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Experience favors Cardinals for World Series return

Rotation, relief among reasons why Redbirds could repeat as NL champions

Experience favors Cardinals for World Series return play video for Experience favors Cardinals for World Series return

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals entered the season as a popular pick to win the World Series given their run to it a year ago and the lack of an overhaul to the roster afterward. An underachieving offense made it a bumpier-than-expected road, but the Cards still managed to hang in a division race that they took over with a strong September.

Having clinched a postseason berth for the fourth straight season, the Cardinals are looking to return to the Fall Classic for the third time during that stretch. Here are five reasons they could go all the way:

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1. Deep rotation

Of course, this unit is led by ace Adam Wainwright, but he's hardly the only formidable pitcher the Cardinals will be starting in October. Lance Lynn has been pitching like a co-ace, while Shelby Miller is reaping the benefits of throwing more changeups and introducing a sinker to his repertoire. John Lackey was acquired because of his postseason pedigree, and Michael Wacha, if healthy and right, well, everyone saw what he brought in the playoffs last year.

The Cardinals had some September questions surrounding Lackey and Wacha, though if at least one of the two is right, that should give the club a four-man postseason rotation that could stack up with any in baseball. The rotation ranks in the National League's top third in season ERA (3.48), but has had a remarkable run in September. Since the start of the month, the starters have combined for a 2.54 ERA (second best in the NL) and allowed one or fewer earned runs in 13 of 20 games.

2. The experience/intangible factor

Put simply, the Cardinals have been here before. Yes, every one of the NL's five teams currently positioned for a playoff berth has been a postseason participant within the last two seasons, but none has the wealth of experience this Cards club can tout. They are the league's only team to have advanced to the playoffs in four straight years, and, during that span, St. Louis played 48 games under the October spotlight.

The magnified stage won't faze this team because so many of its players have shined on it before. This is a team, too, that has shown an ability to play well in September and carry that momentum over. The Cardinals entered this month with the best September winning percentage (.651) over the last three seasons. This one has been no different, as the Cards won 14 of the first 20 games this month to solidify a playoff spot.

3. Shutdown late-inning relief

Yes, Trevor Rosenthal has made the ninth inning much more compelling than the Cardinals would prefer, but many more times than not, he has gotten the job done. The Cards' propensity for playing tight games has led to an abundant amount of save opportunities, which is how Rosenthal has positioned himself atop the NL saves leaderboard. The good news for the Redbirds, though, is that they have several other arms able to bridge the game to Rosenthal or bail him out if a change needs to be made in the ninth.

Pat Neshek (0.696 WHIP, 1.39 ERA) has been one of the game's best relievers following a winter in which no club offered him a Major League contract. He's been a dominant eighth-inning pitcher for St. Louis. Carlos Martinez has enjoyed a recent resurgence that, not coincidentally, began with Yadier Molina's return behind the plate. He is more than capable of being lights-out toward the end of a game. Insert "ground-ball guy" Seth Maness into that mix, and the Cardinals have a formidable back end of the bullpen.

4. Stingy defense

What was an area of deficiency last season has become a pillar of strength for the Cardinals, who lead the Majors in Defensive Runs Saved as a club with 63. The Cards have a plus-DRS at six of their nine positions, this coming a year after St. Louis ranked second to last in the NL with minus-39 DRS. The most noticeable upgrades have come across the infield, and center fielder Jon Jay has rebounded significantly after a subpar defensive year. The Cardinals also stepped up their aggressiveness with shifting, gradually employing more unorthodox defensive alignments each season under manager Mike Matheny.

The improvements in the field have been key in a season where the Cards have played so many close games. The club is 30-22 in one-run games and 15-10 in games decided by two runs.

5. Balanced offense

This is all based upon the lens you prefer to use when evaluating the Cardinals' offense. Without question, there have been unexpected scoring deficiencies and a lack of long balls. But the Cards do have a lineup that doesn't hinge around just one or two key contributors, and that means if one goes cold, there should be others able to capably pick up the slack.

The Cardinals have plenty of proven bats, and with the fickleness of a short series, perhaps they all show up at the same time to offer the Cards the deep lineup they believed they had all along.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cards' October ticket booked; division crown goal

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ST. LOUIS -- Though their sights are still set on a second straight division title, the Cardinals took the field for Sunday night's regular-season home finale knowing that their season will not end in a week.

Before diving into their preparations for a game against the Reds, players and staff gathered in the video room to watch the final outs of the game between the Brewers and Pirates at PNC Park. It was somewhat bittersweet for them to watch Pittsburgh wrap up a 1-0 win, since the Pirates are still chasing the Cardinals in the division. But with the Pirates' win, the Brewers were eliminated from the National League Central race, and the Cardinals were ensured of no worse than at least an NL Wild Card spot.

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The Cardinals briefly acknowledged the achievement, but quickly went back to work with their mind on more.

"It is nice to know that we will be playing past this coming Sunday," Daniel Descalso said. "Obviously, we would like to go ahead and clinch the division. That is the goal here. We acknowledge that a little bit, but at the same time, there's other work to be done."

"We do have a playoff spot, but that's not the one we want," Lance Lynn added. "Until we win the division, it's not a good feeling at all. That's the way we see it. That's our goal. That's what we're still going for."

The Cardinals, who can boast of being the only NL team to have advanced to the postseason in each of the last four seasons, lost to the Reds, 7-2, on Sunday and will therefore take a 2 1/2-game cushion over the Pirates heading into the final week. The Cardinals have six games remaining on their schedule; the Pirates will play seven. Both will spend the week on the road.

The Cardinals' magic number to clinch a division title is 5, making Wednesday the earliest possible day for a champagne celebration.

Though they left home (where they finished with a 51-30 record) after Sunday's game, the Cardinals have a favorable schedule for a strong finish. They will be playing a pair of clubs (the Cubs and D-backs) that entered Sunday a combined 48 games below .500. Pittsburgh heads to Atlanta for four games before finishing the regular season in Cincinnati.

"We set out to do something in our division, and we're in a good position to do that," manager Mike Matheny said. "We hold those cards in our own hand."

Also still in play is the opportunity to secure home-field advantage for the NL Division Series. While the Nationals, barring a freefall over the next week, are poised to lock down home-field advantage throughout the NL Championship Series by finishing with the NL's best record, the Cardinals trailed the current No. 2 seed, the Dodgers, by two games.

"Not that it's just whatever, but we have some bigger thoughts on our mind, and that is to hopefully go out there and win the division," Jason Motte said. "We have a goal, and we haven't reached that goal yet. We're going to keep playing and doing what we need to do to hopefully reach that goal."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Lynn solid, but Cards can't get closer to division title

On day playoff berth secured, magic number at 5 after loss to Reds

Lynn solid, but Cards can't get closer to division title play video for Lynn solid, but Cards can't get closer to division title

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals quietly acknowledged their assurances of participating in the postseason when that became official on Sunday afternoon, but they took the field with their eyes on a bigger prize. What they couldn't do, however, was play their way closer to it.

