Programming note: Once the Cardinals clinch, there will be no series previews posted until the playoffs start.
The Cardinals face Houston for the final time in 2009. They travel to the home of Mission Control for a 3-game set, and look to clinch the division.
St Louis: 87-63, 1st NL Central, 10 games ahead of Chicago. St Louis salvaged some dignity on the last homestand by taking 2 of 3 from the Cubs, but still endured a 3-6 stay in St Louis. St Louis was swept in their previous trip to Houston in July.
Houston: 70-79, 4th NL Central. Houston has been eliminated from the divisional race, their loss yesterday knocked them out of the Wild Card chase. They’ve lost 7 in a row. They’ve shut Oswalt down for the season due to hip and back pain. Since St Louis’ magic number is 4, they can’t alter the final standings in the NL Central, they can only hope to delay the inevitable.
21 September: Pineiro vs Wandy Rodriguez (13-10, 2.77). Easily the best matchup of the series. Rodriguez has been the Astros best pitcher in 2009. He hasn’t pitched with much luck against St Louis this season, based on won/loss record (1-2, team record of 1-3 when he starts), but he’s pitched very well in those games (2.25 ERA, 0.791 WHIP, 19 K). In September he’s given up 3 ER in 20 innings, and opponents have an OPS of .510 against him.
Wandy’s the guy that’s given AP fits (4-28, 2B, no HR), but Holliday’s solved him pretty well (5-16, 2 HR). DeRosa and Glaus have also homered off him. Ludwick has struck out 10 times in 26 PA against him.
Pineiro dueled Ted Lilly to a draw on Friday night, and hopes to keep his solid pitching going. Joel’s 2-0 against Houston this season.
22 September: Lohse vs Yorman Bazardo (0-1, 8.50). Bazardo was called up in August when Doug Brocail went on the DL. Bazardo throws a fastball, slider, and changeup, and has thrown only 46 major league innings in parts of 4 seasons in the majors (with 3 different clubs, no less). This year, he’s appeared in 7 games, making 3 starts. In those 3 starts he’s been blistered – he’s made it through the 5th inning only once, and in his 11 2/3 start innings, he’s walked 9 while striking out 3. He also doesn’t miss many bats – hitters make contact 86% of the time when they swing at a pitch he’s thrown. Now, he’s never faced St Louis, so of course he’ll throw 6 shutout innings.
Lohse returns to the rotation after being skipped on Friday. He’s 5-5 career against Houston, with a 2.86 ERA. He’s 1-1 against them this year. All eyes will watch this start intently, hoping he can right himself and pitch better than his recent history.
23 September: Smoltz vs Bud Norris (5-3, 5.07). Remember Bud Norris? He threw 7 shutout innings in St Louis on 2 August, allowing 2 hits, for his first Major League win. He followed that a brief period of getting torched, but has settled down somewhat in September (17 IP, 4 ER, 4 BB, 21 K, 3 HR allowed). Houston lost his last start, but had won his pervious two.
Smoltz pitched well on Friday in a no-decision effort. He has pitched well against Houston based on his career ERA (2.98), and he’s 16-13 overall. Hhis team has won the last 3 times he’s started against the Astros, but he hasn’t faced them since the last day of the 2006 season, a game you might remember (as that Astro loss clinched the NL Central for the Cardinals). Not to mention those 3 starts were in 1999, 2005, and the aforementioned 2006 game.
Three current Astros have stepped in at least 10 times against him, and all have OBP of 400 or higher (Aaron Boone, Geoff Blum, Kazuo Matsui). Only Matsui is a starter.
Prognosis/prediction. One tough matchup, one guy they’ve never seen, and one guy who handcuffed them in August. Houston’s lost seven straight. Meanwhile, Chicago goes to Milwaukee. The Cardinals should win 2 of 3 in this series and clinch the division.
Update 1449: Cecil Cooper has been fired as Astros manager. I have no idea how this will affect their play.
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