ball that continued to get deeper and deeper, but they stayed in the park and were usually caught, so he only gave up two runs over seven. The same bullpen guys from Saturday were used Sunday with the same results and the Cardinals were staying alive.
Sadly, in what could have been his last home game in the Cardinal whites, Albert Pujols probably gets the Goat. His 0-4 dropped his average to right at .300 and he hit into another double play, though granted it was a ball that looked like a hit and Furcal got doubled off of second. Still, that wasn't want the fans were hoping for, but it didn't matter. They gave him standing ovations every time he came to the plate, encouraging him to stay in St. Louis. I'll write a post soon about why I think he will keep wearing the birds on the bat, if only so I can refer to it and not continue to outline it all winter long.
So the Cards had a "happy flight", as their terminology has evolved this year, down to Houston after the game. The team was wearing Hawaiian shirts and staying pretty loose. Still, while many fans are excited about the Cards playing the worst team in baseball while the Braves are playing the best, there are reasons to be guarded.
First off, though the Cardinals are doing better this month against teams that are sub-.500, they've struggled with them in the past. Couple that with Houston playing better ball recently and it's a trap series waiting to happen.
The pitching matchups are as definitively in St. Louis's favor, either. The Cardinals face Wandy Rodriguez tonight, who has been a Cardinal killer in the past. If the good Jaime Garcia shows up, the Cards probably can hang in there, but it's a battle. Then, Tuesday night it's Jake Westbrook, who has been very frustrating down the stretch, against Henry Sosa, who is an unknown that could bedevil the Cards. If you get to Wednesday needing a win, though, you've got Chris Carpenter vs. Brett Myers, which does seem to tip in the Cardinals' direction.
Secondly, while Philadelphia is not going to lay down for the Braves and they are obviously going to try to win this series, it's not going to hurt their feelings if they lose. They aren't going to send Cliff Lee out there for a complete game and they may try a couple of relievers in later innings as they try to decide on their postseason roster. Plus, if they lose the series and the Braves get in, Philadelphia starts off with either Milwaukee or Arizona. If they win the series and the Cardinals make it to the postseason, the Phillies host the only team that's beaten them in a season series this year and a team that just took three of four from them a couple of weeks ago. Who would you rather face?
While the Cards would rather be one up with three to play, they are in a solid position and the fact that the tiebreaker game is at Busch also helps them quite a bit. It's been a long time since the last series of the year meant much of anything to the Cards (2006, I'd say, and I don't know when before that) and it'll be fun to see how it comes out.
Jaime Garcia, as noted, throws tonight in Houston. Here's what he's done against the 'Stros:
Wow, that's not at all what you want to see. The last time Garcia faced Houston was in August, when he gave up five runs (four earned) in six innings. He's not looked exceptionally good against the Astros all season, so we'll have to see if he has something saved for tonight.
Remember when Rodriguez was going to be traded to Colorado earlier this season, but the deal didn't get done? Right now, I really wish it would have. Those aren't exciting numbers against the Houston ace, and in his one start against the club in 2011, he threw seven innings of one-run ball. This is going to be a tall order tonight.
The team that averaged over six runs a game against the Mets only scored a total of six runs against the Cubs, but they won both series. Hopefully the former team will show up the next three days. If nothing else, there's still meaningful baseball!