So Close

Going into the game, you know that the Cubs are getting beat and the Brewers are getting pounded. First place is there for the taking, if you can just win. To not get it done is frustrating, but at least no ground is lost.

And you have to give the Cards credit. A lot of times in that situation, they’ve come out and just laid a total egg, getting routed. Last night, they took a lead on Brandon Webb, which is hard enough to do, before Wainwright just wasn’t able to hold it. If Miles doesn’t stumble trying to get the double play, maybe it’s different, but Chris Young was running and it was a high chopper, so I’m not sure they’d have been able to get it anyway.

The biggest question in the game, in my mind, was LaRussa sending up Branyan in the eighth with runners on the corners and one out. Branyan is a Three True Outcomes type of guy (walk, strikeout, home run–outcomes that have nothing to do with the fielders), which can be good in certain situations. If the Cards had been down by two or more, he’s a good fit there. You need the long ball possibility and one run might not be enough. In this situation, though, his propensity to strike out hurts you much more than his potential power. All you need is a sac fly to the outfield, though a hit would be nice as well.

Seems to me that you send up either Ludwick, if you want to retain the power possibility, or Brendan Ryan in that slot. Ryan would have to come into the game anyway to play third, plus he’s more likely to put the ball in play and should have enough speed to stay out of the double play. I think that’s where I’d have gone, but I’m sure TLR had his reasons. The man has managed a game before, as you know.

More on l’affaire Ankiel and today’s game after the jump.

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1 Game

Amazing the difference one simple game can make. Right now, it’s the difference between the Cardinals being a winning team and being an average team. And it’s the difference between the Cardinals being a third place team and being a first place team, a gap that could be closed tonight.

I didn’t see any of the game last night, save Russell Branyan’s long bomb, but it sounded like one of those typical Pineiro-type games. He scattered eight hits over just under 6 innings, but was able to limit the damage. He has a WHIP of 1.26 since joining the Cardinals, which isn’t as bad as I was thinking it’d be. He’s limited the walks (7 in 39.2 innings) and if he continues to do that, he’ll probably continue to be successful.

Albert Pujols last hit a home run on August 22, 12 games ago (11 for him, since he sat out on Sunday). If I remember correctly, that was the game that he stepped out during the at-bat with pain before smacking his 30th of the year. Since that game, his numbers are .231/.231/.348. That’s right, his BA and SLG are exactly the same because Pujols has not had an extra-base hit in that span. If that doesn’t tell you that he’s hurting, I don’t know what does. Thankfully the rest of the team is picking up some of the offensive slack, but I don’t know how far the Cards will go if AP isn’t firing on at least most of his cylinders.

Tonight’s game is one that has been pretty anxiously awaited for a while, as Mark Mulder makes his season debut. I think everyone knows that he won’t be the dominant Mulder of his Oakland days, at least not this year. The hope is that he’ll be close enough to give us hope that, with an offseason of rest and work, he’ll be at or very close to that level in 2008. If nothing else, his arm is fresh for the stretch run.

This is what he’s done against the Pirates in the past. Not sure if you can use those numbers for much given the situation, but there you have it anyway. A few guys have had success against him putting the ball in play, but not a lot of long balls on that list. So if he can use his defense tonight, he could roll.

The Cardinals face Tony Armas. Armas faced the Cardinals a month ago, during that disasterous 1-5 road trip they went on after sweeping the Brewers. He allowed only one run in 6.1 innings, getting the win. Historically, he’s been tough on the Cards as well, though Jim Edmonds has 2 HR off of him. It could be a long night for Cardinal batters, unless they can get Armas’s pitch count up and get into the Pirates bullpen.

Scoreboard watching: The Dodgers and Cubs meet up again tonight. Seems like a lot of night games at Wrigley. I’m thinking that, if I were ever to go there, I’d want it to be a day game. A night game makes it seem like just about any other park. The tradition of day games should be emphasized, in my mind. Anyway, it’s Ted Lilly for the Cubs and Eric Stults for the Dodgers. The pitching matchup seems to favor the Cubs, though three of his last four outings have been tough. I’d say the Dodgers don’t really have the offense to take advantage of that, but they obviously brought the bats to Chicago. Game’s on ESPN, if you want to keep an eye on them.

Milwaukee, just a half game out, host Houston. Yovani Gallardo, the young pitching stud compared to Francisco Liriano before his call-up, has been erratic, like you’d expect young pitchers to be. He gave up only 2 earned in 7 last time out, but 5 in 3 the outing before that and is only a few outings away from a horrendous 11 in 2.2. He’ll be facing Matt Albers, who the Cardinals made look like Cy Young on Sunday but carries a 5.36 ERA into the game. Could be a pitcher’s duel, could be a slugfest. You just never know.