After Friday, while there wasn't necessarily a state of panic within Cardinal Nation, there was definitely some unease. The Cards had blown a ninth-inning lead and stood just a game and a half ahead of a surging Milwaukee squad. With eleven games left on the schedule, the panic button wasn't pushed, but the glass case over it had been raised.
Two days can make a difference. While the lead isn't much larger, it is larger--2.5 games. Couple that with the fact that there are just nine games left and while no one is crowing or claiming the race is over, there's no doubt that fans can breathe just a bit easier for a day or two. Let's look at those games.
Hero: Carlos Beltran. Beltran has heated up of late, but he's still nowhere close to where he was the first half of the season. That said, he picked a perfect time for his 30th home run. If the Cards had lost that game, it would have raised a lot more questions about this team's final destination. Instead, he turned around a Carlos Marmol pitch in the ninth and sent the game into extras. Plus he had another hit and scored two runs in the game, so there's still life in him after all.
Goat: The offense got 10 hits and eight walks, which makes it a bit difficult to find an obvious Goat, even though they only got five runs out of it. As much as I hate to, especially since he wound up leaving the game with back troubles after Marmol almost hit him with a pitch, I'll have to go with Yadier Molina, who went 0-3, though he did walk and drive in a run with a sacrifice fly. Not all Goats are created equal.
Notes: Adam Wainwright had a bad sixth inning, but otherwise looked pretty solid. He gave up only six hits, but four of them came in the sixth when the Cubs scored three runs to take the lead. Again, the offense had plenty of chances to get him more of a cushion, but they couldn't do it. Jon Jay would have been the Goat for an 0-5, but his sixth at-bat he drove in the winning run, which seems incongruent with the Goat status.
The bullpen did their job in this one as well, though I still worry about Mike Matheny riding some of these guys too hard. (More on that in Sunday's discussion.) Trevor Rosenthal really did some good work, going an inning and a third with no runs, though he was bailed out by Mitchell Boggs after allowing two hits (well, one of them deflected off of David Freese's glove) with two outs in the ninth.
Been a long time since you've been able to get cheap drinks at Mobil On The Run (though it has been since this version of the commercial, since the prices have now gone up). We discussed that very thing in my post from Saturday, so I'm glad that became relevant so quickly.
Hero: Pete Kozma. Wow, who would have ever thought we'd be saying that, huh? Kozma has been derided ever since he was a first round selection ahead of Rick Porcello but has been making the most of his playing time since being called up due to Rafael Furcal's injury. (Ryan Jackson is sitting on the bench going, "How exactly did this happen again?") Kozma got his first major league home run yesterday, had two hits and drove in another run with a sacrifice fly. Not exactly sure what kind of magic he's worked up, but I hope it lasts a few more weeks.
Goat: Love Jay in the leadoff role, but it does give him more opportunities for this tag. An 0-4 day gets him listed here, though he did score a run. Jay only hit .200 for the series, a mark that's equal to what he's done the last 10 days, so you wonder if he's running down a little bit.
Notes: Kyle Lohse gets win #16 and pitches--well, pretty much pitches like he has been all year long. Six innings and three runs will win you a lot of games. I'm sure Matheny would have liked to run him out there for another inning, but he had reached the 100 pitch mark and it was a one-run lead, so he couldn't risk it.
That said, when the Cards tacked on two more in the top of the eighth, I'm thinking that the bullpen usage could have changed. It seems like Boggs and Jason Motte have pitched in a lot of games recently. For instance, Motte has had just two games off out of the last week, including the game against Houston where he came in to protect a 5-0 lead.
I mean, is Motte available today in a close game? Wouldn't you think Fernando Salas might like to get back on the horse after giving up the home run on Friday? He didn't pitch on Saturday either and had gone just three times in the past week. I'm not suggesting toss Victor Marte out there (though if you can't trust him with a three run lead in the ninth, exactly when are you going to use him and why is he on the roster) but you'd think there were other options than your main weapon, especially since it was the bottom of the order coming up.
All that said, congratulations to Motte for his 40th save. That's a milestone very few Cardinal pitchers have ever achieved, so he's in select company. Only one Cardinal (Lee Smith) has done it more than once, so he has something to shoot for next year.
Back problems are flaring up on this team. Molina left Saturday's game with them, but he should be ready to go in Houston today. At the time, pinch hitting Shane Robinson for Matt Holliday was fairly inexplicable, but it seems like his back issues have recurred. Apparently the Cards don't stay at a hotel with the Sleep Number beds. I would think Holliday would be able to go today, though may be a late tactical maneuver if necessary.
Jake Westbrookhad a setback this weekend, making it unlikely that he'll return from the oblique, at least in the regular season. And if you don't get a chance to see him in the regular season, the odds would seem small that they'd throw him onto a postseason roster. I always thought that a return this season for Westbrook seemed a bit optimistic. Those oblique injuries can cause some long-term issues.
A lot of lasts in this series coming up with Houston. It's the last time the Cardinals will play on the road in the 2012 regular season. It's also the last time the Cardinals will play in Houston as divisional rivals of the Astros. They will go to Houston for a two game set next June, but it just won't be the same.
The Cards have to win this series and a sweep would not go amiss either. They'll send out Lance Lynn in game one of the three game tilt. Lynn shut down the Astros for six and a third innings last week, allowing no runs and only three hits.
Of course, with this small of a sample its disproportionately weighted with what he did last time out, but it's still some positive reinforcement. It's also nice to see that Lynn, at least, has figured out Brett Wallace so far. Not many Cardinal pitchers can say that.
Fernando Abad will be the hurler for the Houston nine. Abad wasn't, well, bad last time out, allowing just three runs in five innings while striking out six. Unfortunately for him, he was going up against Lohse and also was a member of the Astros, who weren't putting up runs in St. Louis last week.
Again, not much here. Beltran's done OK against him, but nobody's seen him all that often. We'll have to find out whether facing him twice in a week will help the hitters. I wouldn't think it would hurt any.
Wild card watch: Milwaukee stands 2.5 games out and finishes up their series with Washington this afternoon. Marco Estrada goes for the Brewers, Jordan Zimmermann for the Nationals. There may be a slight edge there to Washington, but chances are it's a low scoring game. On the plus side, at least the Cards will know that result before they take the field tonight.
The Dodgers are three back and they actually have the day off today before heading to San Diego, so St. Louis can tack on another half-game with a win.
Arizona is 4.5 out and Philadelphia five, so I feel pretty confident they aren't going to overtake all three of the teams in front of them. It looks like it's down to the Brewers and Dodgers now. We'll have to see if the Cards can hold them off!
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