GAME 160: On The Brink
With a slender two-game lead over the Dodgers in the wild card race and three remaining games against the hated Reds, the Cardinals turned to enigmatic lefthander Jaime Garcia and his home field advantage to help clinch a playoff spot. Garcia did not disappoint, using his arm and his bat to inspire the rejuvenated Cardinals to a 4-2 victory over the Reds and shave another game off of of their dwindling magic number.
MENTAL READJUSTMENT: It’s wonderful to see the recent dominance of Jaime Garcia in the past three weeks. After more than two years of erratic behavior and spotty performances, Garcia seems to have found a comfortable groove. Coming off of his best start in more than a year, Garcia was once again commanding against the Reds, his fastball showing late movement and zip. He took the game into the seventh, giving up two runs against six strikeouts. Nice work. It would’ve been a special start anyway, but Garcia added some extra cumin to the mix with a solo homer in the third to tie the game. Instantly, the team seemed as inspired as Bronson Arroyo looked defeated. In no time, the Cardinals had a lead and never looked back. As for Garcia, I’m not sure any of this means he will be in the playoff rotation, but it certainly gives him something upon which to build for next year.
MVP: Anyone who doesn’t consider Yadier Molina a prime candidate for the MVP award this year is either biased against the Cardinals or hasn’t watched him this year. He’s so good that he almost makes me cry. Not only did he drive in a run, but he also unleashed an amazing throw to second to absolutely nail Jay Bruce attempting a steal. When watching such miraculous sights, it’s important to remember that Molina is suffering from a wide assortment of injuries. We’ve seen Molina effortlessly execute these amazing plays that it’s easy to forget that he’s the best catcher we’ve seen in a Cardinals uniform since Ted Simmons in the seventies, if not ever.
THE NEW MACHINE: Albert who? After a walk to Carlos Beltran and a single by Matt Holliday, Allen Craig stepped up and delivered a run-scoring double in the third. It was his 92nd RBI of the season. Does he ever stop hitting? I would want Craig in my starting lineup every day even if he committed 150 errors at first base – he can hit. He’s like a baseball version of Forrest Gump – see ball, hit ball. When Albert Pujols walked away from the Cardinals last winter, everyone wondered how the team would replace his MVP-caliber offense. Now we know: Allen Craig IS THE MANG.
GOOD TIMING: If Beltran and Holliday are indeed on the verge of getting hot, then we all need to start booking our tickets to the World Series. After struggling for most of the last two months, they have shown signs of coming back to life lately. Tonight, the pair at the heart of this potent lineup went a combined 4-6 with two runs scored and two walks. This, combined with Beltran’s phenomenal game yesterday (2 homers, 5 RBI’s), seem to indicate a change is in the air. And it couldn’t happen at a better time.
SUDDENLY MONEY: Daniel Descalso has had a rough year. Given the chance to earn the second base job, he stumbled for most of the season with an average around .250. He hit rock-bottom in August, with an average of .169 and an OBP of .192. Yikes! But Descalso seems to be pulling himself out of his funk when it really counts: postseason baseball! Descalso ripped a triple in the sixth to score Molina all the way from first base (what a sight!). In the last week, Descalso has been earning his “D-Money” nickname with some timely hits, a .333 average, and a slugging percentage of .444.
ROOM TO IMPROVE: Hometown hero David Freese earned a lot of leeway after his astonishing 2011 postseason as he’s navigated his first full season in the majors this year. It’s been a learning experience for sure. While his season-ending numbers are good – .294 average, 20 homers, 79 RBI – there is no doubt that Freese has been spotty. This is particularly true at third base. A seventh-inning error that threatened the Cards’s two-run lead was the 18th error for Freese this year. That makes him the third-worst defensive third baseman in the National League. His bat makes him worthwhile, but the leaky defense needs attention.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Jaime Garcia. He may not have pitched himself into the postseason rotation, but he’s been an important part of this late drive to get there.
CONCLUSION: Here we are, at the brink of another postseason appearance. This was a solid game from the Cardinals while facing a tough Reds team. They will need to earn it, and it looks like they’re ready to try.