When the Cardinals took to the field on Saturday night, they had a chance to clinch the NL Central for the second straight year. The Pirates dropped the second game of a three game set with the Reds on a Ramon Santiago walk-off grand slam.
Lance Lynn took the mound with a chance to put the Cardinals safely into the NLDS against the Dodgers.
Lynn started poorly, allowing back-to-back home runs in the first inning to David Peralta and Mark Trumbo. The Cardinals looked like they might come back to beat baseball’s worst team after plating a pair of runs in the top of the third on a sacrifice fly and a strikeout wild pitch where Randal Grichuk scored from second.
The game went scoreless until the bottom of the seventh when Trumbo went deep for the second time on the night, a three-run shot to break the game open. With just six outs remaining, the Cardinals failed to even bring the tying run to the plate. Matt Adams was the only player to reach base in the final two innings.
The loss returned the Cardinals’ division lead to one and left their magic number at one as well. The NL Central joins the AL Central as the only two undecided divisions with 161 games in the books. Both the Cardinals and the Pirates will be using arms they would have liked to save for a playoff situation to taking the hill for which could cost both of them with short playoff series and potential tie-breaking games looming.
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The Pirates will start against the Reds three hours before the Cardinals take the field on Sunday, which may give the Red Birds a good idea of what they will need to do in tomorrow’s game.
The Reds have announced Johnny Cueto as their starter on Sunday, while the Pirates will be going with Gerrit Cole, who started game two and five of the NLDS in 2013. Cole was supposed to take over as one of the Pirates top pitchers this season. He had shoulder fatigue in the early part of the season, and then went on the DL with a lat strain on July 8.
Since coming back from the DL, Cole has a 3.77 ERA and has allowed at least two runs in all seven of his starts. Now, with Cole slated to be used in game 162, the Pirates will likely use Edinson Volquez, which looks like a good option considering his recent performance, three straight starts of seven innings and a 0.43 ERA in that stretch.
As for the Cardinals, Wainwright must pitch today, it may cost the Cardinals only if they fail to clinch the NL Central. If the Cardinals do clinch the Central at some point Sunday, Wainwright will still be able to start on regular rest in game one of the divisional series. However, if the Pirates are able to pull even with the Cardinals, they would force a one game playoff. In that situation, Shelby Miller or John Lackey would take the ball in a Monday tie-breaking game against Volquez or Jeff Locke.
Clearly there is a lot still to be decided. If the Cardinals could have one the Central on Saturday, everything would be decided, which might have been better for the Pirates and Cardinals, but instead we have NL Central havoc on game 162.