St. Louis Cardinals: Crucial series vs. Cincinnati

Jul 17, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) is removed from the game by manager Mike Matheny (22) during the fifth inning against the Miami Marlins at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 17, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) is removed from the game by manager Mike Matheny (22) during the fifth inning against the Miami Marlins at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

In the middle of a heated wildcard race, the St. Louis Cardinals must capitalize on opportunities against poor opponents; that is where the next three games against the Cincinnati Reds come into play.

As the 2016 regular season is slowly winding down with less than two months of games to go, the St. Louis Cardinals have found themselves on a losing skid at the wrong time.

Going into last week, many expected the St. Louis ball club to take full advantage of nine straight games against the Cincinnati Reds (45-65) and Atlanta Braves (41-70), however that has not been the case in the first six games of the nine game stretch.

Playing in Great American Ballpark is never an easy task, especially for a team that has had its fair share of pitching struggles and that was evident for the Cardinals last week. From Seung Hwan Oh’s blown two inning save opportunity that ended in a three run walk-off home run coming from the bat of Scott Schebler to the seven run blowout thanks to Mike Leake who allowed seven runs in only five innings of work.

The St. Louis Cardinals did manage to win the second game of the series thanks to a four run first inning, and Oh’s eighth save of the season.

The St. Louis Cardinals series back at Busch against the worst team in baseball (record wise), the Atlanta Braves, did not go much better as it looked like the pitching staff was facing the 1927 “Murderers Row” Yankee team.

Why?  Because the Cardinals allowed a total of 20 runs in the final 18 innings. To add insult to injury, the performances of Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright were super disappointing despite both coming off a hot month of July.

Turning the focus to the next three games, the St. Louis Cardinals must come ready to play. Their struggles at Busch must take a backseat to this series as all three of these games are must-win before the Cards head to Wrigley Field for four games immediately after this home-stand completes.

The pitching match-ups are as follows:

It is hard to determine who truly has the edge when it comes to starting pitchers as it is hard to tell how Wacha, Leake, or Garcia will come out. All three have shown flashes of brilliance this season, but have struggled for the most part.

One can imagine that the St. Louis Cardinals offense should have no problems with Cody Reed or Brandon Finnegan, but Anthony DeSclafani presents a tough challenge. Having Jaime’s best in this game, then, is crucial if the St. Louis Cardinals can hope to manage to take the first two and compete for the sweep.

The next major concern for the series (and the St. Louis Cardinals season while we are at it) is whether the offense will show up or whether fans will be left begging for more.

Yes, the match-up favors the St. Louis Cardinals batters in the first two when you consider how both Reed and Finnegan have fared this season, however, these same batters are known for struggling against pitchers against whom they should have no problem facing.

As though the St. Louis Cardinals offense concern wasn’t enough, the health of Matt Carpenter is something to keep an eye on as Mike Matheny has eased him back into major league action despite him playing at least seven innings in each of his rehabilitation starts at AA Springfield. Carpenter is 0-6 with a walk since his return from the disabled list.

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Since Aledmys Diaz went on to the disabled list with an injury of his own, no one has yet been able to fill in for his to-date production. Jhonny Peralta is putting his best effort with a .278 batting average, but has only three RBI since returning from injury. Yadier Molina has arguably had the hottest bat in the lineup, having brought and then later lost a 16-game hitting streak into August facing the Reds. This aside, he maintains a 20-game on-base streak (he drew two walks in the two games in which he failed to get a hit).

What makes the series even more crucial is the fact that the Miami Marlins are simultaneously facing the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants.  In these games, the St. Louis Cardinals hold the advantage by facing a weaker opponent; they need to take advantage of it while they can.

After this Reds series, the Cardinals face the Cubs in four games, Astros in two, Phillies in three, Mets in three, Athletics in three, and Brewers in three to close August. These teams have a combined record that sits one game below .500 (332-333).

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My take-away from all of this?  The one thing I want to see over the next few weeks is consistency from the pitching staff. If the offense has days struggling, they should be able to count on their starters to hold the opponent to a manageable amount of runs. Surrendering 37 runs to the Reds and Braves in six games is not acceptable which must be avoided to really make a playoff push in September.