St. Louis Cardinals: Playoff Hopes Hang On Final Roadtrip

Sep 13, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4) talks with relief pitcher Alex Reyes (61) during the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 13, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4) talks with relief pitcher Alex Reyes (61) during the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals start a 4-game series against the San Francisco Giants tonight in what will ultimately determine the Redbirds’ postseason fate.

This St. Louis Cardinals team hasn’t made anything easy this season, have they?  The Cardinals dropped two of three to the rival Chicago Cubs earlier this week at Busch Stadium and have put themselves in a tight spot leading up to the final weeks of the season.

Amazingly, the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets both lost their games on Wednesday too and here we go — three teams separated by a half game for the two wild card spots. The next few weeks will be full of excitement and heartbreak from some fans.

The Redbirds’ season hangs in the balance starting tonight. The Cardinals begin a 10-game road trip that starts (and pretty much ends) in San Francisco. The 4-game series against the Giants is the biggest of the season and will ultimately determine if this team has the grit to grab one of those two wild card spots.

Neither team has really been impressive in the second half, but the Cardinals at least have a winning record. Since the All Star break, St. Louis is 30-27. After a stellar first half record of 57-33, the Giants have crumbled like a cookie in the second half with the worst record in that time at 20-35.

Starting pitching has been the weak point for both teams, particularly the Cardinals. The Cardinals have a second half starter’s ERA of 4.79 with a 4.19 FIP — good for third worst in the National League behind only the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Atlanta Braves. Yikes.

The Giants starting pitching hasn’t been that much better, though. San Francisco’s starters hold a 4.42 ERA and 4.37 FIP in the second half — 6th worst in the NL.

The Cardinals power stroke has continued in the second half. St. Louis leads the NL with 90 dingers since the All Star break. The only catch — the Cardinals have only scored 247 runs in that time, which ranks 9th in the NL. It’s been a feast or famine season for the Cardinals at the plate.

After many fans, myself included, craved more of a power stroke after last year’s offense, I’m beginning to shift that opinion back to rather having the stellar starting pitching that the Redbirds had in 2015. Would be nice to have both the offense from this year and the pitching from last season, wouldn’t it? One can dream.

So, how does the Cardinals/Giants series shake out?

Tonight: Adam Wainwright (11-8, 4.45 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (15-5, 2.90 ERA)

Friday: Luke Weaver (1-2, 3.48 ERA) vs. Matt Moore (10-11, 4.08 ERA)

Saturday: Mike Leake (9-10, 4.60 ERA) vs. Jeff Samardzija (11-10, 4.07 ERA)

Sunday: Jaime Garcia (10-12, 4.65 ERA) vs. Albert Suarez (3-3, 4.20 ERA)

I won’t break down every match-up, but there are two that I want to focus on. The series begins tonight with the best match-up: Waino vs. Cueto. If Wainwright is the ace of this staff, he has got to show it tonight with a stellar performance. Cueto has been absolutely masterful for the Giants this season (a guy I wanted the Cardinals to sign last winter).

I’d give the slight edge to the Giants because of the season Cueto is having, but the Cardinals have actually hit Cueto fairly well in the past. The 30-year old is 6-8 with a 3.88 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in his career when facing the Cardinals.

Wainwright is 5-6 with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP for his career against the Giants. It should be a great match-up.

The other intriguing part of this series is Sunday’s match-up. Tentatively, Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia is slated for the start. But as Bernie (and any other writer or blogger covering the Cardinals right now) has pointed out, Garcia has been a dumpster fire of late. He’s burnt out.

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I believe it’s time that manager Mike Matheny hand the keys back over to Alex Reyes and give the young fella a chance to make a huge difference for a team that needs a dynamic starter down the stretch. Reyes has proven that he can be that guy. Yes, he walks a lot of batters, but he has shown that his stuff is more than good enough to get out of those jams. It is too late in the season and these games are too important to throw Garcia out there and hope he figures it out.

So, it all comes down to the next four days. The Cardinals MUST win this series to snag that wild card spot, a 2-2 split simply won’t be enough. If the Cardinals can win three of four or somehow sweep the Giants, then I say they carry that momentum (if there is really such a thing) the rest of the road trip and take over one of these two wild card spots.

Next: Cardinals: Did Matheny Save the Season?

Get ready for a roller coaster ride this weekend Cardinals fans, it’s going to be a wild one and you might just blow chunks when it’s all said and done. Thanks for reading.