GAME TIME 1:05 CDTgood riddance to oswalt. they will probably have to face him one more time, in the astros' 4-game set in st louis september 20-23; but luckily for the cardinals, they won't have to face others of his ilk for a while. assuming the reds stay on rotation (and i don't see why they wouldn't), st louis will miss aaron harang (13-3, 3.68) in both of their remaining series with cincinnati. when they play pittsburgh four times next week, the only member of the pirate rotation who won't pitch is tom gorzelanny (13-7, 3.50), who has owned the cardinals this year (1.31 era in 3 starts). he will probably start against them on the final weekend of the season, however. it looks like they'll miss another of their nemeses, livan hernandez (1.93 era vs the cardinals dating back to 2005), when they play at arizona in a couple of weeks. and the cubs are going to have to move things around to get zambrano one more start against the cardinals. he pitched last night, which means his next two regular turns fall on september 3 (labor day) vs the dodgers and september 8 at pittsburgh; to get him into the september 10 makeup game against st louis, piniella would have to hold zambrano back by two days, which would require him either to use a #6 starter on september 8 or to pitch a couple of guys on short rest sept 8-9. i can't seem him going through those kinds of contortions. if the cubs stay on rotation, the cardinals will draw sean marshall (7-6, 4.04) in that contest.
moving forward from there, zambrano's next scheduled turn falls on september 13 at houston --- the day before chicago comes to st louis for the 4-game series. in this case, i have to think piniella will adjust his schedule and hold zambrano back by 1 day; he'll have to make an adjustment of some sort that week anyway, because the cubs will need two starting pitchers for saturday's doubleheader. so he'll probably use a #6 starter during the week of september 10-13, setting up big z to take the ball september 14 in the opener of the big series. then lilly will start the first game of the dh (on 5 days' rest), and marshall will pitch the nightcap on normal rest, with marquis pitching the finale.
as far as i can tell, these are the toughest hurlers the cardinals will have to hit against from here on out:
september 14: carlos zambrano
september 18: cole hamels
september 20: roy oswalt
september ~25: ben sheets
september ~28: tom gorzelanny
of course, none of this matters if the cards' own rotation doesn't recapture its recent magic. since their long string of quality starts (10 in a row) ended back on august 18, the cardinals have gone through two full rotation cycles with just 4 quality starts --- all of them by wainwright and looper. reyes, wells, and pineiro have gone a combined 1-4, 6.30 over those two cycles. one of those three will be gone when mulder returns, but it's not at all certain (or even likely) that mulder will be able to pitch any better than the guy he replaces.
this may just be a coincidence, but wells' groove abruptly ended with his abortive start in the august 19 rainout in chicago; since then he has stunk for two starts in a row, looking every bit as bad as he did the first 3 months of the year. when he took the mound for the first time after the rainout, on august 24 vs the braves, wells had faced only 7 batters in the previous 10 days. he couldn't find the plate that night, walked 5 guys; last night he was obviously uncomfortable and never got into a rhythm. a number of people gave the opinion during last night's game thread that well's problems must be mental / psychological --- lack of confidence, lack of concentration, whatever. to the extent this is true, then a break in his routine (such as the rainout) might very well have provided an opening for bad old habits to resurface.
and then there's the matter of the 3d baseman's shoulder. it's not as if they can't win without rolen; st louis is 52-56 when he starts at 3b this year, 12-9 when somebody else does. rolen is slugging .398 in 2007 with an isolated power of .133, and his ops since the all-star break (when he supposedly heated up) is only .734. brendan ryan might be able to approximate those numbers for a month (he has slugged .485 with an iso of .158 in 100 at-bats so far), and if i were in charge i'd give him the chance and see if he rose to the challenge. but that'd leave 2b in the hands of miles / cairo; if you move ryan over to 2b, then that leaves cairo to play 3b. . . . . seems like you're stuck with miles and / or cairo no matter what you do.
unless, that is, the cardinals were to put ryan at 3b and call up hoffpauir or edgar gonzalez to play 2d. both of the latter have carried ops's in the mid-.800s at memphis and might be capable of equaling rolen's .740ish ops. i'd opt for hoffpauir, a selective hitter with a .370 career on-base percentage in the minor leagues --- what the hell, throw the kid into a pennant race and let him have some fun. but that's not la russa's way; la russa's way is to plug in a trustworthy, steady, reliably dreadful veteran like miguel cairo, who has a cumulative line of .247 / .293 / .322 since the start of 2005 (656 at-bats). there could hardly be a worse option. i hope i'm wrong about this and the cardinals have some other plan, but they surely didn't put a claim in on cairo merely to have him play out the rump of the triple A schedule. no, they put a claim in on him so he could kill rallies and get his uniform dirty diving for groundballs as they shoot through the infield . . . .
saving grace: including tonight's game, the cardinals play 18 of their next 26 at home. they are a .650 team at home since the all-star break, so let's say they maintain that pace and go 12-6 in the 18 home games, while breaking even in the 8 road games (4-4). that would leave st louis 5 games over .500 --- 80-75 --- heading into the final week, which leaves 84 / 85 wins as a not-too-far-fetched goal. it wouldn't require anything extraordinary to get there.
nothing more extraordinary, anyway, than brendan ryan continuing to hit .340 or joel pineiro maintaining a sub-4.00 era . . . . .