ST. LOUIS — The playoff push has reached its climax across the league, and the Cardinals can possibly secure their postseason berth with a win Saturday.
If the Birds best the Reds and the Brewers fall in Pittsburgh, St. Louis will be playoff-bound no matter what- guaranteed the second Wild Card spot.
There won’t be any celebration, however, as Mike Matheny says the club has eyes on the NL Central title.
“Not even going there. It’s all about today. We’re really not doing anything differently other than figuring out how we can win tonight and continue do that the rest of the way until our hand is forced in a different direction,” he said. “At some point we’ll acknowledge that, but until then we have to keep our head down and keep going.”
The task of beating Cincinnati became a little more complicated Saturday morning, when two starters woke up with a stomach illness. Both Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams are out of the lineup, though the manager didn’t send them home. Instead, they’re sequestered in the stadium in case they’re needed late in the game.
“They’re in quarantine right now,” Matheny smiled wryly. “We have to keep all the options open as we get late in the game. They’re a couple nice bats we’d like to have off the bench if things clear up.”
While the skipper said he had been looking to get Carpenter a day of rest anyhow, Adams’ absence will be a major blow, especially against Reds starter Mike Leake.
The first baseman is hitting .444 against the righty, notching four doubles a homer and three RBIs in 18 at bats. With runs at a premium of late, the choice to hold him out speaks to just how debilitating the stomach bug is.
“We wanted him in there,” Matheny said. “It just wasn’t an option today.”
Yadier Molina will fill in at first base, handing catching duties over to Tony Cruz. Molina has played first 10 times in his career, most recently manning the position twice in 2013. Though it can be disorienting for career catchers to jump to different positions, Matheny says the Gold Glover has a universal feel for the game.
“For me, what little time I spent over there, I was nervous as a cat on a hot roof,” he said of his time at first. “I just felt completely out of water, but he takes ground balls every single day and he’s got a good feel for the game over there.”
Cruz has hit leak well, going 4-for-7 against him. That, combined with his game-winning efforts both at the plate and behind it on Thursday, made the decision easy to give him the nod.
“He’s coming off a real good day the other day. That’s something we never overlook when a guy comes up big for us late in the game that’s something we can ride,” the manager said.
Trevor Rosenthal was on a very short leash Friday night, and was pulled after a leadoff walk turned into two runners with one out in the ninth. The closer’s difficulties with the first man of the inning have plagued him much of the year, but Matheny says there isn’t a trend to the trouble.
Instead, the manager points to a lack of rest as the cause of those rough starts to innings. Friday was another example, as Matheny said Rosenthal needed a day, but he just couldn’t give it to him given the score. Instead, the Cardinals had relievers up from the first pitch, and Matheny pulled Rosenthal at the first sign of trouble.
“Those guys don’t like to see you coming but I needed him to know. He’s been a warrior for us. He’s been out there answering the bell, fighting and giving us everything he has,” the skipper said. “We acknowledge and appreciate that, but I pushed him too far so I had to get him some help.”
Help came in the form of Randy Choate and Seth Maness, the latter of whom has been a janitor of sorts for St. Louis. The ground ball specialist has expanded to multiple-inning work, late-game usage and now saves.
“We used him in different roles last year. He was the get-out-of-the-inning double play- Carlos Beltran calls him the ground ball guy,” Matheny said, explaining his trust in the 25-year-old. “The only real difference this year is the save opportunities. What we do is weigh who’s our next best guy that we can go to out there right now, and Seth has been the guy we’re not afraid to throw out there in big situations.”
Maness has stranded 44 of the runners he inherited (72%), making him second in baseball.
1) Jon Jay CF
2) Kolten Wong 2B
3) Matt Holliday LF
4) Jhonny Peralta SS
5) Oscar Taveras RF
6) Yadier Molina 1B
7) Daniel Descalso 3B
8) Tony Cruz C
9) Michael Wacha RHP