I thought that the Cards needed to go at least 5-2 in this seven game road trip through Milwaukee and Chicago. After a sweep of the Brewers, the Cards only need to split the series with the Cubs to obtain that result. A split is certainly doable, as is winning the series outright.
The Cards went 2-1 in a series in Wrigley in April. That seems to be their only trip up there, though they did lose two to the Cubs in April at Busch (with the third postponed due to the death of Josh Hancock) and lost two of three in July at Busch. However, this team in the last ten days seems to be a lot different than the team that faced them even in July. The pitching is coming around, the offense on the whole is clicking, and even the defense is doing better. I’d suggest the defensive improvement is directly tied to the better pitching. The players aren’t getting down with multiple hits and walks and they are staying focused in the game. It had to be disheartening to see runs score so early and often as was happening earlier in the season, giving that “Here we go again” type of resignation. Now, when things are going well and the pitchers are making their pitches, it’s easier to stay “in the game” mentally, as it were.
Today sends Looper to the mound vs. Rich Hill. Looper really has alternated between being pretty good and being terribly bad since he was the early surprise of the season. His monthly ERA has not been under 5 since April. Twice in his last five starts he has given up 7 earned runs. If Mark Mulder does make it back, my candidate for removal from the rotation would be Looper, especially since he long ago set a season-high in innings pitched. (Mulder’s rehab start last night could have gone better, but it was his first pitching of the year.) All those caveats against Looper aside, he did allow only 1 run in six innings last time out against the Dodgers and gave up only one run over seven against these Cubs in Busch in that July series, accounting for the only win. A fascinating note in ESPN’s game preview: Looper has a 6-0, 1.84 mark in day games, compared to 4-9, 6.78 at night. Glad we’ll be playing under natural light, then!
Rich Hill, on the other hand, has had a pretty good season. His August ERA is 5.71, but that’s very skewed by his last outing in the hitter’s haven known as Coors Field (7 ER in 5.2 IP). He’s a lefty, which always seems to cause issues for the Cardinals. Juan Encarnacion should make it back on the field for this game–LaRussa doghouse or no–and that could help a lot. That will leave players like Chris Duncan and Jim Edmonds on the bench for late-game pinch hitting, something that could turn out to be key.
Hope the wind is blowing in today at Wrigley. A slugfest is probably not what the Cardinals want–that blowout win streak notwithstanding.
Even though the Brewers are still in first, for some reason they seem fairly irrelevant to the race. Still, they are leading, so we still need to keep an eye on their games, even if the feeling is they will continue to drop down the standings. The Brew Crew open a series against Cincinnati this evening, so hopefully the Reds can continue to help out the Cardinals!