The NL Wild Card race has become increasingly difficult to watch of late, with Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and St. Louis playing like they’d rather not take part in MLB history’s first one game playoff series. Los Angeles can’t hit, Pittsburgh has become wildly inconsistent, and St. Louis is unravelling on the mound. This edition of Passing Through features the latter of those three teams, loosely clingling to the top Wild Card Spot. With three games against the Padres and four against the Dodgers, who are just one game behind them in the standings, the Cardinals could be playing for their season.
St. Louis Cardinals
Chris Carpenter still hasn’t returned to a rotation that needs him more than ever. In his abscence Lance Lynn has been bumped from the rotation to the ‘pen, Jake Westbrook will miss at least one turn with an oblique injury, Jaime Garcia has been beat up since returning from injury, and Adam Wainwright seems to be fading down the stretch in his first season after Tommy John. On offense, Carlos Beltran is visibly hobbled and has been dramatically worse over the second half, while Lance Berkman will miss the rest of the year recovering from knee surgery. The Cards came West for seven games, and in the state they are in, every win they can earn is critical, as they will likely have trouble amassing many before October.
San Diego Padres: September 10-12
Traditionally, the Cardinals like to whoop up on the Padres, especially in important games. Trend = bucked. In game one Logan Forsythe and Cameron Maybin each threatened to hit for the cycle, in a 17 hit night for the home team. Jaime Garcia lasted only 3 innings, allowing 4 runs. Young Shelby Miller followed with three frames, allowing two more. The Padres would blister the bullpen for five additional scores, winning 11-3. The second game was a failure of another variety. The Cardinals refused to seize control despite 8 walks surrendered by San Diego pitching, and 3 Padre errors. The Padres scored 5 runs in the fourth inning and, thanks to a throwing error committed by Pete Kozma, 3 of those were unearned. San Diego took the evening 6-4. On Wednesday the Padres polished of their first three-game sweep of the Cardinals since 1995, with a 3-2 victory. Another sharp start by the only reliable starter the Redbirds have left, Kyle Lohse gave way in the bottom of the sixth, when rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal broke up a 2-2 tie with an RBI single. The Cardinals threatened in the ninth, but the Padre bullpen made it stand.
Los Angeles Dodgers: September 13-16
The Cardinals will begin a crucial series in Chavez Ravine on Thursday, attempting to regain some kind of rhythm in their March toward the playoffs. Lucky for them, the Dodgers have been suffering badly from their wretchedness at the plate, averaging 2.67 R/G, while scoring more than 3 runs just twice this month. Adrian Gonzalez has contributed to this pallor with a .636 OPS since “The Trade.” Matt Kemp is currently out of the lineup with a shoulder injury, but had been in a hellish slump since bruising his knee in Colorado on August 28th.
- Game 1: Lance Lynn (taking Westbrook’s turn this time through) v. Josh Beckett
- Game 2: Joe Kelly (who took Lynn’s spot, when he was sent to the pen) v. Chris Capuano
- Game 3: Jaime Garcia v. Clayton Kershaw
- Game 4: Adam Wainwright v. Joe Blanton
Something can be decided this weekend if one of these teams takes control of their tailspin. It would certainly be better to see a team earn their matchup with Atlanta, rather than just outlasting the misery of two other cities until October 5th. Somebody, please play ball!
I am test driving a concept (called Passing Through, in case you need to tell people about it on the internet). This is the first of it’s kind: A look at a team on a West Coast swing. Sometimes these will appear as previews to an upcoming set of series’ against NL West teams, and sometimes they will appear afterwards, as a recap, if things get interesting unexpectedly. In this case, we check in with the Braves in the midst of their pass through The Far Division.
Fresh off a homestand in which the Braves won three of four against Padres, and then managed only one win in three games against the Dodgers, Atlanta started it’s current road trip by losing two out of three in Washington. If the Braves are to remain within the relative safety of the top Wild Card spot, they need to get back on track after struggling against two good teams (L.A and Washington).
The California portion of Atlanta’s current roadie includes four games in San Francisco and then three in San Diego, to wrap up what has been a National-League-West-heavy stretch.
San Francisco Giants: August 23rd – 26th
I don’t want to perpetuate the myth that we’ve learned something just because two likely playoff teams have played each other in August. What the quality of these teams does add to a series is a high probability that good baseball will be played, as well as the drama of immediate consequence (as it pertains to the pursuit of post-season berths).
As it stands now (Saturday night, all games concluded) The Giants are just two games ahead of the Dodgers in the NL West. The Braves, who remain atop the Wild Card standings, came out ahead on Saturday with a convincing 7-3 win. A 3-run bomb by Jason Heyward, his 23rd, helped the Braves pull away. Atlanta will try to even the series with a win on Sunday, after losing the first two games.
Regarding those first two games: Braves pitching surrendered both 5 runs and 5 walks on back to back nights on Thursday and Friday, though Friday’s game could have been much worse (the Giants amassed 14 hits). However in another way, that game couldn’t have been worse for the Braves. Following his Friday night start Ben Sheets began experiencing shoulder inflammation and has been placed on the DL. For a guy whose medical records are a collection of rich, well preserved, 17th-century tapestries, that is hardly a surprise. Nonetheless, it is disappointing and, unfortunately, not likely to end well for Sheets or the Braves.
San Diego Padres: August 27th – 29th
The Braves play their final regular season game out West on Wednesday against the Padres. It will be the last PST game of Chipper Jones’ 19-year career. I will be there in person to watch what I am hoping will be Jedd Gyorko’s major league debut. There have been no reports that this will happen. But I would, however briefly, get to believe that Chipper’s last game against the NL West coinciding with Gyorko’s MLB debut is an omen of the young third-baseman’s future greatness.
The Braves dispensed with the Padres quite handily in Atlanta earlier this month, with Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm and Kris Medlen combining for 22.1 innings, and allowing just one run between them to take the final three games. However, San Diego has won six games in a row heading into Sunday, so perhaps this series will not be as easily taken for Atlanta.
- Game 1: Paul Maholm v. TBD (Jason Marquis’ spot open due to DL stint for a broken hand)
- Game 2: Kris Medlen v. Andrew Werner (25 year old Rookie, making his 2nd ever MLB appearance after winning in his first start)
- Game 3: TBD (Sheets’ spot) v. Eric Stultz
Here’s to Chipper’s final game in San Diego. So long Chipper, I wish you’d been a Padre.