With a chance to sweep the Reds, the Cardinals were instead blasted about en route to dropping their regular-season home finale, 7-2, in front of the 52nd sellout at Busch Stadium. St. Louis was stung most obviously by Cincinnati's four home runs -- two off starter Lance Lynn and two off rookie reliever Sam Tuivailala -- but also by a stomach virus that had, according to manager Mike Matheny's postgame estimates, more than 10 players unavailable or at less than at full health for the game. The coaching staff was not immune either.

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"I've never seen anything like it," one player said of the rapidly spreading illness.

"Bad timing," said another.

The Cardinals, fortunate to have won seven games in a nine-game homestand were they scored 33 runs, will take the field next in Chicago on Monday, where they'll hold a 2 1/2-game lead over the Pirates in the National League Central and a magic number of 5 to win it. The Cardinals are hopeful that quick recoveries and a containment of the virus can give themselves a uninhibited shot at finishing strong.

As players were packing after Sunday's loss, the Cardinals were discussing delaying travel for some who were ill in order to keep them quarantined from the healthy."'Wash Your Hands" signs dotted the clubhouse as reminders.

"Whatever it is, it's hit fast and hard," Matheny said. "It's just something we're going to have to wade through. There were guys we weren't expecting it to hit, and it did. We're just going to have to try and get through it and weather the storm."

Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams missed both weekend games due to sickness, though their replacements (Daniel Descalso and Xavier Scruggs) combined to help the Cardinals tie the game with back-to-back hits in the fourth.

However, the Reds made Busch Stadium seem as small as their home park in becoming the third team to go deep four times in a game against the Cardinals this season. It was especially rare to see Lynn stung by the long ball, as the solo home runs by Jay Bruce (fourth inning) and Todd Frazier (sixth inning) equaled the number of homers Lynn had allowed since the All-Star break (12 starts) and at home all season (17 starts).

Both gave the Reds a one-run lead.

"I made two pitches in the middle of the zone for homers, balls that ran back over the middle that weren't supposed to run back middle," said Lynn, who had held the Reds hitless until Bruce's two-out homer in the fourth. "That's not something that I like to do, give up homers."

The Reds scratched another run off Lynn in the sixth on consecutive two-out hits by Brandon Phillips and Bruce.

"Lance Lynn has done a very nice job all year," Bruce said. "To be able to get to him a little bit and continue to keep our foot on the gas and score some runs to kind of ease into a win there, it's nice."

Lynn has been so dominant as of late that his allowing three runs seemed like a subpar start. In actuality, it was his 23rd quality start of the season, one fewer than ace Adam Wainwright.

A pitch count of 100 forced Lynn out after the sixth, though with the Cardinals only trailing, 3-2. Consecutive doubles by Yadier Molina and Randal Grichuk off Reds starter Alfredo Simon had plated that second run.

But limited in his relief options, Matheny had to look for help beyond his usual core of late-inning regulars. Though he wasn't specific in who had to be held back due to illness or recent usage, Matheny acknowledged that he had "almost as many unavailable as available" in his 13-man 'pen.

Jason Motte fared well with a 1-2-3 seventh in what could have been the pending free agent's final home appearance as a Cardinal.

"I didn't think about it until you just said it," Motte said of that possibility. "We're going to be in the playoffs. We'll see if it is or if it isn't."

Matheny turned to Kevin Siegrist to cover the eighth, though consecutive leadoff walks necessitated another move. Short on right-handed relievers -- Seth Maness, for one, had been up most of the night dealing with stomach issues -- Matheny had Tuivailala make his Busch Stadium debut.

The hard-throwing righty served up homers to Devin Mesoraco (three-run) and Bruce (solo).

"He came in there throwing strikes, but unfortunately it turned into runs," Matheny said of Tuivailala. "He's got great stuff. He's going to be good. We put him in a tough spot trying to get through the tough spot we're in as a club. It didn't work out tonight."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Five things that changed Cardinals' season

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ST. LOUIS -- For the fourth straight season and the 11th time since 2000, the Cardinals have earned an invitation to October. They clinched their spot in the postseason with seven games left to play, though a division title is still within reach.

As the Cardinals eye a strong finish and look ahead at the chance for another deep postseason run, here is a look back at five things that changed their season:

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Success in close games
Manager Mike Matheny believes this club has been defined by its ability to prevail in so many tight games. Rare have been the blowouts this season, as this is a team that -- going into play Sunday -- had 77 of its 155 games decided by two or fewer runs. The key is that the Cardinals had won 45 of those.

Stingy starting pitching and a much-improved defense have been behind this close-game success, as the Cardinals have had to battle with an oft-anemic offense throughout the year. Still, this team had managed to win 10 games on five or fewer hits (the most since 1915), and have gone 21-9 in games determined by one or two runs since the All-Star break as it headed into Sunday's regular-season home finale.

Lance Lynn
The Cardinals knew they had an ace in Adam Wainwright. What they didn't know is that Lynn would pitch as one, too. Even if the national recognition has been slow to follow, Lynn has emerged as a front-line starter for a team that has been anchored by its pitching staff. He has won at least 15 games in each of the last three seasons, but this season he reached that number in much more dominating fashion.

Entering his start on Sunday, Lynn had thrown 22 quality starts while posting a 0.4 home run/nine innings rate, 2.68 ERA, 1.28 WHIP. He had also allowed two or fewer earned runs in 23 of his 31 outings. Lynn has elevated himself to another level by learning to better harness his emotions when things go awry behind him, and he did not have the August stumble that he did in each of the past two seasons.

Yadier Molina's return
The Cardinals survived Molina's seven-week absence (they actually gained a half-game in the standings) but have thrived since their catcher came back from thumb surgery. Through Saturday, the Cardinals were 15-5 with Molina behind the plate since he returned on Aug. 29. He hasn't offered overwhelming offensive production, but his work with the pitching staff has been noticeable. Carlos Martinez and Shelby Miller are among those who have taken off since his return. The staff's ERA since Molina's first day back? It was 2.66 heading into play Sunday.

Of course, two other things happened at about the same time that have also factored into this strong three-week stretch. For one, the Brewers were beginning a collapse. They have gone 7-16 since the day Molina returned, and that opened the door for the Cardinals to finally ascend to first. Too, Matt Holliday came alive, driving in nine runs in two key wins over Chicago in late August that started this three-week run.

Back end of the bullpen
The Cardinals have sifted through closers in recent years, and this season the club landed on Trevor Rosenthal after he proved capable of handling the ninth last postseason. Rosenthal's made save opportunities interesting, but that can't take away from the fact that he has saved 44 games. The Cardinals have built a formidable relief core around him, too.

Pat Neshek turned out to be the best Minor League offseason signing in the game and has handled the eighth-inning role with dominance. Seth Maness has been strong in his second season, and Martinez is finishing at his best. The Cardinals entered play Sunday 74-5 when leading after seven innings and 77-3 when ahead after eight.

