I'm beginning to wonder if the St. Louis Cardinals even want to win the National League Central Division title.
Maybe they're tired of October baseball after three straight years of playing deep into the post season and they're all looking forward to going home for the winter to veg out.
It sounds ridiculous. But how else can the Redbirds' sleepwalking offense be explained? On Saturday night they were handed a gift when the Cincinnati Reds beat the Pittsburgh Pirates on an extra-innings, walk-off grand slam. All St. Louis had to do was beat the worst team in the National League with an 8-12 pitcher who owns an ERA well over 4.00 opposing them and they'd win the division and be guaranteed a full playoff series instead of the wild card play-in game
So, naturally, the Cardinals scored two runs on seven hits. And one of those runs was a present, scored when Matt Adams struck out on a pitch so wild that the Arizona Diamondbacks catcher couldn't retrieve the ball and get it back to the plate before Randal Grichuk scored from second base.
Somehow the Redbirds managed to tie the game at two and it stayed that way until late. But Arizona got two on with slugger Mark Trumbo at the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning. A .237 hitter with 14 home runs this season, it's known far and wide that Trumbo is a pull hitter who swings for the fences. So it was probably a pretty bad idea that reliever Seth Maness threw a pitch low and on the inside half that seemed as if it was on a tee for Trumbo to golf into the left field stands.
The Birds were down 5-2 and you could see their shoulders slump. They might as well have ended the game there because St. Louis didn't challenge again.
Now the Cardinals will have to go all out to win today -- if the red hot Pirates don't do the unthinkable and lose to the Reds again -- in a desperate bid to avoid a tiebreaker game with Pittsburgh. And they may have to do it without their best hitter, Matt Holliday, who left the Saturday night loss with the flu.
If St. Louis can't close out the division today, it will be a disaster. They'll have to go into the playoff game and, potentially, a wildcard game without the services of Wainwright. Even if they manage to win their way through the wildcard round, the Redbirds will be the least rested team in the NL playoffs and their rotation will be turned upside down.
Pittsburgh seems much more driven that the Cardinals and I'm not sure why. But it's a big mistake that St. Louis keeps letting the Bucs stay alive.