Friday, September 23, 2011

There's No Crying in Baseball!

But there was certainly a sea of wailing and an ocean of gnashing of teeth last night after the Cardinals bullpen puked up a four-run lead in the top of the ninth inning, giving up six runs to the Mets and blowing not only a series sweep but a chance to move within one game of NL wild card leaders Atlanta with just six games left to play. It was, by any measure, a disgusting and disheartening loss.

But there's no crying in baseball. Tony LaRussa wasn't crying after the game. He said they were disappointed but not heartbroken. He sent a clear message to his team and the league: this was one loss, a tough loss, but tomorrow is another day. And he's right. Baseball players, more than any other sport, need to have little-to-no short-term memory. The Cubs—out of the postseason again, as always—are coming to St. Louis for the last home series of the year. Yesterday is gone. Today is all that matters.

While a sweep would have put the Cardinals in a better position, maybe a giant plate of humble pie will remind this team that they cannot score enough runs to be complacent. Our pitchers can't take any pitch for granted, and walks are simply unacceptable at this point in the season. Our defense can't just shrug off an error that negates a double-play and probably seals yesterday's victory. They just can't let up for even a moment. If they remember that much, at least, then Cardinal Nation still has reason to hope.

Let's take a look at the weekend series for St. Louis and Atlanta. The bottom line is this: if we win two of three and the Braves lose two of three, we're tied going into the final three games. Atlanta hosts Philly, and the Cardinals go to Houston. I like those odds. But what about this weekend?

St. Louis sends Chris Carpenter (10-9, 3.66 ERA) vs. Ryan Dempster (10-13, 4.63 ERA) tonight in the series opener. Saturday's matchup features Cubs starter Rodrigo Lopez (6-6, 4.71 ERA) against resurgent Cards starter Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.47 ERA). Sunday's home closer will see the Cubs' Casey Coleman (3-8, 6.64 ERA) take the mound against St. Louis' newest starter, Edwin Jackson, (12-9, 3.85 ERA). Again, I like the odds on paper. A sweep keeps the pressure on Atlanta.

The Braves go to Washington to take on the Nationals, who are playing better baseball here at the end of the season. Here are the pitching matchups: Friday—ATL, Tim Hudson (15-10, 3.19 ERA) vs. WAS, Stephen Strasburg (0-0, 1.29 ERA); Saturday—ATL, Brandon Beachy (7-2, 3.58 ERA) vs. WAS, Chien-Ming Wang (3-3, 4.31); Sunday—ATL, Mike Minor (5-2. 4.27 ERA) vs. WAS, Ross Detwiler (previously a relief pitcher, 3.30 ERA). The pitching matchups seem to favor the Braves, although if Strasburg has his great stuff, the Nats have the edge in the first game, at least.

Looking back to the series in St. Louis, Dempster is 0-5 in his last five starts, and Carpenter is pitching the way we all expected Chris Carpenter to pitch. The Cardinals aren't going to back into the playoffs if they make it at all. This is a moment for the bold and the fearless. Let's see if the Cardinals have what it takes to rise above a tough loss and take the glory for themselves.

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