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The Redbird Playoff Report: September 25, 2012

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It's in sight, guys. Almost there. Just don't lose control of all bodily functions now, okay? 
I like to put up misleading headlines like the one above sometimes; the sort that make you think whatever random crap I'm about to spew out is part of some continuing, regular feature that maybe you've missed. Redbird Playoff Report? Is that a thing, like a series of columns he's done tracking the Cardinals' playoff hopes or something? Am I just not looking hard enough for this brilliant writer's output? 

The answer is no. You're not looking hard enough. But in this case, that isn't why you're confused. So you can feel okay about that, right? 

I wrote not too long ago about the Cards needing to step up their game the last two weeks of the season, as well as postulating that even a modicum of Taking Care of Business by the Redbirds should be enough to hold off their challengers. Well, since that time it's been so far, so good for the Cardinals. 

Since I penned that column last Friday, the Cards have gone 3-1 against the likes of the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros. Okay, so not super impressive when you consider the teams involved, but both series have been on the road, which makes it a little bit tougher for our boys in red. (Especially in 2012.) So, you know, pretty good. 

More importantly, in the game of keepaway that is a playoff race this time of year, the Cardinals have managed to whittle another four games off their remaining schedule without allowing either the Dodgers or Brewers to pick up any ground. In fact, the Cards have extended their lead slightly in each, standing 3.5 games clear of both Los Angeles and Milwaukee with just 8 more games to play. (Both  of the teams chasing the Cardinals still have nine games to go on their schedule.) So, a .500 record over these last 8 games for the Redbirds, and it would take an 8-1 run for either LA or the Brew Crew to tie them. Not quite celebration time, but getting awfully close...

Lance Lynn continues to prove he is, in fact, the man, throwing seven more innings of one-run ball last night. It wasn't always easy or pretty for the big man, as he had to wriggle out of a jam or two along the way, but he did strike out nine Astros and keep the damage to a minimum all night. The magic act allowed Lynn to reach 17 wins for the season, and a 0.93 ERA in three starts since rejoining the Cardinal rotation roughly two weeks ago. 

The way Lynn got most of his strikeouts last night was just as encouraging as the number of them; this was Lance Lynn throwing his fastball with two strikes and racking up the empty swings. By my count, six of his nine strikeouts last night were of the swinging variety on fastballs. Two swings and misses on curveballs and one called third strike on a heater. Two-thirds of his strikeouts were just, "Here it is. See if you can hit it," sort of fastballs. And nobody could. 

It's odd, really; I can't recall another pitcher in recent memory who seems to get such an inordinate number of strikeouts just by throwing his fastball by hitters, non-closer division. When Lynn is at his best, his heater just doesn't get hit much. He throws hard, sure, but not in the Nolan Ryan/Tom Seaver kind of mold; his fastball is just remarkably tough to get the bat on. 

You know who else is pretty good? Yadier Molina. He hit yet another home run, bringing his season total to 21, a number I don't think I ever expected to see him reach. Buster Posey is the current MVP frontrunner in the National League, with 5:4 odds as of yesterday, and I really can't argue with the guy as he's been worth 7.0 wins on the season. Molina, though, is right there in that same conversation, posting a 6.5 WAR of his own. That is a truly remarkable season. I will freely admit, I never thought I would see a day come when Yadier Molina was a sevenish win player. I just didn't see him turning into that sort of all-around threat. I...well, I was wrong. 

The Cardinals started off well in Houston last night, but the next two games are going to be huge for the Redbirds, both for the practical purposes of the standings and a couple of particular storylines. Jaime Garcia can't pitch on the road: fact or fiction? Well, he's going to need to tonight if the Cards are going to move closer to clinching. Jaime has an ERA nearly three (!) runs higher on the road than at home, along with a reputation for being a bit of a flake. It would be awfully nice if Garcia could do something to bring that 5.67 down closer to that 2.83 while showing the world he doesn't have to sleep at home to get the job done. 

If the Cards can somehow pull off a sweep in this series, I think they're home free. They finish out the season with a tough stretch of six games against a pair of division winners in Cincinnati and Washington, but you wouldn't think even this team could fall on their faces so badly as to lose all of those games. (Fingers crossed...) Just two more games in Houston, then it's back to Busch to celebrate. (Sounds kind of dirty, doesn't it?) 

Hopefully. 

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