August 27, 2008

Cards shellacked dozen to donut

The St. Louis Cardinals lost more than just the game to the Milwaukee Brewers last night. They also lost ground to everyone that counted in their race to obtain a playoff position, be it the distant dream of first place in the NL Central, or the chance at the NL Wild Card spot.

In their 12-0 loss last night a Busch Stadium, the Cards squandered potentially rallies with almost every inning, trying to pick on Brewers' hurler Ben Sheets, who, for all his success, has not done well against the Cardinals. Until last night, that is. And even after the flood gates had opened on the latter of the Cards' relievers, Brian Hall, Mr. Recurring Nightmare of the 9th, returned to haunt Busch Stadium yet again, clobbering a two-run homer to push the Brewers score well out of reach.

At one point, Sheets had thrown more pitches than Cards' starter Todd Wellemeyer, but received some offensive backing at the right times, and somehow found his way out of jam after jam.

Wellemeyer didn't exactly do badly himself, his only real mistake pitch to Ryan Braun, who clocked a two-run homer on a full-count pitch. Actually, that gopher ball itself wasn't the worst pitch in the world, but the slipping to a full count was the problem. Wellemeyer ended up throwing 112 pitches on the night, giving up five runs, four of them earned.

The one unearned run came after Albert Pujols made a rare defensive error. His throw to second was the error, but in fact, what made the goof-up so rare was that Pujols attempted to make a throw to force out a base runner at second base when he had a much easier toss to Wellemeyer covering first base right in front of him. Needless to say, the inning went on until it cost the Cardinals a run. Although that one run by no means became the deciding factor in the ball game, it pointed out the type of night the Cards were having.

On a line drive into left field, Rick Ankiel either misjudged or misread or flat out lost the ball, the drive striking him on the arm, it appeared, no where near his glove.

The Cubs won in a come-from-behind victory, as did the Phillies, and of course, the Brewers beat the Cardinals, so the St. Louis squad lost ground on all fronts; first place and the Wild Card.

As for the NL Central lead, the Cardinals are now 9.5 games out.

A more realisitic goal at this point is the Wild Card spot, which is not out of reach, but is slipping away at the moment. The extra-inning victory by the Phillies allows them to slip into first place in the east, putting the Mets back in the Wild Card and tied with the Cardinals in that category. The Brewers increased their lead in that race, the Mets and Cardinals both 4.5 games behind.

For a team that "talked down" the importance of last night's game, the Brewers sure played like a team hungry to take that Wild Card spot, not content to wait around for the Cubs to self-destruct in the last month of the season, as they have been known to do in the past. The Mets and the Phillies were scrapping pretty good in their extra-inning affair, and the Cubs re-saddled their horse to race on to a big win after falling behind the Pirates.

Which leaves the Cardinals, who played as hard they ever had, but maybe just don't have the same horses, at least not at this point. They seem to be a better team than they show at times, but the mark of the winner is still not showing. Beating up on weaker teams seems to make them appear as good as anyone, but folding against the competitors is more telling at this point.

Still, the Cards can reverse the disheartening feeling and the momentum if they can find a way to split this mini-series with the Brew-Crew. Just playing well, at this point, though, won't cut it, as it might've early in the season. And big secret to the Cardinals having success is really no secret at all, but rather, that they simply go out and play as they usually do, as hard as ever. That's all any team can do, and for that, a true Cardinal Nation cannot find fault with the team from St. Louis.
photo by jodie and larry