And so much for the temporary Pirates fandom for me and many other Cardinals and non-Cubs fans, eagerly rooting for the Bucs to win Wednesday night to give us a more palatable National League Division Series.
Which means here we are, on the brink of THE MOST HISTORIC PLAYOFF MATCH-UP IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD!!! BASEBALL!!! Never mind, as many obviously haven’t realized, that such a meeting has only been possible since the addition of a wild card team into the playoffs in 1995. So “historic” might be a bit of a stretch, despite how often that word has been tossed around since Wednesday night.
Details! What do they matter?
Before Wednesday’s game, I purposely wouldn’t think about the Cardinals facing the Cubs in the division series. Neither would any of the Cardinals/non-Cubs fans I know. Because that outcome seemed too dreadful to contemplate.
Now I can admit that, deep down, I figured the baseball gods would find this all too tempting to avoid. Even for the hype alone.
For 10 glorious games, the nightcap on Aug. 30 until Sept. 8, the St. Louis Cardinals lived up to everyone’s expectations.
They went 9-1, compiling two wins via shutout (including a tense 1-0 victory against the Pirates to sweep the series), one win by 11 runs, another by 8 runs and came back from a 5-0 deficit to victory. The one loss, to the Brewers, ended Milwaukee’s nine-game losing streak — something that was bound to stop at some point. Best of all, and thanks to that Brewers streak, the Cardinals saw themselves rise from one game back in second place in the NL Central to a 4 1/2 game lead. Magic number countdowns began — 19 on down to 14.
Finally! What we’d waited for through all the Mathenaging of 2014 was at last here!
Now there’s today, Sept. 12.
Magic number stuck at 14 since Tuesday. Three straight losses for the first time since that great streak of 10 games began on the evening of Aug. 30 — plus three straight losses to the Reds, who hadn’t won three in a row since early August. The Mathenaging of Mark Ellis as a pinch-hitter against Aroldis Chapman in those three losses, two of which Ellis ended by (surprise!) striking out, including yesterday in a 1-0 game after Matt Holliday walked. Division lead now 2 1/2 games since the Pirates, after that sweep by the Cardinals, swept the Cubs and took three of four from the Phillies.
Just another bump in the pothole-filled road that is the 2014 Cardinals season?
In all likelihood, yes.
Especially when you take a closer look at what little of the season remains.
On paper, things were lining up perfectly for the Cardinals headed into last night’s NLCS Game 3. They’d beaten the Dodgers’ two star pitchers, and had Adam Wainwright on the mound. They were up 2-0 over a Los Angeles team that had struggled offensively even more than the Cardinals had, and they had a golden opportunity to put the first nail in the coffin.
Unfortunately, it’s games where the odds are with them that the Cardinals tend to struggle. And struggle they did. Continue reading →
This time, though, it was on a stage far brighter — and louder — than he’s ever known before. You wouldn’t know that from watching him, though.
Just 18 months removed from college ball, Wacha was given the daunting task of beating the fairy-tale Pirates at home with the Cardinals’ season on the line. No pressure, or anything.
Just five months removed from his very first big league start, Wacha, who had made a couple trips back and forth between Memphis and St. Louis, took the mound with a rare combination of wide-eyed innocence and unflinching competitiveness. He wasn’t afraid of the rowdy crowd, the high stakes, or the hungry lineup he’d face. Perhaps he didn’t know to be scared. Perhaps he’s just that mature beyond his 22 years.
He was also just 13 days removed from his last start. You know, that one-hit affair with the Washington Nationals that could have been no-hitter, save for the infield hit with two outs in the ninth. That performance may have given Mike Matheny the extra confidence he needed to hand this rookie the ball on Monday.
Like Matheny has said before, a lot of things could have gone wrong. Fortunately for him, they did nothing of the sort. Continue reading →
With the Pirates handily beating the Reds in last night’s Wild Card game, they are now set to return to face the team that snatched the division title out from underneath them. A team they’ve beaten 10 times this season, including four in a row during one abnormally difficult stretch for the now NLC Champs. The Pirates have been a thorn in the Cardinals’ side all season. And it’s not over yet.
Sure, the Reds would have likely been an easier challenge. They seemed to run out of steam about a a week ago. Not to mention, the Cardinals have fared far better against Cincy than Pittsburgh in 2013. Avoiding the pesky Pirates in another five-game series would have boosted the Cardinals’ chances.
But, as they say, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. And between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati? The best team is headed to St. Louis.
One more time this season, the Cardinals better be doing their homework on the Pirates.
Two games up with six games left and a magic number of five definitely means the numbers are on the Cardinals side for being Central champs for the first time since 2009.
Even if the Cardinals go 3-3 against the barely-hanging-on-to-a-wild-card-possibility Nationals and the Chicago Cubs, the Pirates or Reds would need to go 5-1 in their final six games just to tie and thus force a one-game playoff for the division title. And that’s definitely an “or” situation — there’s no way both teams could both go 5-1, given they play each other next Friday through Sunday.
Interestingly, with the Nats five games back in the wild card race and also with six left to play, both the Pirates and Reds would benefit from the Cardinals winning tonight. Think they’ll be cheering them on during their respective games against the Cubs (Pirates) and Mets (Reds)? Scoreboard watching, certainly.
The Cardinals were the best team in baseball before the All-Star break (even if the powers that be at Baseball Tonight refuse to acknowledge it in their first half review! … but I’m not bitter). That said, the quickest way to lose their winning edge is to dwell in the past. So, today, we move on.
The rest of the season is upon us, starting tonight as the Cards welcome in the Padres. The remaining schedule is chalk-full of division rivalry games, and in a tight division race, those games couldn’t possibly hold more weight.
Let’s look closer at the second half schedule, by the numbers.
69 – the total number of games remaining for the Cardinals (and the Pirates).
42 – the number of those games that are against National League Central foes. Nothing like some good old head-to-head battles to determine who is truly the best!