The Trade Deadline 
The Justin Masterson acquisition may not have panned out, but the Cardinals' deal with the Red Sox has proven to have a payoff. John Lackey hasn't been terrific, but he has been durable for a team that wanted to acquire a proven workhorse. The Cardinals have won six of his nine starts and seem to have Lackey poised for his best after building in additional rest for him in September.

But while the Cardinals directed their Trade Deadline movement around improving their rotation, perhaps the biggest game-changer was what happened in right field. After four months of subpar production from the position, the Cardinals booted Allen Craig to open a spot for Oscar Taveras. The results were mixed for Taveras afterward, but the flexibility at the position has also allowed for Randal Grichuk and Peter Bourjos to work their way into the lineup more often. Now with all three outfielders available, Matheny is finding success by mixing and matching based on matchups.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cardinals' postseason foe to be settled in final week

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ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals know they will be playing in October, but where and against whom must still be sorted out over the next week. At this point, every scenario is still in play, from the Cardinals locking down home-field advantage through the National League Championship Series to the club having to go on the road as the second NL Wild Card winner.

Those extremes, however, are improbable, as the Nationals own a 3 1/2-game advantage over the Cardinals in the race for the NL's best record, while St. Louis sits three games ahead of the Pirates and Giants, who are currently tied in the Wild Card race.

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More likely is that the Cardinals, assuming they can hold off the Pirates to win the NL Central, will finish as the second or third seed (based upon record) in the league. Entering Sunday night's game, the Cardinals (87-68) trailed the NL-West leading Dodgers (89-67) by 1 1/2 games.

If the positioning were to stay as is, the Dodgers would be hosting the Cardinals in the NL Division Series, beginning at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 3. Games 1-2 would be played in L.A., before the best-of-five series would shift to St. Louis for Games 3 and, if necessary, Game 4. A win-or-go home Game 5 would happen back in L.A., if necessary.

Of course, if the Cardinals were to leapfrog the NL West champ they would earn home-field advantage in that first round. San Francisco isn't out of the NL West mix, either. Though they trail the Dodgers by 4 1/2 games, the two clubs open a three-game series on Monday in Los Angeles.

Because the Cardinals lost their season series against the Dodgers (4-3) and Giants (4-3), they would lose NLDS home-field advantage if they had an identical record with the NL West winner after next Sunday. If the Nationals were to be leapfrogged in the standings by the NL West winner, they would line up to face the NL Central champ. The Cardinals went 5-2 against Washington during the regular season.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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With postseason clinched, Cards head to Wrigley

Wainwright looking to reach 20 wins; St. Louis up 2 1/2 in NL Central

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There are no certainties in baseball, but the Cardinals playing in the postseason over the past decade is about as close it gets.

With the Pirates' 1-0 victory over the Brewers on Sunday, St. Louis clinched a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season. The Cardinals will be playing in October for the 11th time in the past 15 years.

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Even with the postseason guaranteed, the Cardinals still have their eyes on their second straight National League Central title, leading the Pirates by 2 1/2 games. The team's celebration Sunday was a muted one.

"I was in the back video room when all the guys were watching [the Brewers lose to the Pirates], and you can tell that it is a one-track mind right now," said manager Mike Matheny. "It's, 'What do we have to do to win this division?' There will be a time if things play out and we're able to go in as a Wild Card team, we will celebrate that, because there are a whole lot of teams that would like to be in this situation. But right now, we're also in a position to keep moving forward to try and win this division."

Monday night against the Cubs, the Cardinals will continue their quest for that division title. Adam Wainwright will go for his 20th win of the season against left-hander Travis Wood of Chicago.

Wainwright (19-9) has earned a decision in all but three of his starts this season. He's won his last four, posting a 1.69 ERA with 21 strikeouts and just four walks over those outings.

He tossed a shutout against the Brewers in a 2-0 win Wednesday, scattering seven hits, two walks and striking out seven.

"Tonight, we left it in our ace's hands," Matheny said after the win. "And he took care of business."

Wood, who will be making his final start of the season, has been very hit or miss over the past few weeks. He tossed six scoreless innings Monday against the Reds, but allowed seven runs on nine hits in 1 2/3 innings eight days earlier against the Pirates.

On the season, Wood has a 4.86 ERA and 1.52 WHIP --- both the worst of his five-year career.

Cardinals: Bug sidelines Carpenter, Adams
The stomach illness that hit the Cardinals' clubhouse on Saturday continues to spread and had the Cardinals considering not having the sick players take the chartered flight to Chicago after Sunday's game.

Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams were both out of the lineup for a second straight day, though Matheny said the two had recovered enough to be available off the bench.

Matheny, for competitive reasons, would not name which other players had fallen ill. The staff posted "Wash Your Hands!!!!" signs all around the clubhouse in an effort to try and keep the bug from spreading further.

Cubs: Playing it safe with Soler
Jorge Soler has been dealing with a some leg injuries this season, so with a wet outfield due to recent showers, the Cubs opted to sit their young slugger Sunday to keep him off the slick outfield grass.

"The guys were talking about how it was getting a little softer," manager Rick Renteria said Sunday about the outfield. "For us, it was the right thing to do at that time [to pull Soler]. We have three more [games] against St. Louis, then a day off Thursday, and three more in Milwaukee, and he'll finish off playing."

Worth noting
• The Cubs have yet to finalize the rotation for the last series of the regular season next weekend in Milwaukee. Kyle Hendricks will start the season finale on Sunday. One of the options is to have Eric Jokisch start a game. He was 9-10 with a 3.58 ERA in 26 starts at Triple-A Iowa this season.

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Matheny has become just the fifth manager in baseball history to have led his team to the postseason in each of his three years on the job. The other four include Ron Gardenhire (2002-04), Larry Dierker (1997-1999), Ralph Houk (1961-63) and Hughie Jennings (1907-09).

Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cards surpass 3.5 million fans for second time

ST. LOUIS -- With an announced crowd of 45,747 at Busch Stadium for Sunday night's regular-season home finale, the Cardinals pushed past the 3.5 million mark for the second time in nine seasons at the ballpark. It was also the second time since the park opened that the Cardinals drew more than 40,000 fans to all 81 home games.

With an average of 43,712 per game, the Cardinals will finish second in Major League Baseball behind only the Dodgers, who have a capacity of 56,000 at Dodger Stadium. No other club will have a higher percentage of seats filled than the Cardinals at 99.3. The Cardinals had 52 sellouts.

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The 3,540,649 tickets sold fell just shy of matching the stadium record of 3,552,180 set in 2007, a year after the Cardinals won their 10th World Series championship. That was also the only other season in which the club had at least 40,000 fans at every game.

The Cardinals did get a slight attendance boost from adding rooftop seating at Ballpark Village in the offseason. Joe Strohm, vice president of ticket sales, estimated that those new seats added about 40,000-42,000 to the season's attendance total.

Worth noting
• The stomach illness that hit the Cardinals' clubhouse on Saturday continues to spread and had the Cardinals considering not having the sick players take the chartered flight to Chicago after Sunday's game. Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams were both out of the lineup for a second straight day, though manager Mike Matheny said the two had recovered enough to be available off the bench.

