The St. Louis Cardinals managed to sneak a win from beneath the noses of the Arizona Diamondbacks Friday night, clinging to their one-game lead in the National League Central Division in the process.
But their performance against such a poor team did little to soothe the jangled nerves of Redbirds rooters.
The Cardinals managed to blow a four-run lead late to one of the most offensively-challenged teams in the major leagues. The club's most reliable reliever, Pat Neshek, was largely to blame with three earned runs allowed on five hits in only one inning of work. If you can't count on your most reliable guy, who are the Redbirds going to trust in the playoffs?
But Neshek wasn't the only one to blame. The corner infielders had a particularly awful game with Matt Adams inexplicably giving up on a ball he fielded behind the first base bag even though the pitcher was waiting at the base and it seemed there was time to make a play.
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In the bottom of the ninth third baseman Matt Carpenter made a terrible throw on a grounder that should have been the third out of the inning. It left the Cardinals in a jam with runners at first and third. But it would have been worse if Adams wouldn't have come off the bag to catch the ball. If the throw would have got past the big first baseman, the Diamondbacks would have ended the game right there.
Manager Mike Matheny did nothing to quiet his increasingly vocal critics, pulling Matt Holliday in the seventh inning for a pinch runner. The Cardinals were up by four runs at the time. But with three chances to bat for the D-Backs and a suspect bullpen, it seemed like a risky move to pull the plug on the number three hitter in the St. Louis lineup. Especially with a suspect bullpen.
The Cardinals lost the lead in the bottom of the eighth with Neshek's meltdown. Like clockwork, the top of the St. Louis lineup came up and Holliday could have had a chance to hit a home run that might have won the game. Instead, the Redbirds went down quietly and had to win the game in extra innings.
The only bright spot for the Birds was the fact that the offense scored seven runs. But they got four of them against lousy starting pitcher Trevor Cahill who is 3-12 with a 5.61 ERA. They collected six hits against him in 5 1/3 innings. In his previous start a depleted Colorado Rockies team pounded Cahill for 10 hits and six runs in five innings. So, considering the circumstances, the offensive output was about what was to be expected.
Michael Wacha started the game for St. Louis and was scary for the first two or three innings. He struggled with his control, was up in the strike zone and gave up a pair of early runs to put the Birds behind. On a couple occasions early on Jason Motte (gulp) was up in the bullpen on the verge of taking over. Fortunately, Wacha seemed to settle as his appearance went on and the last couple of innings he pitched were pretty good. I have no idea if his performance scared the Cardinals out of the idea of putting him into the rotation for the playoffs or convinced them he's set. I guess it depends on which of his innings they were watching the most closely.
Who knows what excitement is in store for today when Lance Lynn takes the hill? Apparently the offense has a grudge against the big righty and doesn't care for helping him out with a few runs.
But the Reds, after farcically benching half their starters Friday night against the Pirates, can't be counted on for any help. So the Cardinals are going to have to win out.
And that stinks, not only because I'm not sure they can do it. But because it appears that they've blown the chance to save ace Adam Wainwright for the first game of the playoffs. They're only chance to avoid using him on Sunday is to win today and hope anyone the Reds can pluck out of the stands to play can somehow defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates.