The Cardinals played their closest wild card rivals this weekend and were so very close to at least a series win, if not a series sweep. Bullpen issues kept them from putting their stamp on the wild card, but on the flip side, a strong day out of the 'pen meant the Cards left LA in the same spot that they arrived with four games cut off the calendar. There were worse alternatives.
Hero: Yadier Molina. Two hits, including a home run, and a walk with two runs scored. Not a bad night at the ballpark.
Goat: Edward Mujica. For really the first time since his arrival in St. Louis, Mujica failed coming into the game. With two on and two out, he allowed a home run to Luis Cruz, who now has five home runs in 378 major league at-bats. In other words, he's not really a power guy.
Notes: Sam Freeman couldn't stop the bleeding, allowing the last two runs of the game. Trevor Rosenthal got two outs in the sixth but then hit Hanley Ramirez, putting the tying run on second base. Mike Matheny then made the switch to Mujica, which didn't pan out. I had fallen asleep by that time, but I think I would have been wanting to see Rosenthal continue, though you really couldn't argue with Mujica given his record after the trade. Two hits by Carlos Beltran after moving back up in the lineup may mean his bat is coming around a little bit. Even if you get a singles-hitting Beltran, that's better than a .190-hitting Beltran.
Hero: Allen Craig. The Amazing Whacker Guy was at it again, with a two-run homer in the first and driving in another run in the sixth. The only problem was, that was all the offense the Cardinals saw.
Goat: Jason Motte. After getting the first two guys out, you'd like to think that your closer could finish the job. In Motte's defense, replays showed (and Twitter blew up on this one) that Dee Gordon was out stealing second, but the umps called him safe. That could have ended the game right there, but instead Jon Jay wasn't able to come up with Cruz's (that guy again) liner to center and the game was tied. Then Juan Rivera hit a ball Daniel Descalso just couldn't come up with and the game was over. If it wasn't for how hard Cruz's ball was hit, I might have let Motte off the hook. Descalso's 0-2, two error day was definitely in the running.
Notes: You really hate losing this game because it was one of those exceedingly rare things, a strong Jaime Garcia start on the road. Garcia gave up just one earned run in six innings, striking out five. He wasn't terribly efficient, but 92 pitches in six innings isn't bad at all. For Garcia, this was as good as it gets away from Busch and whatever changes in his mindset happened, I hope they were permanent.
Hero: Jay. It's not the prettiest line--1 for 6, three strikeouts, 1 RBI--but that one hit was so crucial for this team. In a game they really had to have, Jay's double in the twelfth may have changed the trajectory of this team. If they leave LA losing three of four and trailing in the WC race, how confident is anyone that they'd be able to take that lead back? Even with the softer schedule coming up, it doesn't seem a sure thing they could do it. Getting a happy flight back to Busch was huge.
Goat: Normally, when you look at the box score and see a line like 0-4 from Matt Holliday, that's going to be your Goat tag. However, I can't give the Goat to a guy who was hit by a pitch in the decisive inning then kept it alive by beating out a flip from the shortstop to the second baseman. Holliday's hustle allowed another run to score and, when Molina walked afterwards, it gave the Cards the needed cushion.
Instead, I'll give the tag to....well, hmm. There's not a real obvious player to pick, given so many removed for a pinch-hitter and the strong work out of the pitching staff. I'll go with Skip Schumaker, who went 0-2 before being pinch-hit for by Shane Robinson, which is a slightly strange set of events in and of itself.
Notes: Some stellar work from a pen that has struggled lately. Rosenthal got right back on the horse, going two strong innings and not allowing a hit. Fernando Salas also threw two scoreless. Shelby Miller got to be in the right place at the right time, throwing a scoreless 11th and then picking up the win after the top of the 12th. Motte bounced back (and, thankfully for the tension level of the fan base, had a cushion in which to do it) and the Cards leave LA as they arrived.
While the Cards did get the split, which was the absolute minimum they had to do, they didn't gain much breathing room. Obviously the Dodgers are still just one behind, but they do have to go to the Nationals and Reds this week while both of them are trying to clinch their division titles. The Brewers have snuck past the Pirates, with the Brew Crew just 2.5 back and they go to Pittsburgh (who is reeling) and Washington. The Pirates are three back and host the Brewers (after a game today with the Cubs) before going to Houston. The Phillies are four back, but have last their last two and may have peaked a bit early, especially since those losses were to the Astros. The Phils have a set at New York and then host the Braves, two teams that will have no problem in their motivation to play the Phillies tough. Finally, you have Arizona at 4.5 back, but they are still two games under .500 and, with this many teams in front of them, can't be considered a strong threat as of yet.
It seems that the schedule favors St. Louis, though we've seen them stumble against weaker teams all year long, so there are no guarantees. What should help, though, is that they get to send Chris Carpenter to the mound on Friday to open up the Cubs series. Carp had a strong simulated outing on Saturday, throwing 95 pitches with movement and velocity. Adding a rested Carpenter to the mix can't be a bad thing, especially if the Cardinals move on into October. That kind of thing can give the team a welcome jolt as well as a great example of focus, determination, and tenacity.
To start the Houston series tomorrow, Kyle Lohse takes the hill trying to continue his strong pitching and hoping that he'll get the support behind him.
Not a lot of sample sizes mainly due to the youth and makeup of the Houston roster. It's hard to say he should watch out for this guy or that guy, though Jose Altuve might be one to keep an eye on if you are Mr. Lohse.
The Astros send out Fernando Abad. Can he live up to his name and all the many jokes that have been made about it?
Looks like the Cards have faced him just the once, with really only a Lance Berkman homer to show for it. Obviously Berkman won't be in this game, but you hope that a guy with an 0-4, 5.08 ERA mark won't be locking down an offense that wants to play for a title.
Off day today, though, as the team gets ready for this last run through the schedule. Hopefully they can come out focused and prepared for a big finishing kick!
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball