A-T-L In The S-T-L: What The L To Look For

To borrow a phrase from Joe Biden, “This is a big [freakin’] deal.”

Often it’s said during the season that a series or even a single game or inning just might be the “point that we look back on” once the season is over. Inferred is that we look back on that game, inning, pitch, whatever, and point like Matlock at the exact thing that sparked the beginning of the end. “Dude. Remember that hanging 1-2 breaking ball in the bottom of the 4th at San Diego two months ago? That was it, right there. Season? Over.”

High Cheese, your honor. Gets ‘em every time.
During the offseason, and leading up to spring training, we heard rumors of varying contract numbers. And again this year, every game since Opening Day we’ve been hearing about that serious number. But now it’s mid-September, and the two numbers most fans are watching closely are “magic” numbers, and elimination numbers. Headed into Friday night’s action, the Cardinals elimination numbers are 11 and 12. If the Cards lose 11 games in the standings of the National League Central Division, they’ll be mathematically eliminated from the possibility of winning the division over the Milwaukee Brewers; Lose 12, and they can kiss hopes of defeating the Atlanta Braves the wild card goodbye too. Which brings us to this weekend, as those Braves come to Busch Stadium for an epic battle between two powerhouses in baseball. Two of most storied franchises in all the land will face off and only one will remain standing. Cue the John Williams score. That’s right, fans, it ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS SERIES!! Ok, not really. It is an important series though, as September playoff implications go.The redbirds will host Larry Jones and the Bobby Cox-less Atlanta Braves this weekend in St. Louis. Friday’s pitching matchup features Edwin Jackson for the Cards & Randall Delgado for the Braves. For Delgado, it’s a tale of ridiculously small sample sizes at the Major League level. He has never faced the Cardinals–not hard to imagine when you consider he’s had one start in each of the months of June, August, and September so far in 2011, totalling 15 IP, never going more than 6 in a single outing. The 21 year-old Atlanta right-hander is sure to have his work cut out for him, as he faces a potentially explosive lineup, and the Braves are struggling a bit lately. They’re 5-5 over the last 10, against the Mets, Nationals, Dodgers & Phillies.For Saturday night’s game, Jamie Garcia draws Derek Lowe, and Garcia’s extra rest will hopefully be enough to keep the Cardinals in it. If the Braves can get some offense going, and put up a crooked number, things could fall apart quickly for the young left-hander. Lowe looks to bounce back from surrendering 5 runs in 5 innings his last outing, on Labor Day. Even more so than most games, this one will be all about the starting pitching.

On Sunday, it’ll be Westbrook and Hudson squaring off. Westbrook has seemed to have more control of late, walking only one batter in his last two outings. There have been plenty of INNINGS this year when he’s exceeded that, and that control will have to continue on Sunday afternoon. Hudson’s ERA is lower by about a point and a half, and the Atlanta starter has been considerably more consistent over the 2011 season than his counterpart. It’s almost odd that the Cardinals are at home on a Sunday, and the game hasn’t been moved to Sunday night for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. That game will be played, appropriately, in Flushing, as the Mets host the cubs on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001.

By the time the sun sets on Sunday, the Cardinals could be as much as 10 ½ games out of the wildcard race, or be as close as 4 ½, in the event of either team sweeping the other. As a side note, the Brewers are hosting PHI, and lost to Hamels last night, lining them up to face Halladay, Lee, and Worley this weekend. Better them than us, though I did make a prediction about this series back in January that has since turned out to be a little off. From there, it’s all about what the Cardinals can put together for the rest of the season, and not rely on other teams losing–they have to rely on themselves, and win games. They need momentum, something they’ve not had much of all year, if they want to have a chance at October baseball, and time is running out.

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