With a record of 96-65, the St. Louis Cardinals currently top the National League — thanks to the Philadelphia Phillies hanging on to beat the Atlanta Braves last night.
A Cardinals win today, or a Braves loss, would give the Cards home field advantage throughout the playoffs as well as the wild card winner of either the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds as their division series opponent.
Once again, a magic number of one.
While it seems like Cardinals fans are all for achieving that best record, manager Mike Matheny doesn’t necessarily share that sentiment as Jason Mastrodonato writes at Cardinals.com:
“Maybe I should put more [emphasis on home-field advantage], but I don’t,” Matheny said. “My theory is people start overthinking that and over planning and trying to be a master puppeteer in how that all plays out. I think that stuff comes back and bites you. I think there’s too many good teams in this right now and we got to respect that, respect the game, just like we’ve done all season long and what we do is we go out and set our priorities.
“I made it clear to you guys right now, our priority is getting these guys ready for Thursday. But whenever we walk out there we also don’t want to lose that culture that we developed of going out and maximizing everything we’ve got while we’re out there out. No matter who we put out there, we’re playing to win all the time.”
So, does it look like Mike is saying “take that, everyone complaining about Jake Westbrook starting today”?
Anyway, yesterday’s game was a rather easy 6-2 win over the Chicago Cubs, and it was cruising along as another shutout until the ninth inning.
The Cards took a 2-0 lead in the first when Jon Jay, continuing his hot week, singled and Matt Holliday, continuing his hot month, hit his 22nd homer of the year. Holliday is now hitting .300/.389/.490 for the season and, for the last seven days, .500/.727/1.500. (Okay, he’s also only played three games in the past seven days because those back spasms caused him to sit out for three games. Still, crazy line — especially because of the back issue.)
The remaining four runs scored in the third inning, all off Edwin Jackson. He gave up back-to-back walks to Holliday and Matt Adams, with both scoring on a Yadier Molina double. (Yadi’s hitting .421 in the past seven days, FYI.) A ground-rule double by Pete Kozma had Yadi score. Then the Cubs intentionally walked Adron Chambers to get to the man who’s the Cardinals hottest hitter in September, Adam Wainwright. It’s true — he’s 7 for 14 this month, and his single allowed Kozma to score.
Wainwright pitched into the sixth inning, which allowed him to receive a much-deserved ovation from the crowd as he left the game. He allowed two hits and struck out five with one walk. As for his final regular season numbers:
Wainwright concluded his regular-season campaign by leading the NL in innings with a career-high 241 2/3. He also set career bests in strikeouts (219), strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.26) and walks per nine innings (1.4), as well as lowering his season ERA from 3.01 to 2.94 with the outing.
Following Waino were Sam Freeman, who struck out one and walked one in 1 2/3 innings, and John Axford, with a hit and a strikeout in the eighth. Then came the ninth.
And, really, it was the perfect situation in which to use Edward Mujica, right? A 6-0 lead in the ninth inning? Plus he’d done fine in his brief appearance Friday night.
Not so yesterday. Anthony Rizzo hit a lead-off homer, which was followed by someone named J.C. Boscan hitting a double. While Nate Schierholz did ground out, Donnie Murphy then hit a ground-rule double so Boscan scored. And that was all for the Chief.
Although Randy Choate then gave up a single to the only batter he faced, to put runners at first and third. Perfect situation for Seth Maness, since a double play was needed — and that’s exactly what he got. Thank you, Darwin Barney! First big league save for Maness!
As for Mujica, he was obviously a very valuable piece of the Cardinals for much of the season — hard telling how many of those games, especially earlier in the season, would have gone without him. But maybe it’s best if we’ve seen the last of him for 2013. Usually not too many blow-out situations in October to test how a shaky reliever will fare.
Today’s game is at 1:15 p.m. and, as previously mentioned, Jake Westbrook is getting the start — though Joe Kelly will be right there to take over (hopefully rather quickly). Jeff Samardzija goes for the Cubs.
Today also is the 50th anniversary of Stan Musial’s final game on Sept. 29, 1963. There’s a terrific article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about it today, plus Mark Tomasik had a great piece yesterday at RetroSimba with more on Stan the Man’s final game.
Christine Coleman is the lead writer for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.