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!
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