If the Cardinals harbor any hope of catching the Reds, sweeping this weekend series in St Louis is absolutely essential.
St Louis – 69-62, 2nd place NL Central, 8 games behind Cincinnati. The Cardinals return home on a 5 game losing streak, after being swept by the Houston Astros at the conclusion of a horrendous 2-8 road trip. They dropped 5.5 games in the standings on the trip. The Cardinals have led in a game for a total of 3.2 innings since last Saturday. At this point, they may have a better chance of catching Philadelphia for the NL Wild Card, although they sit 5 games back in that race.
Cincinnati – 78-55, 1st place NL Central. Cincinnati is tied for the best record in the National League (Atlanta). They’ve won 4 in a row, 6 of their last 7, and added 103 MPH flamethrower Aroldis Chapman to their bullpen on Tuesday. Truly these are the salad days along the banks of the Ohio River.
St Louis rearranged their rotation so their best three pitchers would throw in this series. On paper the matchups heavily favor St. Louis.
Friday night Jaime Garcia will face Bronson Arroyo. This may be the most even matchup of the series. Garcia has won all three of his 2010 starts against Cincinnati. He beat Arroyo at Busch III on 31 May, and had two hits off Bronson to boot. Arroyo has a lot of history with the Cardinals, having faced them at least 3 times a season since 2006. He last beat St. Louis 16 May, and has not won in St Louis in over two years.
Saturday’s mid-afternoon start will pit Travis Wood against Adam Wainwright. Travis Wood is one of the surprising rookie pitchers on this staff (the others including Mike Leake and Chapman). Wood has pitched very well this season, despite (or perhaps because) only starting two games in Cincinnati. He has never faced St. Louis. He pitched OK in his last start, a 5-inning no decision against Chicago (10 hits, 3 ER, 3 walks). Wood throws a fastball averaging 90 MPH to set up a variety of off-speed stuff. That fastball, and his slider and change, appear to be above average pitches. Wainwright has now lost three straight decisions after winning three straight. His last win was at Cincinnati’s expense. Maybe he can reverse the trend against them too.
Sunday afternoon will showcase Chris Carpenter and Homer Bailey. Carpenter has put together his typical stellar season (14-5, 2.92 ERA). He has not given up more than three earned runs in a game since before the All-Star break. Carp is also 3-0 against the Reds this season, and has beaten them twice in St. Louis. Cincinnati has not lost with Bailey on the mound since he returned to the rotation in August. Opponents have a .320 BABIP off him but only a .626 OPS in that stretch. Bailey has not beaten the Cardinals in St. Louis. He lost at Busch on 1 May.
It’s pretty clear why the two teams have headed in opposite directions over the last week. Over that stretch:
- St Louis: .193/.244/.313 as a team (games in DC and Houston)
- Cincinnati: .303/.382/.545 as a team (games at home and in Milwaukee)
Jay Bruce has been the hottest Red of them all (1.533 SLG in 15 PA). Matt Holliday has been the Cardinal doing the most damage with the bat (.640 SLG in 25 PA). In the MVP race, Joey Votto is hitting .300 and slugging .600 over this stretch, and Albert Pujols is still slugging .520 even though he’s only hitting .200 and in an 0-13 funk right now.
Cardinal struggles were summed up pretty well by Derrick Goold on Thursday.
“Holliday’s homer [Wednesday] was the Cardinals’ first rally with at least two runs in 31 innings. They were held to two or fewer runs in five games on the trip and in eight of their 17 games since last being in first place. … In the past six games, the Cardinals have scored 13 runs. Four of them have not been an RBI or a run provided by Albert Pujols and Holliday.”
Thirty-one games left, seventeen at home. No more off-days this season. The task before the Cardinals now is challenging to say the least. As pointed out in the lede, for any hope of bouncing back to win this division they must sweep this series. Realistically to stay relevant even in the Wild Card race they will need to win 2 of 3. San Francisco is in LA this weekend, while the Phillies host Milwaukee. Can the Cardinals do it? Can they come off the mat? We’ll find out.