The St. Louis Cardinals just don't seem to have that extra gear they need to step up their game when it counts the most.
They could have all but closed out the National League Central Division championship in Chicago. Instead, they lost two of three against the last place Cubs, shaving only one game off their magic number in the process.
The Redbirds were extremely fortunate that the Atlanta Braves decided to show up for the first time in two weeks and hand the Pittsburgh Pirates a loss. Otherwise the Pirates would be playing for a tie in the standings today at Atlanta.
The loss maintained St. Louis' 1 1/2 game lead with the last series of the season coming up. So the Pirates' Thurday game with the Braves is a really big deal. If Pittsburgh wins, it's breathing down the Cardinals' necks in a drag race to the finish. If Atlanta can somehow pull off a second win, the lead would be a much more comfortable two games with three to play.
But the pitching match-up certainly favors Pittsburgh with Edinson Volquez (12-7, 3.15 for the season and 4-1, 1.81 over his last 10 starts) pitching against David Hale (4-4, 3.27). Hale is a relief pitcher by trade who is making only his fifth start of the season.
If Pittsburgh wins today, the Cardinals can take care of business themselves by sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks, the worst team in the National League. But by not handling the Cubs the Redbirds not only put themselves into a high pressure situation, they fumbled away any chance they had to catch the Los Angeles Dodgers to claim home field advantage in the divison series.
It's going to be a tough road to go in the post season when you're going to be the road team in every series you play. Plus, how optimistic should Cardinals fans be about St. Louis' chances when their team couldn't beat the best pitchers the Cubs could muster? I hear the Dodgers and the Washington Nationals have some pretty good pitchers, too.
With three days left in the season, things are much more up in the air than they should be.