For the first time in 14 years, the National League has won Major League Baseball's All-Star Game 3-1 and has home-field advantage in the 2010 World Series that comes with it. Now, all the St. Louis Cardinals need to do is get there. St. Louis entered the break only one game behind Cincinnati in the NL Central Division.
And with five players making the trip to Anaheim, California for the Mid-Summer Classic, they certainly have a shot of taking advantage of the preferable post-season schedule. If so, they can thank Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday for the roles they played in last nights game.
With the NL trailing 1-0 in the top of the seventh inning, Holliday followed former Cardinal Scott Rolen's one-out single with a single of his own to kick start a rally. A foul-out and walk loaded the bases for Brian McCann's game-breaking two-out double that cleared the bases, with Holliday scoring what proved to be the deciding run. The clutch hit by McCann earned the Atlanta Braves catcher MVP of the game.
Now leading 3-1, NL Manager Charlie Manuel handed the ball to Wainwright . He was put in a jam with one out when his teammate, Holliday, misplayed a fly-ball off the bat of John Buck for a double (it hit right in his glove—how is that not an error?).
But after walking Ian Kinsler, Wainwright coaxed Vernon Wells into a ground ball force-out. Wainwright then dismantled Torii Hunter, getting him to flail aimlessly at a breaking ball to escape the inning and preserve the lead. San Francisco's Brian Wilson pitched a perfect eighth, and LA Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton gave up a lead off single, but then closed out the game for the boys from the Senior Circuit.
As for the other Cardinals present, Yadier Molina started and played four innings celebrating his birthday with a single in his only at bat. Albert Pujols went 0-2 with a strikeout, getting robbed by Ichiro Suzuki on a line-drive to right-center as the Mariners RF made a tough running catch while looking into the setting sun. Chris Carpenter did not make an appearance in this years game.
With no Major League games or activities scheduled Wednesday, it is tradition for baseball fans to look forward to what the second half of the season will bring. Or, they may fret.
The fact that Carpenter did not play raises more questions about his health after being struck on his right forearm by a line drive on June 28th. The former Cy Young winner has struggled since, especially with his usually sharp curve ball. Carpenter has lacked bite and command on the pitch. The Cardinals must have Carpenter healthy if they expect to enjoy the fruits of Tuesday's NL win.
Health is also a concern also for 3B David Freese (bone bruise) and Ryan Ludwick (calf) who are expected to come off the DL soon.
The timetable is less certain for SP Brad Penny and the discomfort he's been experiencing in his back and shoulder since going on the DL May 22. And there are expectations that SP Kyle Lohse can return by late August from surgery to repair the sheath covering the muscles of his pitching forearm. But that is a rare surgery for a pitcher, and I'm not counting on him to be back and effective this season.
The Cardinal offense has been sickly for most of the first half. They have not been taking advantage of opportunities, either through poor at bats with runners in scoring position or by getting thrown out on the base paths. Holliday's bat has always been better in the second half, and Pujols—though not sporting the stats of his past MVP seasons—is always a force. Colby Rasmus and Ryan Ludwick have been solid as well.
It's the middle of the infield, and catcher that have created holes in the line-up. SS Brendan Ryan has suffered through a disaster campaign, and lost his job to Tyler Greene. Skip Schumaker at 2B is raising his average, but at .255 and an on-base percentage sitting at just .318, he's been disappointing.
And despite being chosen to start in Tuesday's All-Star game, Molina is only hitting .233 so far this year. Molina and Schumaker have hit in the bigs, and expecting them to improve through the rest of the summer is not out of line.
If Penny can somehow return soon and be as effective as he was before he got hurt, if Jaime Garcia has the stamina to continue his special rookie season, and if the Cardinal offense can string a few hits together, this team has Wainwright pitching like a Cy Young winner and a bullpen that can close down the end of a game.
With fingers crossed regarding Carpenter, I am optimistic this Cardinal team can take advantage of that extra home game in the Fall Classic and hoist an 11th Championship Banner on Opening Day 2011.