(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien this weekend.)
St. Louis – Say what you want about the rivalry with the Phillies, the glamour of an interleague matchup with the Yankees or Red Sox, but the way things have played out in recent years, this weekend series against the Cardinals should feel important in its own right.
This is the team that snatched a wildcard from the (albeit loose) grip of the Braves last September and used it to make a run to their 11th World Series title. And tonight they’ll be honoring No. 10, as in the jersey number of Tony La Russa. The start of tonight’s game between the Braves and Cardinals is pushed back to 8:25 p.m. eastern because the Cardinals are retiring their former manager No. 10 in an on-field ceremony.
La Russa ended his career as the third all-time winningest manager in major league history (2,728) behind only Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763). Bobby Cox is fourth at 2,504. You talk about some impressive numbers there. And La Russa won World Series titles with the Cardinals in 2011 and 2006 and one with the Oakland As in 1989.
Former Brave and St. Louis Cardinal Brian Jordan is among the former players expected to return for the occasion. Both Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher, the Braves hitting coaches who both played for La Russa with the White Sox, were asked to sit on the field as well in the pre-game cermoney.
As for La Russa’s replacement, Mike Matheny, the Cardinals’ former Gold Glove catcher is off to a pretty good start in his first managerial job at age 41. The Cardinals (20-11) are tied with the Dodgers for the best record in the National League and second in the majors only to Texas (21-11).
The Cardinals are doing it in all facets of the game. Even without Albert Pujols, (and maybe “especially without” at the rate he’s going so far this season), the Cardinals are first in the majors in on-base percentage (.357) and second in runs scored (174), batting average (.287) and slugging percentage.
I’d say Carlos Beltran has done a fairly decent job filling the power void, with his 10 homers, which is tied for second in the NL. He had a two-homer game Tuesday night against Arizona, including a grand slam. The 35-year-old Beltran signed a two-year contract worth $26 million with the Cardinals this winter and so far the knee is holding up.
Beltran is a Braves killer of yore, from his days in both Mets and Astros uniforms. He has hit .297 with 26 doubles, 17 home runs and 56 RBIs in 97 career games against Atlanta.
Another old friend and former Astro, Lance Berkman, was expected to be activated from the disabled list Friday after missing nearly a month with a strained calf muscle, but the Cardinals decided to hold off and give him another day or two at least to rest it.
Pitching has been pretty darn good for the Cardinals as well. They’re second in the majors with a 3.07 ERA despite the fact that Chris Carpenter has been out with a nerve problem in his shoulder and Adam Wainwright is off to a very un-Wainwright-like start. Cardinals’ starters have a 2.82 ERA, which trails only Washington’s 2.26 in the National League.
Lance Lynn, the 24-year-old Ole Miss product, is filling in for Carpenter, while the veteran rebuilds his arm strength. All Lynn has done is win his first six starts, while putting up a 1.40 ERA to lead the Cardinals staff. He’s one of three Cardinals starters with ERAs around 2.00 and less (Kyle Lohse is at 2.08 and Jake Westbrook has a 1.76 ERA). Wainwright is the one bringing up the rear at 2-3 with a 5.61 ERA.
The Braves won’t have to deal with Lohse or Westbrook, but get Lynn on Sunday. Jaime Garcia (2-2, 3.75) faces Mike Minor tonight, and Garcia is coming off his worst outing of the year, giving up six runs in six innings at Minute Maid Park. Wainwright faces Brandon Beachy on Saturday.
The Cardinals come in hot, having won four in a row, and with confidence from how they’re played the Braves in recent years. They’ve owned the Braves in head-to-head play for the past few years, going 11-3 against the Braves since the start of 2010, including 5-1 last season.
Martin Prado is 16-for-41 (.390) against left-handed pitchers this season, with four-extra base hits, which could come in handy tonight against the lefty Garcia.
Just when it seemed Mike Minor was on a great trajectory he stumbled in his last two starts. He was keeping pace with Beachy for a while there, becoming the first Braves starter to throw seven innings in a game this season and then building on it with his first career eight-inning game too in Arizona.
But after going 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA in a three-start stretch, Minor is 0-1 with an 11.91 ERA in his past two starts. He allowed eight earned runs in five innings in his last start at Coors Field where the Braves rallied from 6-0 down after two innings to win 13-9.
Minor allowed only four earned runs in 21 1/3 innings with one walk and 15 strikeouts in that three-game stretch, then 15 earned runs in 11 1/3 innings, with seven walks and 13 strikeouts in the last two. Those walk numbers jump out at you, don’t they? One walk in first three games, seven in the last two. So better command is key for Minor, and I’m sure he’ll feel much more in control having come down from the high altitudes of Coors Field.
This is the first time he’s pitched against the Cardinals.
1. Michael Bourn CF
2. Martin Prado LF
3. Freddie Freeman 1B
4. Dan Uggla 2B
5. Brian McCann C
6. Chipper Jones 3B
7. Jason Heyward RF
8. Tyler Pastornicky SS
9. Mike Minor P