- John Lackey vs LHP David Holmberg, 7:15pm tonight (all times are central times)
- Michael Wacha vs RHP Mike Leake, 6:15pm Saturday
- Lance Lynn vs RHP Alfredo Simón, 7:05pm Sunday (ESPN Sunday Night Baseball)
- Jeff Locke vs Yovani Gallardo, 6:05pm tonight
- Edinson Volquez vs Matt Garza, 6:05pm Saturday
- TBA (though probably Charlie Morton) vs Wily Peralta, 12:35pm Sunday
Pirates: 3 vs Brewers, 4 at Braves, 3 at Reds
Brewers: 3 at Pirates, 3 at Reds, 3 vs Cubs
What to Watch
After last night's walk-off win versus the Brewers, the Cardinals sit two and a half games up on Pittsburgh for the NL Central title. Note that the half-game means that the Pirates have one game on the schedule more than the Cardinals do, and that in fact Pittsburgh has lost just two more games than St. Louis. This is an important distinction because by all appearances Pittsburgh has decided never to lose a game again and could therefore make up that half-game next week in Atlanta, where they play a four-game set against the Braves, who will probably be eliminated from the playoffs by then.
As I said before all that matter-of-fact about the half-game (am I allowed to be poetical?): the Cards have a 2.5-game cushion with nine games left in the season. What's more, while the Cardinals play series against the Reds, Cubs, and Diamondbacks--all teams already out of the playoff picture, and for good reason--the Pirates play the Brewers in what promises to be a knock-down drag-out war. I'm rooting for a sweep by Milwaukee, both because that would probably secure the NL Central title for the Cardinals and because that would bring the Brewers within a half-game of the second wild-card spot with just six games to go. That situation would be extremely fun for baseball fans in general, and for fans with significant others from Milwaukee in particular.
And yet, while the remaining schedule and matchups clearly favor the Cardinals, St. Louis has a few concerns that, if things break wrong, could easily derail their hopes for a divisional crown.
Prime among those concerns are the two pitchers starting the first two games of the Reds series: John Lackey and Michael Wacha. Lackey has thrown just a handful of pitches in the past two weeks and has exhibited a concerning drop in velocity. And Wacha is attempting to simultaneously (1) rehab his stress-reaction injury, (2) increase his pitching stamina back up to starter levels in hopes of pitching in the postseason, and (3) get the Cardinals into said postseason in the first place. Let's hope Lackey and Wacha are up to the task.
Let's hope, I say, but let's also say a silent thank you to September and its 40-man rosters: because after Tuesday's and Thursday's extra-innings games, it's only our heroic Adam Wainwright's complete-game shutout on Wednesday that has kept the St. Louis bullpen from being completely tuckered out. And even so, Trevor Rosenthal, Pat Neshek, and Carlos Martinez (two innings) all pitched last night, and if Lackey is unable to pitch deep into tonight's game--whether because of a dead arm, general ineffectiveness, or getting himself thrown out of the game because the ump couldn't stand to look at his sour face any longer--there's a very real possibility that Nick Greenwood will be pitching multiple innings in this late-September playoff race.
As for the Reds: they're done for the season, and SBN site Red Reporter recently dissected part of the reason for their early elimination in a post called "Fun with Awful Numbers - Hitting Edition." For example:
[Billy] Hamilton entered the All-Star break at a healthy .285/.319/.423 mark, having stolen 38 bases (with 15 times being caught), 5 dingers, and a .338 BABIP in 359 PA. Since the break? Oof. He's hit just .211/.265/.272 (.538), has stolen just 18 bases (and been caught 8 times), has just a single dinger to his name, and has seen his BABIP plummet to a stinky .267 given his top-flight speed. That's an awful 233 PA in any context.
Equally as strange are Billy's Home/Road splits, as for some reason he's been unable to have much of any success while playing in GABP. On the road he's hit a .288/.312/.391 (.703) with a .362 BABIP, but in the friendlier confines of home he's hit a poor .219/.281/.332 (.613) with a near impossible .252 BABIP.
The post ends with a whimper:
There are numerous ways in which the 2014's offensive offense scuttled what could have been historic seasons from Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, and poor, poor Trevor Bell, but they've been bad to the point where there's really no way to spin them positively. In reality, it's best we flush these from our memory and hope that the collective 2014 was the bad split next to a 2015 that will balance it all out, and hope that Joey Votto returns to striking fear into opposing hurlers.
I didn't mention Jay Bruce in any of this on purpose because, oh man, poor Jay Bruce.
Oof. With the rise of Hamilton and Devin Mesoraco and the return of Joey Votto, the Reds will have an outside chance at the division next season. But even so, Walt Jocketty will need to address their putrid offense, which has hit for an 89 wrc+ (sans pitchers) this year. That's bad--actually it's second to worst, ahead of only the Padres in the NL.
While the Reds' offense presents a good matchup for the St. Louis pitchers, the key to beating Cincinnati might also be to score runs on their merely cromulent starting pitchers--in this series, Holmberg, Leake, and Simon--thus preventing the possibility of Mark Ellis batting against Aroldis Chapman with the game on the line.
Let's hope the Cardinals' offense remembers that the rules allow for multiple bases per hit, not just the one.
Keys to the Series
Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.
Go get 'em, Cards.
Editor's Note: Oh, hi there. It's me, Aaron Finkel. I'm here today to tell you about an exciting new opportunity offered by FANDUEL. SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $18,000 Fantasy Baseball league for tonight's MLB games. It's $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Jump in now. Here's the FanDuel link for today's games. Try FANDUEL today!