Matheny, for competitive reasons, would not name which other players had fallen ill. The staff posted "Wash Your Hands!!!!" signs all around the clubhouse in an effort to try and keep the bug from spreading further.

• Matheny said the Cardinals are leaning toward having Michael Wacha stay on schedule and make one more start in Arizona before the end of the regular season. Wacha recovered well from his outing on Saturday, one in which he threw more pitches (78) than he had in any of his three appearances since returning from a shoulder injury.

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Matheny has become just the fifth manager in baseball history to have led his team to the postseason in each of his first three years on the job. The other four include Ron Gardenhire (2002-04), Larry Dierker (1997-1999), Ralph Houk (1961-63) and Hughie Jennings (1907-09).

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Grichuk becoming established weapon against lefties

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ST. LOUIS -- In the immediate days after the Cardinals completed a four-player November swap with the Angels, most of the attention surrounded the hometown hero lost (David Freese) and the speedy center fielder gained (Peter Bourjos). Yet the only non-Major Leaguer included in that deal may just be the most impactful of the two as the Cardinals seek another October run.

Randal Grichuk homered for a second straight night on Saturday as he continues to tear up left-handed pitching. Now 10-for-28 against lefties since returning from the Minors, Grichuk has emerged a key position player among manager Mike Matheny's crowded bench.

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"You have a guy that is a plus-runner, plus-defender, plus-arm and the ball comes off his bat like only a handful of guys in this league," Matheny said. "We'd love to see that kind of confidence when he walks in against a right-hander as he does against a lefty. But I think that comes in time. There's nothing that you shouldn't like. Then all the intangibles, the things you see in there that we put a high value on, you can check that box, too."

It is becoming a given that Grichuk will be in the lineup any time the opponent starts a lefty, and the outfielder has given Matheny a back-pocket ace to pull out later in games against a lefty reliever. That was the case on Saturday, when Matheny sent Grichuk up to pinch-hit for Oscar Taveras against Ryan Dennick. Grichuk tattooed the first pitch he saw some 448 feet into the stands in left-center.

"We're watching swings of certain guys through this league, they fall down and their helmet falls off and all kinds of things since they're swinging so hard," Matheny said. "Randal is a very controlled power. That's exciting for us to see and watch as he hopefully continues to build on that."

The home run was the first pinch-hit blast of his career (second of the season for the Cardinals), though he has excelled in that role despite no previous experience as a non-everyday starter.

"I feel like I have a good mindset coming in off the bench," Grichuk said. "I know I'm going to be facing a lefty. I love facing lefties. In a pinch-hit role, I've talked to guys and they want you to be aggressive. I have no problem with facing lefties and being aggressive, so I feel it's a great situation."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Carpenter, Adams out of lineup with stomach bug

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ST. LOUIS -- Matt Adams and Matt Carpenter spent the afternoon quarantined in Busch Stadium after both woke up with a stomach illness, which manager Mike Matheny said has been making its way around the clubhouse.

The untimely illness kept the two corner infielders out of Saturday's game, too, leaving Matheny to plug the holes at first and third with Yadier Molina and Daniel Descalso, respectively. Matheny wouldn't rule out Adams or Carpenter recovering enough to be available off the bench, though neither was in condition to do so around game time.

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Asked if food poisoning could be the issue, Matheny said there were "not symptoms that would go along with that."

The timing of the stomach bug cost Adams the chance to face Reds starter Mike Leake, against whom he's had striking success. In 18 career at-bats against Leake, Adams is 8-for-18 with four doubles. Carpenter's numbers (5-for-23) against the right-hander weren't as notable.

Matheny said that he had been looking for a day to unplug Carpenter from the lineup anyway, sensing that the third baseman was fighting some late-season fatigue. Carpenter is 5-for-27 on this homestand.

"He's still putting the ball in play hard, but as we watch these guys every day, you can see when they're dragging a little bit," Matheny said. "He may have been having a little bit of that [stomach bug] come over him yesterday when he was a little down. Not [down] in effort, but you could see that something was off."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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With Adams out, Molina makes rare start at first

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ST. LOUIS -- With Matt Adams sidelined by illness and Tony Cruz boasting solid career numbers against Reds starter Mike Leake, manager Mike Matheny saw an opportunity to unplug veteran catcher Yadier Molina from behind the plate without sacrificing his bat from the lineup on Saturday.

Molina moved to first base for the series' second game, making this his first start at the position in 2014 and just the fourth in his 11-year career. Though he has been sparingly used at the position, Molina stays ready for the possibility by taking ground balls at first base almost daily.

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"He's got a good feel for the game over there," Matheny said. "It does take a little less out of him, too."

Molina had been the starting catcher in 20 of 22 games played since he returned from thumb surgery.

Cruz, who had the game-winning hit for the Cardinals on Thursday, entered Saturday 4-for-7 against Leake. This was his first start since Molina returned to the field, as he has fallen behind both Molina and A.J. Pierzynski on the depth chart.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cards inch closer to postseason behind three homers

Magic number for postseason berth down to one after big night

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ST. LOUIS -- With a show of power unseen at home this season and a good-enough return from Michael Wacha, the Cardinals put themselves on the cusp of ensuring at least game No. 163.

An 8-4 victory over the Reds in front of a home sellout crowd on Saturday reduced the Cardinals' magic number for a postseason berth to one. A Brewers win postponed a clinch, setting the Cardinals up to celebrate a fourth straight trip to the playoffs on the day of their regular season home finale.

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Of course, the club has grander sights than a Wild Card game and will carry a National League Central lead of 3 1/2 games into the final eight days of the season. A combination of five Cardinals wins and Pirates losses would secure a second consecutive division title.

"With only seven games remaining, it's coming up pretty close," said Randal Grichuk, one of three players to homer as the team improved to 7-1 on this homestand. "It's exciting to be a few games up."

The Cardinals have played themselves into this position without much of a lift from the long ball, though Saturday served as an anomaly in that regard. For the first time this year, the Cardinals blasted three homers in a game at Busch Stadium.

Those were nice, but the focus of the night was on Wacha, whose status leading into the playoffs remains ever evolving.

There were positives, most notably that he felt strong throwing 78 pitches and that his fastball command was crisper than it had been his last two times out. He felt he responded well to the extended break that preceded this outing, too. Wacha had last pitched on Sept. 9.

"My arm felt great, body felt great," Wacha said afterward. "The pitches were coming out how I wanted to."

But?

"But the command was just a little bit off."

Therein lies the question mark, as the Cardinals continue evaluating how Wacha could factor into their postseason plans. He wasn't exactly fooling the Reds' hitters, as he recorded one strikeout and allowed more hard-hit balls than the six hits they tallied off him in 4 2/3 innings would indicate.

He also stayed mostly away from his changeup, his most effective pitch when healthy. Wacha threw 12 in total -- seven as balls, three as called strikes, one hit for a double and one that turned into a groundout. That accounted for 15 percent of his 78 pitches, a percentage well below his career average of 22.

"I'm definitely still searching for it right now," Wacha said of the pitch. "It's definitely still not where I want it to be. It still doesn't have the action that I really want it to yet."

Though manager Mike Matheny pulled Wacha one out shy of him qualifying for the win, the Cardinals were able to push him to a pitch count Wacha hadn't touched since his return from injury. He had previously maxed out at 70.

"Michael was better," Matheny said. "I think we've all seen him even at another notch, and that is his frustration right now. He wants it to be there. I think he took a step in the right direction today and hopefully that's something to build on for next time."

Time, however, is not on Wacha's side. He'll have a chance for only one more start before the end of the month. Still, the intrigue of what he could bring in the playoffs is enough for the Cardinals to keep the possibility open.

"Look at what he did last year in the postseason," catcher Tony Cruz said. "Not to say that no one else can step up here, but I think he's a huge piece for us. When he is right, he can shut down the other team."

The Cardinals staked Wacha to an early 5-0 lead and went on to score in five different innings. Cruz, making his first start since Aug. 27, began the home run fun with a three-run blast off Reds starter Mike Leake, who had allowed the preceding two hitters to reach with two out. Cruz entered the night 4-for-7 against the righty.

It was Cruz's first career home run at Busch Stadium, an accomplishment the fans recognized by drawing him out for a curtain call.

"If you only have three career homers, I think you know where you hit them," said Cruz, before reminding that the first two came in Miami and Cincinnati. "[The curtain call] was neat. It was pretty amazing."

Kolten Wong blasted his 12th homer of the season to push the score to 5-0 in the third, and Grichuk homered for the second time in as many nights with his pinch-hit shot to open the sixth. Matheny subbed Grichuk in for Oscar Taveras upon the Reds' decision to have lefty reliever Ryan Dennick relieve Leake.

Wong, hitting in the two-hole for the first time since Sept. 3, reached base in four of his plate appearances and finished with a three-hit night.

"I just tried to stay really short tonight and tried to get the barrel to the ball," Wong said. "I feel like the last couple games I was getting a little too big. Today was huge. … I think I might have figured something out."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Jay twice robs Ludwick of extra bases

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ST. LOUIS -- Jon Jay continues to insist that he is much the same defensively this year as he was in 2013. Both the eye and the metrics, however, suggest otherwise.

Jay added another two highlight catches to his growing list of defensive gems this season and seemingly saved what finished as a 2-1 win for the Cardinals in their series opener against the Reds on Friday night at Busch Stadium.

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In a second inning that was looking like it might get out of control for Cardinals starter John Lackey, Jay tracked Ryan Ludwick's deep fly ball to center and timed his jump perfectly, gloving the ball at the top of the wall. The two runners on base had to quickly retreat.

In Ludwick's next at-bat, Jay plowed backward into the wall to make another highlight-reel catch.

"Really great outfielder," Lackey said of Jay.

"This ballpark plays bigger the colder it gets, so I knew both of those balls I was going to have a chance to make a play on them," Jay said. "Those are two balls where I did drop my head and knew I had time to go after them."

Though he may not have the center-field range of Peter Bourjos, Jay has been an above-average defender again this year. His total of Defensive Runs Saved calculated at four before Friday's showing. In comparison, Jay posted a -10 DRS a year ago. The biggest difference appears to be a quicker first step.

"I think he looks like the guy we've seen almost the entire time we've had him in St. Louis and the guy we saw all the way through the Minor League system," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I think last year was one of those years where it was hard to put your finger on it. I watched him from the first pitch today and how he was positioning Randal Grichuk … and even with Matt [Holliday], anticipating what might happen. Jon spends a lot of time with [catcher] Yadi [Molina] on what the game plan is for each hitter and really taking control out there. It's hard to put a value on that."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Lackey puts Cards close to postseason berth

Right-hander allows one run; St. Louis' magic number at two

Lackey puts Cards close to postseason berth play video for Lackey puts Cards close to postseason berth

ST. LOUIS -- Whether John Lackey wanted the schedule change or not (and his postgame comments suggested that he most certainly did not), the Cardinals' decision to include a few extra days of rest before his first post-ejection start offered a huge payoff at a critical time on Friday.

Boosted by back-to-back homers in the first inning, Lackey, with the defensive aid of Jon Jay, dominated a Reds team that had pestered him his last time out. With his best start as a Cardinal, Lackey pitched the Cards closer to a postseason berth with a 2-1 win in front of the season's 50th sellout at Busch Stadium. The team's 30th one-run win was closed by committee, as four different relievers combined to record the final four outs.

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Coupled with the Brewers' loss in Pittsburgh on Friday, the Cardinals positioned themselves for a possible clinch on Saturday. Their magic number for a division title sits at seven, but a repeat of Friday's result on Saturday -- a Cardinals win and a Brewers loss -- would ensure St. Louis of at least a Wild Card bid.

"We win a lot of close, low-scoring games," Lackey said afterward. "I think there is definitely a skill in winning tight games, and I think this team has it. That's kind of the way playoff games end up. We're going to have plenty of experience with that if we get there."

The win was on the precipice of dissolving in the ninth when closer Trevor Rosenthal, pitching for the fifth time in seven games, let two of the first three batters reach. It was a mess manager Mike Matheny chose not to let the young closer get himself out of. Lefty specialist Randy Choate entered to pitch in just the spot he was signed for, and he stepped up with a strikeout of Jay Bruce. Seth Maness secured the third out.

"Choate and Seth did an amazing job of coming in and getting those two outs," Rosenthal said.

The Cardinals' offense came quickly and compactly, as outfielders Randal Grichuk and Matt Holliday blasted homers off Reds starter David Holmberg in a span of four pitches. Grichuk, in the lineup because of his numbers against lefties, improved to 9-for-27 off them since returning from the Minors last month.

With his homer, Holliday now sits one shy of securing the ninth straight 20-homer season of his career. The back-to-back blasts were the second of the season for the Cardinals, with the others coming on July 5 when Allen Craig and Jhonny Peralta went deep against the Marlins.

"I tried to get in on Grichuk and left it over the plate. He took advantage of it," Holmberg said. "I left a changeup high enough for Holliday to get to it."

Holmberg wouldn't make any additional mistakes, though the Cardinals didn't need them, as Lackey was pitching with something to prove. Less than thrilled about appearing three days later than expected, Lackey wanted to prove himself the big-game pitcher that the Cardinals thought they had acquired in July.

He also wanted to showcase why he intends to figure prominently in the organization's October plans.

"I've got plenty of edge," Lackey said, "but there might have been extra tonight."

Starting the opener of the team's final regular-season home series and feeling refreshed after throwing only two innings over the last 13 days, Lackey had merely one hold-your-breath inning. That came in the second, and Jay helped snuff it out with a leaping catch at the wall to rob Ryan Ludwick of an extra-base hit with two on.

Jay would cheat Ludwick out of another hit in his next at-bat, too, with a basket catch as he leaped backward into the wall.

"You just want to contribute, especially at this time of year when every win is so important," Jay said. "I was happy I was able to contribute out there."

Lackey did allow an RBI single to Zack Cozart immediately after Jay's first web gem, but that momentum was squelched when Cozart was thrown out trying to advance an extra base on Grichuk's throw home. Reds manager Bryan Price challenged the call, but it would stand after replay review.

That ended the inning and the final threat of the night against Lackey. The Reds mustered three singles the rest of the way against the right-hander, who was removed with two outs in the eighth after allowing the last of those hits. Lefty reliever Sam Freeman closed out the inning for him with an assist from second baseman Pete Kozma, whose quick change-of-direction diving stop was enough to keep pinch-hitter Kris Negron from tallying a hit and the speedy Billy Hamilton from heading to third.

"That's a big play, a tough play to change direction like he did," Matheny said. "He's very athletic. You have Hamilton on base at that point, too, so who knows what is going to happen."

With the quality start, Lackey extended the rotation's run of starts with one or fewer earned runs allowed to eight.

"The ball was coming out better," said Lackey, who had allowed eight runs over his previous two starts (eight innings). "When you don't have to manufacture effort, it's easier to locate. I was locating the ball better tonight."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Matheny aggressive deploying 'pen in ninth inning

In tight game, Cards manager uses three pitchers to get through final frame

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ST. LOUIS -- There was a time earlier this season when Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, asked about not having a reliever warming up behind Trevor Rosenthal, asserted his hesitation in creating the perception that he didn't trust his closer to work through the ninth.

Urgency and circumstances altered that approach significantly on Friday, where Matheny not only had two relievers up and throwing as Rosenthal entered, but also went to both in helping him get through the final inning. It was a maneuver that worked, too, in sealing a 2-1 win over the Reds at Busch Stadium.

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Having used Rosenthal in four of the team's previous six games, Matheny had hoped to stay away from him on Friday. But with both Pat Neshek and Carlos Martinez shelved (also due to usage concerns), Matheny once again turned to his 24-year-old closer, but with a short leash.

"I put him in a tough spot today. I really did," Matheny said. "We had worked him really hard. We were able to back him off [recently] and we saw some benefits. And now we're obviously right near that finish line where we have to push. I pushed him hard. I knew it was going to be a stretch to get him in there today and have him right."

After working ahead in the count, 1-2, Rosenthal walked Todd Frazier to lead off the ninth. A one-out single by Brandon Phillips was enough to draw Matheny to the mound.

"I felt good and went out there and gave it my best," Rosenthal said. "I thought I made some good pitches. Obviously, the walk is a problem."

Matheny summoned lefty specialist Randy Choate to face Jay Bruce, who was 1-for-11 with seven strikeouts against the veteran left-hander. Choate, after working the count full, made it eight to keep the tying run frozen at third.

"I was telling somebody that I can't remember the last time I had that much adrenaline," Choate said. "I was really worked up. That was definitely a rush. I haven't really been in that spot a whole lot this year, and to be able and come in and strike him out in that situation was real nice. That was probably the biggest spot so far [for me] this year."

"He knows his craft," Matheny added. "He knows what he needs to do. He even gets deep in the count and I don't think anyone on our side is sweating it because he's constantly cat-and-mouse. He's got a real good idea of where he's been before with the big left-handers in the league."

With Seth Maness recording the final out, the Cardinals actually had five different pitchers garner the final five outs. A 13-man bullpen allowed Matheny to be as aggressive as he was in deploying relievers.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Ellis getting lost in Cardinals' crowded infield

Ellis getting lost in Cardinals' crowded infield play video for Ellis getting lost in Cardinals' crowded infield

ST. LOUIS -- Much as he's done in right field over the past three weeks, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has started a carousel of sorts at second base as he tries to maximize production from a roster that includes half a dozen players capable of handling the position.

Kolten Wong remains the most regularly used at second, though Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma have made spot starts there over the past week. Mark Ellis, in contrast, has started at the position just twice since July 25, an indication of his drop on the depth chart and potentially a harbinger for exclusion on the Cardinals' postseason roster, should they secure a spot in the playoffs.

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"You look at how Mark's season started with the DL and [an injury in] Spring Training and not really being able to get off to the kind of start he needed," Matheny said. "Then he got hurt late when we're starting to push and trying to figure out who is ready right now. It's really been a difficult season for Mark and for us to find those right fits to get him in there. I'd like to get him more, but it's tough."

Since returning from an oblique injury the first week of September, Ellis has also been used sparingly off the bench. He has four pinch-hit at-bats since Sept. 5, though three of those came in consecutive days against Reds closer Aroldis Chapman, whom Ellis had enjoyed some small-sample-size success against before this month. He went 0-for-3 against him in the last series.

If the Cardinals advance to setting a postseason roster, it is likely to include six infielders. Matt Adams, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Carpenter, Wong and Descalso are considered automatic adds. That last spot would likely be a decision between Kozma and Ellis. Though he spent most of the season in Triple-A, Kozma has started four games since his inclusion among the September callups. He would also offer more defensive versatility and speed off the bench than Ellis.

As for Wong, the Cardinals have spelled him more days off recently in hopes to get him fresh for the final September push. Wong, who was out of the starting lineup on Friday, entered the day with one hit in his last 15 at-bats. He leads the club with 94 starts at the position this year.

Worth noting
• In revisiting his usage of all three catchers in Thursday's 13-inning win, Matheny said that if the Cardinals had gotten into a spot where Tony Cruz had to be removed, he likely would have turned to reliever Jason Motte to go behind the plate. Motte was drafted as a catcher before converting positions in the Minor Leagues. Infielder Greg Garcia has been getting catching work in recently, though he still doesn't have the in-game experience that Motte does.

• With the Reds sending a left-handed starter to the mound on Friday, right fielder Randal Grichuk returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Saturday.

• Left-hander Nick Greenwood threw a long bullpen session on Friday afternoon to help him make up for the lack of recent in-game opportunities. Greenwood last appeared for the Cardinals on Sept. 9.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cards join Rams, Blues for television campaign

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ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals players Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter and Jason Motte are among the St. Louis pro athletes and broadcasters featured in the "We Are #TeamSTL" television campaign that FOX Sports Midwest launched on Friday.

That #TeamSTL social media hashtag was created a year ago by the area's three professional teams -- the Cardinals, the Blues of the NHL and the Rams of the NFL -- as a way for each organization to rally support behind the others. Students at the University of Missouri journalism school then took the concept and built a media campaign behind it as a spring-semester project.

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The final product was an ad that features players and FSM announcers detailing their passion for playing in and contributing to this community.

Joining the Cardinals' players in the promotion were David Backes, Barret Jackman and Alex Pietrangelo of the Blues; James Laurinaitis and Robert Quinn of the Rams; and Bernie Federko, John Kelly, Darren Pang, Rick Horton, Al Hrabosky, Jim Hayes and Pat Parris of FSM.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Matheny not a fan of players sliding headfirst

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ST. LOUIS -- While there was plenty of jubilation with the result of Matt Holliday's timely headfirst slide into first base on Thursday, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny offered a more candid assessment of that strategy when asked about it a day later.

