At this point in the season, there are only two things you need to know. (1) there are only 9 games remaining in the regular season and (2) the Cardinals are currently sitting on top of the NL Central standings with a 2 1/2 game lead over the second place Pittsburgh Pirates. Clarity is a beautiful thing.
First, and most important, lose fewer games than the Pittsburgh Pirates. That may be something of a tall task as the Pirates are 8-2 in their last 10 games and they next face Milwaukee, where the Cardinals all but ended the Brewers playoff chances. Here is a quick look at the remaining games for the Cards and Pirates.
|Cardinals Schedule||Head to Head||Pirates Schedule||Head to Head|
|Sep 19-21||Cincinnati (71-82)||10-6||Sep 19-21||Milwaukee (97-74)||5-11|
|Sep 22-24||at Cubs (68-85)||9-7||Sep 22-25||at Atlanta(97-74)||1-2|
|Sep 26-28||at Arizona (62-91)||3-0||Sep 26-28||at Cincinnati (71-82)||6-10|
Don’t take much comfort in the Pirates losing record against their remaining opponents any more than you should already be proclaiming the Cardinals as NL Central champs. There is a lot of baseball yet to be played.
The second mission may prove more difficult. Of the three division leaders in the National League, the Cardinals have the worst road record (36-39). OK, let’s play that more optimistically – they have the best home record (49-29). That would seem to suggest they would benefit the most from having home field advantage. Let’s take a quick look at the home field standings of the teams most likely playing in October.
|Team||Record||Magic Home Number|
Winning home field throughout the National League playoffs might be an unrealistic goal at this point, but securing that against the first round opponent may be within reach. Should the Cardinals get the Dodgers in the divisional series, as it looks right now, forcing two Clayton Kershaw starts in St. Louis might be the difference in a series that on paper is too close to call.
The final thing to be settled over these remaining nine games is who will be on the post-season roster and in what capacity. The outfield appears to be set with Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk in the strangest platoon you could imagine. Catching also seems a no-brainer with AJ Pierszynski in the backup role. The last roster moves prior to the September callups lock in Pete Kozma in the final spot. The two question marks are Tony Cruz and Xavier Scruggs. At this point, it doesn’t appear that either will make the club, leaving the team with a weakened bench and lack of first base depth. Though he scored the winning run in last night’s thrilling extra inning game, Matt Adams has been struggling at the plate lately. Both Cruz and Scruggs have 9 games left to change some minds and kick somebody else off the roster.
The pitching situation is about as clear as water from the Mississippi River. Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller have pitched well enough recently to earn not only a spot, but one where you expect a win each time out. Marco Gonzales has also looked impressive and should get some consideration for post-season action, in some capacity. That leaves John Lackey and Michael Wacha battling for the final spot in the rotation. The Cardinals gave up a lot of talent to acquire Lackey, and for one reason – pitching in October. He has a big game reputation but has yet to put that on display in St. Louis. Michael Wacha has perhaps a bigger reputation considering what he did in post-season last year. But he is still in a rehab situation and hasn’t looked sharp in any of his recent starts. Each will get a start in this series with the Reds.
The best case scenario for the Cardinals is that both step up with Lackey in the rotation and Wacha in the bullpen. If either pitcher steps up in these final starts, it will be a huge lift to the Cardinals for October. If both do, the Cardinals could go deep into the playoffs.
The bullpen is an embarrassment of riches in comparison to the rotation. Trevor Rosenthal, Pat Neshek, Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, Randy Choate are all locked in (Choate due to his contract situation, the others for recent performance). With options available on the remaining relievers, Mike Matheny can choose between Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzales, Kevin Siegrist and Sam Freeman to fill out his bullpen.
For the Cincinnati Reds, injuries and a second half collapse has turned them into the role of spoiler. They should not be taken lightly over this three game series. While they will not be playing baseball in October, a few of their players might take great pleasure in extending that same courtesy to the Cardinals. These three games in St. Louis will complete a nine game road trip for the Reds where they lost 2 of 3 to the Brewers and were swept by the Cubs. The Cardinals have won the last 11 3-game home series against the Reds.
Friday, September 19 – 7:15 pm CDT
For John Lackey, this is simple – pitch like they guy the Cardinals thought they were acquiring at the trade deadline. Don’t get thrown out by arguing balls and strikes with the umpire and channel all of that emotion into seven or more strong innings. With the early ejection in his last start, he should be well rested. A 13 inning game last night might put a strain on the bullpen, even with expanded roster. Lackey needs to go deep and pitch convincingly.
For David Holmberg, just standing on the mound may be enough. He is a soft tossing lefty and that is the Cardinals kryponite. He made an emergency long relief appearance against the Cardinals two weeks ago when starter Dylan Axelrod had to leave with an injury in the first inning. He threw 5 2/3 scorless innings, keeping the Cardinals bats off balance. He followed that by a six inning win against the Brewers. Maybe with some preparation and seeing him the second time, the Cardinals will do better against him than they did the last time. They can’t do worse.
TV: Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Ohio
Radio: KMOX (1120), WLW (700)
Saturday, September 20 – 6:10 pm CDT
Michael Wacha has two more starts to earn some sort of role in the Cardinals post-season. With Shelby Miller looking sharp lately and a good outing from John Lackey, the urgency to throw Wacha into October could die down a bit, but he remains an important insurance policy. When on, he has shown to be a force on the mound. There should be no pitch limit this time out – it will be his game to win or lose on his own.
Mike Leake is 4-5 with a 4.73 ERA against the Cardinals in his career. The Cardinals have historically hit him well, but he silenced those same bats in his last start. Which Mike Leake will show up ? And which Cardinals offense ?
TV: Fox Sports One
Radio: KMOX (1120), WLW(700)
Sunday, September 21 – 7:07 pm CDT
In any other year, fans would be dreading a Lance Lynn start this late in the season. But 2014 has proven to be either a breakout season for the big right hander, or an outlier for those that don’t yet have confidence in him. Lance Lynn is currently 5th in the National League in ERA (2.68), just ahead of Zack Greinke’s 2.75. Let that sink in for a few minutes. He may even finish the season in the top 10 for Cy Young voting. He will not hit 200 innings this year, but will end up very close. The easiest job in baseball right now might be his agent.
Alfredo Simon, the 33 year old right hander, was thrown into the rotation due to the Mat Latos injury and pitched well in the first half. Since going 4-0 in June, Simon has been under .500 and his ERA has taken nearly a 2 run a game hit. The 185 innings he has thrown so far are the most of his professional career and may be taking its toll. His numbers suggest he is best used out of the bullpen, but was just not an option for the Walt Jocketty and the Reds this season.
TV: ESPN (National)
Radio: KMOX (1120), WLW(700)
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