St. Louis Cardinals’ comeback in Cincinnati marks beginning of division race

The St. Louis Cardinals trailed the Cincinnati Reds 5-2 heading into the sixth inning of Friday’s game, one that marked the beginning of a vital series for both teams. Cardinals starting pitcher Lance Lynn did not make it out of the third inning and the Reds were poised to extend their lead in the NL Central to eight games.

Then came the sixth inning.

The Cardinals offense busted loose for six runs, including back-to-back homeruns by Allen Craig and Yadier Molina, to take an 8-5 lead.

The Cardinals held onto that lead for the rest of the game and won an extremely important game that begins a 13-game stretch against the Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals. That win also set them up to have a shot at winning the NL Central by cutting the Reds lead to six games.

The most impressive part of Friday’s game, and the part that should give Cardinals fans optimism for September, is that the Cardinals were able to come from behind against their rivals and the team with the second-best record in Major League Baseball.

Complaints about all aspects of the Cardinals have erupted in the last two weeks as the team went 6-7 before sweeping the Houston Astros Tuesday through Thursday. The offense wasn’t scoring consistently enough, the bullpen couldn’t hold a lead and the complaints could go on and on. They likely will after Lynn’s start as people panic that Lynn will fall apart down the stretch.

However, the Cardinals came back from the dead Friday to beat the division-leading Reds. That game could be the watershed moment for this Cardinals team. That win had all the looks of an experienced ballclub that knows how to win. Many teams would’ve conceded the game with Reds starter Mat Latos throwing well and a terrific bullpen to follow.

Instead, the Cardinals put their heads down and salvaged a game that looked to be over when manager Mike Matheny had to call Joe Kelly to the mound in the third inning. Some people might say that was a panic move, but it might end up being on of Matheny’s best decisions of the season. Kelly threw three innings of relief and got the win.

The only unfortunate part of Kelly’s performance is that it will spark debate about who to have in the fifth spot in the rotation. Jaime Garcia is back from shoulder problems and pitched eight beautiful innings last Sunday against the Pirates, but it also created a situation where the Cardinals went from two solid back-of-the-rotation pitchers to uncertainty if they have any pitcher good enough for the fifth spot.

That situation will surely work itself out. The offense saved Lynn on Friday and perhaps an extra few days of rest wouldn’t hurt, but both Lynn and Kelly are good pitchers who are going to help the team a heck of a lot more often than they Will Hurt it.

Now, before we paint too rosy of a picture, the Cardinals fell to the Reds 8-2 Saturday and still sit seven games out of the division lead, although they do currently hold the second wild-card spot. However, if the Cardinals can hang close up until the final week of the season, they play the Reds Oct. 1-3 in St. Louis. That could be one very fun series if the division title is not yet decided.

And if that happens, remember Friday as day the Cardinals came from behind and started their full pursuit on the Reds for the division lead.

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