"It's not something we're teaching, that's for sure," Matheny said. "I think a lot of baseball people would say the same thing."

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Holliday slid into first in the eighth inning of Thursday's 3-2 win against the Brewers. He was originally ruled out on the play, but the call was overturned after the Cardinals challenged. St. Louis would go on to tie the game in the inning, and the Cards would win in the 13th.

It has long been acknowledged that the quickest way to reach first base is for a player to run through it. Instincts, however, sometimes get in the way of the facts, which was the case with Holliday on Thursday. In this instance, he was fortunate that a slide didn't cost him a safe call.

"I wasn't thinking about it. I just did it," Holliday said. "It worked out, thankfully. I would have questioned myself if it was faster to run through it, if I would have been out."

While emphasizing that he's not an advocate for the slide, Matheny also expressed hesitation in trying to completely teach it out of players. Why? He suggested that messing with instincts could lead to in-the-moment hesitation, which could increase the chances for injury.

In the meantime, however, he hopes to see his players stay on their feet.

"I don't want to necessarily see him do that again, or anybody else, because when you do that, there are a lot of things that could go bad," Matheny said. "We've never seen Matt do that before and I doubt we'll ever see him do it again. That was something that he felt he needed to do."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cozart out at second as Reds lose challenge

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ST. LOUIS -- Reds manager Bryan Price lost a challenge on Friday as his team played the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

With Cincinnati trailing by a 2-0 score with two outs in the top of the second inning and runners on first and second base, Zack Cozart hit an RBI single to right field that scored Devin Mesoraco. As the throw came to the plate from right fielder Randal Grichuk, Cozart attempted to advance to second base. He was thrown out by catcher Yadier Molina, with second-base umpire Clint Fagan making the call.

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Price challenged Fagan's call, but after the review, it was determined that the decision on the field stands.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Walk-off in 13th keeps Cards 2 1/2 games up

St. Louis ties game in eighth before Cruz delivers game-winning hit

Walk-off in 13th keeps Cards 2 1/2 games up play video for Walk-off in 13th keeps Cards 2 1/2 games up

ST. LOUIS -- After months of lamenting how little instant replay has benefited his club, manager Mike Matheny watched it turn a game -- and, potentially, a division race -- in the Cardinals' favor on Thursday night.

An overturned call extended the eighth inning long enough for the Cardinals to tie a game of attrition they would then win with Tony Cruz's walk-off single in the 13th. The 3-2 victory, the longest game (in innings) for the Cardinals this season, was a deflating blow to the playoff hopes of the Brewers, who went from four outs away from a win to six back in the division race. Since the Pirates wrapped up a sweep over the Red Sox, the Cardinals needed this win in order to retain their 2 1/2-game National League Central lead.

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With nine games remaining, their magic number for a postseason berth has been reduced to four.

"You don't want to scoreboard watch, but it goes on, especially at this time of the year," Cruz said after his second career walk-off hit. "We know what's at stake."

The Cardinals' on-again, off-again offense was all the latter until awaking in the eighth. Held to three singles by Kyle Lohse through seven innings, the Cardinals tallied their fourth with Oscar Taveras' leadoff hit in the eighth. Lohse was relieved by Jonathan Broxton, who allowed a two-out walk to Matt Carpenter and an RBI single by Jon Jay that pulled the Cardinals to within one after first baseman Mark Reynolds, forgetting how many outs were in the inning, didn't try for a double play on A.J. Pierzynski's grounder.

"It was an easy double-play ball, especially with Pierzynski running," Reynolds said. "I just thought there were two outs."

Matt Holliday followed with a slow roller up the middle that resulted in a bang-bang play at first. Holliday, diving into the base, was called out by umpire Fieldin Culbreth. Matheny immediately asked for a review, which clearly showed Holliday beating the throw. The call was overturned, though Carpenter, who had sprinted home on the play, had to return to third.

Matt Adams then drew a full-count walk to force Carpenter home.

"In a game like that, any little thing is huge," Holliday said. "Would I have been safe standing up or sliding? I don't know. It felt like a desperate act. I wasn't thinking about it. I just did it."

The Cardinals wasted a leadoff double in the ninth and then tiptoed precariously through the next three innings. Pat Neshek retired Jonathan Lucroy and Aramis Ramirez to strand runners on the corners in the 10th. Carlos Martinez struck out Carlos Gomez with the bases full to end the 11th and Ryan Braun with a runner in scoring position to close the 12th. Sam Freeman pitched a drama-free 13th.

That bought time for the Cardinals' offense to eventually reemerge. Holliday sparked the game-winning rally by opening the 13th with a single off right-hander Jimmy Nelson. Three batters later, Cruz, who had entered the game to catch in the 10th, slapped the game-winning single up the middle.

It was yet another one-run win for the Cardinals, who have now won 29 of the 51 such games they've played. They have eight walk-off victories.

"Just being engaged in the game the entire time and being ready," Matheny said of Cruz, who entered the game having taken just two at-bats for the Cardinals since Aug. 27. "What a great night for Tony Cruz. What a great night for our club."

Continued strong pitching helped the Cardinals win a series in which they scored only seven runs. After Shelby Miller covered the first six innings, six relievers combined for seven scoreless. As a unit, the starters have now gone seven straight games allowing one run or none.

"We've been very clear from the expectation at the beginning of the season that we're only going to be as good as our starting pitching is going to be," Matheny said. "We hope that the other components are there to complement our pitching. But it all begins with our starters going out there."

Miller matched Lohse early, breezing through three perfect innings on 30 pitches. He retired the first two batters in the fourth, as well, before three consecutive hits by Milwaukee dented the scoreboard. The Brewers added to the lead in the fifth, an inning unnecessarily complicated when Miller sailed a throw into center on an attempt at a forceout.

Miller finished off his outing by retiring the side in the sixth, though he took a ball off his right shin during the inning, which made it an easy decision for Matheny to pull him at the end of the frame. Miller had thrown just 82 pitches. With his fourth September start in the books, Miller has limited opponents to three runs (two earned) in 26 innings.

He watched the ending from the video room and seconds before had asked video coordinator Chad Blair how many walk-off hits Cruz had in his career.

"After this," Blair answered, "at least one."

The two then celebrated inside the clubhouse while the rest of the team streamed from the dugout onto the field.

"With my shin, I took that one off," Miller joked, before adding, "We'll have more."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Shin bruise shouldn't cost Miller a start

Cards righty hit by one-hopper in sixth inning, but he was able to finish frame

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ST. LOUIS -- Shelby Miller said after the Cardinals' 3-2, extra-inning win over the Brewers on Thursday that he does not expect a bruised right shin to affect his preparation for his next start, which is scheduled to come Tuesday in Chicago.

