|Remember, kids: nobody puts Baby in the corner. The Cardinals, on the other hand...|
After the Cardinals
beat the Braves
in the first-ever Wild Card
slash play-in game, I kind of thought things might be falling into place for this team. Don't get me wrong; the Braves lost that game more than the Redbirds won it, going all 2006 Detroit Tigers
and throwing away their chance to win like so many grounders to third. But even so, Kyle Lohse
pitched very well, the bullpen held together, and the offense did enough to win. It just felt
like a big, momentum-building win.
Then came yesterday's reality check, and I suddenly remembered a lot of the reasons I've been leery of trusting this team for a long time now. The offense stalled despite opportunities galore, the defense was shaky, and the bullpen ended up taking a tough loss. Add it all up and the Cards are staring down a must-win game this afternoon against the Nationals before they jet off to Washington.
I didn't get a chance to try out my new Pete Kozma
joke over the weekend, having no column in which to put it, but I didn't want to just let it pass entirely, so here it is, only slightly past its prime:
Q: What do Pete Kozma and William Tecumseh Sherman have in common?
A: They both cause fires in the streets of Atlanta!
Ah, there. I feel better now. I was so proud of that joke when I came up with it. I just couldn't stand to not use it at all. Of course, bizarro-world infield fly antics aside, there was plenty to like about the way the Cards played against Atlanta. I didn't think the Redbirds would be able to hit the Braves' pitching, particularly the bullpen, and for the most part that played out fairly true. Atlanta shot themselves in the foot with shoddy defense, but the Cards didn't exactly light up the Braves' pitchers. What was encouraging, though, was that they didn't need to. The pitching did the heavy lifting, holding Atlanta down and giving the bats a chance to pick up what they needed to win.
For the most part, that's what happened against the Nationals, as well. And that's encouraging. Adam Wainwright was very good, Lance Lynn was very good. Hell, pretty much everyone was pretty good aside from Marc Rzepczynski, and his problem was as much a bad situation as it was bad pitching.
Unfortunately, the Cardinal offense couldn't get that one hit they needed to break through, and the game turned into another one of those missed opportunities that have so seemed to define this season. Gio Gonzalez walked the stadium, but gave the Redbirds virtually nothing in the way of hittable pitches. Everything was either a pitcher's pitch or shoulder high and two foot outside, giving Cardinal hitters very little to actually swing at. And, let's face it: momentum in a game may be complete BS, but when you fail to score after having bases loaded and no outs, it certainly seems like something bad is almost guaranteed to happen, you know?
Regardless of how it happened, the Redbirds are up against the wall now. Going down 2-0 in a best of five series is an untenable position anyway; doing so with three straight in the opposition's ballpark is a one-way ticket to teetimeville. The problem is the Cards are facing another borderline ace pitcher in Jordan Zimmermann, an extraordinarily daunting proposition in a do-or-die game. They'll need Jaime Garcia to show up in a big way if this series isn't going to go bad in a hurry.