Cards-Reds Series Recap: An empty win for Redbirds as time runs out


The St. Louis Cardinals took two out of three games from the Cincinnati Reds in the last head-to-head matchup between the clubs. The Cards pushed their record to 12-6 against the Reds, only making the team’s collapse harder to fathom. Coming into the year, St. Louis was the heavy favorite in the division with the top one-two punch in baseball in its rotation and the best hitter in baseball anchoring the lineup. While the Redbirds didn’t blow away a weak division early on, they did stay atop the standings, often trading places with the upstart Reds until August.

St. Louis swept Cincinnati in an early August series and it looked like the more experienced favorite would take control. But the Cards went into a free fall and the Reds caught fire. The streak to end August left St. Louis far behind in the division race. After the Cards beat the Reds 4-2 Sunday, they still trailed by seven games in the NL Central and five and a half in the Wild Card.

The Cardinals handled good teams all season, but couldn’t stay focused day in and day out. The Spring Training words of manager Tony La Russa have rung loud during the team’s struggles. The message will haunt this season’s memory for years to come.

La Russa drilled into his team the need to have an “edge” and to “finish strong.” He demanded their focus and told them division titles and championships weren’t won in preseason predictions. Every team starts at “zero” and every team must prove its worth consistently over 162 games.

While La Russa tried to get his point across, it melted in the summer heat. The Cards could still learn a few of these lessons, but time is running out. They may have to wait ’til next year to make a difference.

And next year may be too late for La Russa and this version of the Cards. His preaching before the season requires team chemistry and trust. it requires everyone to buy into the plan. It appears the team never found the cohesion needed to survive the rigors of the baseball season. Albert Pujols let out frustration early on in the season. Chris Carpenter lost his head twice in as many days — once attacking a teammate and once stirring up a brawl with Cincinnati. Now, Tony La Russa and Colby Rasmus are feuding and Pujols has given his straight opinion on the matter. Whether La Russa or Rasmus is right is hard to tell right now, but it only adds another black mark to a disappointing, even embarrassing season. La Russa added to the trouble with some shots directed at general manager John Mozeliak by praising former Cards and current Reds GM Walt Jocketty.

It’s only fitting that the latest scene in the Cards drama unfolded with the Reds in the background. Cincinnati has been a big part of the Cards season — the brawl, the division, the Triple Crown — and Sunday was the final chapter in the new rivalry for 2010.

Series Recap

Game 1: Cardinals 3 Reds 2

The Cards jumped out of the gates with three runs in the first two innings, which proved to be enough for a big win. Winning the opener kept hope alive for another day. Crazier things have happened in baseball. St. Louis needs to win a whole lot of games and this one was a nice and needed start. St. Louis was on a five-game losing streak entering the game. Jaime Garcia continued his stellar campaign, throwing 6 2/3 innings and allowing just two runs for the win. Jon Jay’s triple in the first scored Skip Schumaker who led things off with a single. Jay later scored on a sac fly by Albert Pujols. Brendan Ryan came around in the next inning on a groundout by Schumaker to get the third run. The Cards hung on the rest of the way for the 3-2 win.

Game 2: Reds 6 Cardinals 1

The optimism stemming from one win was tempered by a loss in the second game of the series. Before the game, there was the sentiment that maybe if the Cards could pull put another sweep and then ride the momentum, they could get back in the race. With Adam Wainwright on the mound, the team had plenty to be optimistic about. But Wainwright continued his struggles after dominating baseball much of the year. After he shaved his ERA under 2.00, the right-hander lost his magic touch and the Redbirds started to tumble. The loss Saturday was Waino’s fourth straight, moving his record to 17-10 and making his quest for 20 wins and a Cy Young award a little less likely. A few weeks ago, he was the favorite and 20 wins seemed inevitable. Now, it’s a battle. He pitched five innings and gave up two runs and seven hits. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t sharp either. Wainwright wasn’t pleased.

“I don’t like losing one game, much less four in a row,” Wainwright said. “I won’t lose again.”

The Cards can only hope he makes good on his promise and then hope the rest of the staff adopts that attitude. It’s St. Louis’ only chance for fall baseball this year.

*The Cardinals also got their first look at Aroldis Chapman and his already legendary heater. The lefty from Cuba has been clocked at 105 mph and can consistently hit 100 mph on the gun. The ball seems to explode out of his hand. He’ll be causing problems for years to come if that arm holds up. Chapman faced Albert Pujols during his inning of work and got the slugger to ground out. He blew a fastball by him during the at bat — something that doesn’t happen often to Pujols.

Game 3: Cardinals 4 Reds 2

The series finale went the Cards way thanks to Chris Carpenter and Matt Holliday. Carpenter went 7 1/3 innings and fanned 11, while giving up two runs. After five innings, the Cards trailed 2-1 and it looked like Carpenter’s gem might go to waste. Matt Holliday came through in the sixth with a three-run homer after Cincinnati intentionally walked Pujols to get to him. Holliday earned some respect with a mammoth blast that went 418 feet. The game ended that way, a 4-2 victory for the Cardinals.

Unfortunately, reality has made any win hard to celebrate. The Cardinals would need to finish the year 22-6 and have the Reds go .500 to catch them. Let’s just say odds aren’t on their side. In the Wild Card, Philadelphia has been playing outstanding ball and has the playoff experience that makes them hard to pick against.