Cardinal nation is abuzz on twitter tonight, and I love it.
I feel good about our chances of playoffs, not only because of how well we have been playing, but the wheels seem to have fallen off in Atlanta.
In addition to losing Hanson and Jurrjens from their starting rotation, the Braves offense has become increasingly inept at critical times, and the bullpen completely overworked and ineffective of late. The manager simply ran their arms into the ground.
Buster Olney of ESPN reported some interesting facts two nights ago about the Braves bullpen:
-Atlanta has 3 of top 4 relievers in appearances this season
-Kimbrel allowed one homer in first 96 big league innings this season, 2 homers in last 2 appearances
-Venters, Kimbrel, O’Flaherty have 82,77,75 games,respectively. Mariano Rivera has never pitched in 75 games in ANY reg.season in his career
-More numbers to put Kimbrel’s workload in context. Most appearances in any regular season for Hoffman-70. Rivera-74. Kimbrel this yr.-77
Braves coaches may “Dusty Baker” them right out of the playoffs.
However, let’s also give credit where credit is due. The Cardinals have gone 19-6 since August 25, while the braves have gone 9-16, cutting a 10.5 game deficit to 1.5. I will admit it, I was one of the fans that thought the season was over at 10.5 games out. But something happened to this group.
It was reported there was a team meeting after the home sweep by the Dodgers where the players committed to finishing strong. They started playing loose, the starting pitching has been tremendous, and LaRussa has been managing much more aggressively since being backed into a corner. Motte has been tremendous out of the pen, and it’s fun to watch this team bunt runners over, hit-and-run, and even steal a few bases. They have their mojo back in a serious way, and come to the park every day expecting to win. This is a different Cardinals team than what we saw a month ago.
This September has meant a lot to a fan base that was becoming worried about the team getting blown up and going through rebuilding just weeks earlier. They have exercised their demons of poor Septembers since 2005. Larussa has a chance this week to change his legacy from the coach who only got 1 out of 5 playoff trips during Pujols prime to the coach that led the most improbable Cardinals playoff comeback since 1964. Completing the playoff run, would put the Cards in the playoffs for 3 of the past 6 seasons, and 8 of 12 seasons since 2000.
As Joe Strauss keenly pointed out tonight, however, the Phillies are in a unique position. They go to Atlanta for the final three games of the season. In a sense, they can “pick” their playoff opponent in that series by choosing to send out their regulars and try and beat a worn-down Atlanta team, or rest the regulars giving Atlanta a much better chance to win. Charlie Manuel made the commitment during the last two games of the Cardinals series, that he would play his best lineup in any remaining game that has playoff implications for the opponent. We will see if he sticks to that. I guarantee you Philly would rather see Atlanta in the postseason mix than the Cardinals who have beat them 6 out of 9 times this season and are on fire in September.
That’s why it’s so important for the Cardinals to take care of business their next 4 games. They play the Mets in a day game tomorrow, and the Braves are off. After that the Cards have 3 with the Cubs, while the Braves have 3 with the Nationals. The Braves have trouble with the Nationals. If the Cards can pull ahead over the next 4 games, they control their own destiny in the final series against the Disastros, regardless of what Philly does against Atlanta. It’s a tall task to expect a team to keep winning every game out, but tomorrow is huge, as they could cut the lead to 1 game going into the final 6.
Speaking of tomorrow’s game…
Westbrook v. Capuano
This will be no gimme. Capuano can be a very good pitcher, and Westbrook has been wildly inconsistent. I spend a lot of time on baseballhq.com, and they have a stat called Pure Quality Start, which is basically Quality Start on steroids. There is a Pure Quality Start rating from 0-5, with 0-1 being a disastrous start, and 4-5 being dominating
Westbrook last 5 PQS: 2-2-4-4-0 Capuano last 5 PQS: 5-3-0-5-3
PQS vs NYM: 4.0 PQS vs. STL: 4.0
Westbrook was very good in his 1 start versus the Mets this season, going 8 innings with 1 walk, 2 ER, 4 strikeouts and WHIP of .63. 65% of balls in play were groundballs, which helped contribute to the excellent outing. The numbers were a bit deceiving however, because only 17% of balls in play went for hits, and Westbrook season average is 32%. Eight innings of one-run ball seems unlikely tomorrow, but if the “good Westbrook” shows up, we can reasonably expect 6 t0 7 inning and 2 or 3 earned runs.
Capuano has not faced the Cardinals this season, but you can see he has been just as inconsistent as Westbrook his last 5 starts. In one start against the Cardinals last season, he had a 4.0 PQS. Over the last month, he’s been striking out 9.6 batters per 9, and doing a good job of keeping the ball in the yard. His numbers are drastically better with nobody on base, so if the Cards can get to him early and keep runners on, their chances of winning are much better tomorrow.
Here’s hoping for Good Westbrook to keep the mojo going and help the Cards exorcise the demons of Septembers past.
Thanks for reading