The St. Louis Cardinals arrive at the end of the 2013 season with a slightly better record than the Atlanta Braves. Just one game separates the Braves and the Cardinals from the best record in the National League, home-field advantage in the playoffs and the bragging rights of being the best team for the season. The Braves hold the tiebreaker, should the teams end up with identical records.
The Braves face the Philadelphia Phillies Sunday and will start young Julio Teheran in an attempt to put a bow on an amazing year. Teheran has been dominant in the second half and has proven that, despite his rookie status, he can be relied on going into the postseason.
The Cardinals start Jake Westbrook against the Cubs Sunday.
Westbrook has not pitched since Sept. 8, and for good reason: Whether he's hurt or simply lost his touch, Westbrook has been horrible as of late. His control has been sketchy, he has failed to go deep into games, and he has struggled to work out of the trouble he causes himself.
On paper, he is not the guy you want on the mound for a big game.
Westbrook's Swan Song
More than anything, the start in Game 162 is a huge expression of gratitude to a player who has been instrumental in the success of the Cardinals over the last three years, according to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com:
Jake Westbrook will now start for #stlcards on Sunday. Organization wants to recognize him for contributions. Joe Kelly will follow him.— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) September 28, 2013
He has had his ups and downs, but Westbrook has consistently taken the ball as a starter since being acquired from the Cleveland Indians in 2010.
As his contract comes to an end, this start is a way to tell Jake "thank you" for all he has done for the team and give the fans an opportunity to acknowledge him as he comes off the field for the final time during the regular season in a Cardinals jersey.
Super Joe Kelly to the Rescue
Joe Kelly will come into the game in relief of Jake Westbrook as his final tune-up prior to the playoffs. Kelly will, most likely, be in the game early and throw around 70-80 pitches, similar to what Adam Wainwright was allowed to pitch on Saturday.
Rest assured, Kelly will be in the game at the first sign of trouble for Westbrook. The plan would seem to be to get Kelly in the game around the third inning.
There Is One Game on the Line
Ultimately, the risk and reward during this game is one home playoff game. The Cardinals will have home-field advantage during the first playoff series, regardless of the outcome of any games on Sunday.
The home-field advantage on the line Sunday comes into play during the National League Championship Series, which will determine whether or not the Cardinals will have the ability to play three games at home or four.
The Cardinals have not been horrible on the road this season, posting 43 wins and 38 losses, and Mike Matheny seems to feel confident in his team's chances, regardless of the stadium it plays in.
The Cardinals are poised to show respect to a player who will spend his final game on an active roster for the team on Sunday. The team shows, once again, that the respect of the game will take precedence over the competitive nature for a single playoff game.
That may be the reason that the Cardinals are historically one of the most popular teams in baseball.
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