With just over two weeks to go in the regular season, the Cardinals have an 81-65 record and hold possession of the second National League Wild Card spot. Trailing the Cardinals by two games are the Los Angeles Dodgers, who enter play Thursday at 79-67 and a game back of first place in the West division.
The races have only tightened over the past weeks, and that’s why the four-game series at Busch Stadium between the Dodgers and Cardinals has the attention of many fans. That series will start on Thursday evening. After missing the last six games against the Tigers and Pirates with a hamstring injury, St. Louis backstop Yadier Molina will return to action for this critical series. Speaking of that series in Detroit: we’ll see if the Cardinals can find that magic from the squirrel that popped up in Sunday’s game. Breaking T created a ‘Rally Squirrel’ shirt to honor that special critter, and you can check it out here - and see if it will help the club catch that spark!
In Thursday’s series opener - an early, 6:15 PM Central time start - Austin Gomber and Clayton Kershaw will get the nods from their clubs. Gomber is a clean 5-0 in his big-league career thus far and will strive for his fourth consecutive quality start as he faces Los Angeles for the second time this year. Out in California on 8/20, Gomber worked five innings of two-run ball and helped the Cardinals sweep that three-game set at Dodger Stadium.
Kershaw missed roughly six weeks in May and June with biceps and back injuries; nevertheless, the 30-year-old lefty has pitched like himself in the 22 starts he has made. Across 137 1⁄3 innings, Kershaw has a 3.03 FIP with a 134:21 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Kershaw has a 2.99 ERA in 16 regular season starts against the Cardinals; his last outing at Busch Stadium is one he’d probably like to forget, thanks to one Matt Adams.
The second game of the series on Friday evening will feature Jack Flaherty and Walker Buehler at 7:15 PM. We saw this very matchup at Dodger Stadium back on 8/22; Flaherty fanned 10 batters in his six innings of one-run ball, while Buehler struck out nine across seven scoreless frames. Dating back to 8/5, Flaherty has a 1.71 ERA over his last seven starts with 49 strikeouts. Flaherty leads all Cardinals starters with a 10.88 K/9 rate.
Buehler will be making his 20th start of the season and his 10th on the road, where opponents have collectively batted .234 in 48 2⁄3 innings. Looking at the Dodgers’ pitching staff, Bueher’s 1.03 WHIP trails only Kershaw’s 0.98 for the lowest mark on the club.
Saturday’s ballgame is the only afternoon game of the series, with first pitch set for 12:05 PM. In this one, John Gant will face Rich Hill. This Saturday’s assignment will be Gant’s 17th start of the season; like Flaherty, he is in the midst of a very polished stretch. Over his last seven starts, which span back to the eighth of August, Gant has a 1.68 ERA with just one home run allowed. Only seven long balls have been hit off Gant in his career-high 102 2⁄3 innings this season; five of them came in July.
The 38-year-old Hill is not a stranger to the Cardinals, though he last faced them in May of 2017. Hill was drafted by the Cubs in 2002 and came up with Chicago, spending his first four seasons there. Before joining the Dodgers in 2016, Hill had stints with the Orioles, Red Sox, Indians, Angels, Yankees, and Athletics. Hill is in line to make his 22nd start of the season and has pitched injury free since mid-June. Blisters on his pitching fingers caused him to miss around seven weeks in two disabled list stints spanning from April 18th to June 19th.
The finale of this four-game series will be the televised game on ESPN, the ‘Sunday Night Baseball’ game of the week. In the 7:05 PM start, Adam Wainwright will make his second start since returning from the disabled list with elbow inflammation. The 37-year-old Wainwright faced the Pirates back on 9/10 and was able to turn in five innings, despite allowing four runs across the second and third frames. David Freese, who recently joined the Dodgers, is 4-for-10 in his career against his former teammate, while Matt Kemp is just 5-for-32 (.156) with five strikeouts.
Sunday was in line to be Alex Wood’s game to start, but the Dodgers have decided to go a different route. Wood was roughed up for six earned runs in under four innings in his last start against the Reds, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts may go with Ross Stripling or Hyun-Jin Ryu to toe the rubber in the series finale.