So much for the storybook ending, but St. Louis can write a new finish to 2011 with the help of their long-time rivals. The Cubs travel to Busch for three of the most important games in recent memory with only one club feeling the heat.
Chicago most recently dispatched the Brewers 2 out of 3 and have played better than .540 baseball since August 1st. Even with a 30-45 road record, the Cubs know that even taking one game may be enough to keep the Cardinals from playing in October.
Both teams need their star player to achieve some personal goals in hopes of getting their club on top this weekend. Albert Pujols, whose average is steadily rising above the .300 mark, needs two RBIs to reach 100 on the season. He will likely not see many good pitches in this series, as his extra inning back to back walk-offs are still in the minds of many Chicago hurlers.
If the Cubs want to win, Starlin Castro will need to be front and center in the action. The NL leader in hits stands at 199 and has reached base in 34 straight contests, mainly from the lead-off spot. He owns a slick 7/20 mark against tonight’s starter Chris Carpenter, who has given up more hits than anyone in the Senior Circuit.
Expect some fireworks early this evening as Carp looks to build off his last outing and keep Chicago guessing, as he did June 5th by throwing nine strong innings. With the St. Louis bullpen in need of a rest, expect vintage bulldog to appear for the home team.
Opposing the Cardinals is another familiar foe, as Ryan Dempster has been in the middle of plenty of classic battles the last 8 years. Dempster has not matched his success on the road from a year ago but finds a bigger problem coming from the middle of the St. Louis order.
Pujols and Lance Berkman have combined for 13 homers and 29 RBIs against the Cubs’ right-hander, something sure to be mentioned frequently during the telecast. For a third big bat, look no further than Yadier Molina or Skip Schumaker, who are a combined 30/88 against Dempster.
Anytime these two clubs get together, the stats get thrown out the window. Most of the memories I cherish, both good and bad, come from watching Chicago and St. Louis do battle. While this entire series could not be bigger, I chose game one for a very specific reason.
The Cardinals are running on pure magic it seems these days, and the Mets injected a pretty big dose of reality yesterday. How the Birds on the Bat rebound says a lot about this club and the roller coaster ride we have all experienced since August 25th.
No matter what the Braves do the next six games, St. Louis has proven it belongs in the race. The real question now is what do the Cardinals have left and which version of the 2011 club shows up against the Cubs.