Miller took a one-hopper off his shin in the sixth inning on a ball hit by Ryan Braun. The ball took a favorable carom to Matt Adams, who recorded the out, but it also elicited a mound meeting with the trainer and manager Mike Matheny. Miller insisted he could continue, recorded the final out of the inning and was then pinch-hit for in the bottom half of the frame.

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He had wrapped up those six innings on 82 pitches.

"It just made it real easy," Matheny said, when asked if Miller's swelling ankle led to the timing of the exit. "I didn't have to think about it anymore. Once I saw him make his next few pitches, [I made up my mind]. And we had some guys down there already hot and ready to go. It was time to go."

Miller spent the next several innings in the trainers' room for treatment and was still dealing with some soreness afterward. He was hopeful that he would not have to alter any of his in-between start routine to compensate for the issue.

"I'll be ready to go by next time for sure," Miller said. "Hopefully I'll get all my running and lifting in tomorrow and it won't hold me back. I think with our trainers and modern technology today, so to say, we have some stuff that heals bruises and soreness fairly quickly. We'll get all of that taken care of in the training room."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Holliday safe at first as Cards win challenge

Originally ruled out to end eighth, call is overturned following a replay review

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ST. LOUIS -- In one of their biggest replay reversals to date, the Cardinals leaned on an overturned call in order to extend the eighth inning of Thursday's game long enough to finish erasing a two-run deficit. The Cardinals would eventually finish the comeback with a game-winning hit in the 13th to send the Brewers to a 3-2 defeat.

The call in question came just after Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay shaved the Brewers' lead to one with his two-out single to left. Matt Holliday followed with a slow ground ball and finished his sprint to first with a dive into the base. The throw from second baseman Scooter Gennett arrived nearly simultaneously, though first-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth initially ruled Holliday as the third out of the inning.

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"I had no idea," said Brewers first baseman Mark Reynolds, when asked for his instant reaction to the call. "I couldn't feel. Normally if a guy hits it with his foot you can feel it. He hit it with his hand and I have no idea."

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who had won 10 of 27 challenges this season, requested a review. Video evidence was convincing enough to overturn the call and put Holliday back on first base. It was also ruled that Matt Carpenter, who had circled all the way home from second on the play, return to third.

"Would I have been safe standing up or sliding? I don't know," Holliday said. "It felt like a desperate act. I wasn't thinking about it. I just did it. It worked out, thankfully. I would have questioned myself if it was faster to run through it, if I would have been out. It worked out."

The Cardinals briefly argued Carpenter's placement, though it wouldn't matter, as he would soon trot home on Matt Adams' bases-loaded walk to tie the game at 2.

"I don't think many of us are a big fan of the diving-into-first-base trick," Matheny said. "But apparently it worked today."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cards coach Bell to manage in Dominican Winter League

Assistant hitting coach wants to better relate to players from Latin America

Cards coach Bell to manage in Dominican Winter League

ST. LOUIS -- After years of expressing interest in coaching in the Dominican Winter League, Cardinals assistant hitting coach David Bell found a fit as the 2014 manager for the Leones del Escogido club, which plays its home games in the capitol of Santo Domingo and is run by general manager Moises Alou.

Bell committed to the managerial opportunity a couple months ago, he confirmed on Thursday. He will, however, be a late arrival. Pitchers and catchers open camp at the Dominican facility next week, and the season starts on Oct. 16, which falls during the League Championship Series.

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"I'm hoping to be two weeks late," Bell said.

Bell said his interest in managing a winter ball team grew out of his desire to learn how to better communicate with and relate to players from Latin America. He hopes to pick up some Spanish during his three months in the Dominican Republic, and this will also add another line of managerial experience to his resume.

"There are so many players from that country, and managing in the Minor Leagues I had a lot of interaction with those guys," Bell said. "Just to understand the culture as well as I can and make an effort with the language, it's something that I see as important and something I'd like to do."

A third generation Major League player, Bell began his coaching career as a Double-A manager in the Reds' system from 2009-2011. He managed Cincinnati's Triple-A affiliate in 2012 before accepting a Major League coaching position with the Cubs a year later. He is nearing the end of his first season working alongside Cardinals hitting coach John Mabry. Bell's father, Buddy, was a Major League manager in Detroit, Colorado and Kansas City.

"When I stopped playing, [managing] was something I thought I might like to do, and I got an opportunity to do it at kind of a higher level to start with in Double-A with the Reds," Bell said. "I loved almost everything about it. I had so many opportunities to make a difference in the young players' career. The managing, I really enjoyed."

Bell, whose only winter ball experience as a player came in Venezuela, will be relocating his wife and two young children to the Dominican Republic for the offseason. This will be his first visit to the Caribbean country.

This managerial opportunity would not preclude Bell from returning to the Cardinals next season if the organization chooses to renew his contract.

Worth noting
• With 14 pitchers in the bullpen and the Cardinals' propensity for playing close games, several of the club's relievers have been without in-game work for some time now. Justin Masterson, Nick Greenwood and Sam Tuivailala have gone without an appearance since Sept. 9. More than a week has also passed since Tyler Lyons' last outing. Manager Mike Matheny said that some of the pitchers, like Masterson, are throwing regularly on the side to get work in.

• The Cardinals hosted members of the coaching staffs for Class A State College and Rookie-level Johnson City at Busch Stadium on Thursday after each led their respective affiliates to a Minor League championship. Joining the State College staff on the trip was 10-year-old Josiah Viera, who is batting the rare and fatal disease, progeria. Viera became an honorary member of the Spikes team this year.

• The Cardinals set a franchise record on Wednesday by winning their fourth game this season in which they tallied three or fewer hits.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Meet the 10-year-old who was called up to MLB

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Meet the 10-year-old who was called up to MLB

Josiah Viera resides in Hegins, PA and is a regular visitor to Medlar Field, home of the Cardinals' Short-Season A affiliate State College Spikes.

Viera is an honorary member of the Spikes. He attends about half the home games, has a locker in the clubhouse and is adored wherever he goes. He even traveled with the team recently when it clinched the league championship.

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{"content":["top_pitching_performances" ] }

Waino blanks Crew as Cards keep Central pace

Righty's third shutout helps trim magic number for playoffs to six

Waino blanks Crew as Cards keep Central pace play video for Waino blanks Crew as Cards keep Central pace

ST. LOUIS -- It took the Cardinals nearly six innings to get a hit and more than 17 to score a run, but their ace bought the offense the necessary time to ensure a modest seventh-inning breakthrough on Wednesday night wouldn't be too little or come too late.

St. Louis scored twice off Brewers starter Mike Fiers in the seventh, sufficient enough support for Adam Wainwright, who twirled the ninth shutout of his career (third this season) in leading the Cardinals to a 2-0 win in front of 44,480 at Busch Stadium. The victory prevented the Pirates (2 1/2 games back) and Brewers (five games back) from gaining ground on the National League Central leaders, while also cutting the Cardinals' magic number for a postseason berth to six.

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The magic number for a second straight division title stands at nine.

"Tonight, we left it in our ace's hands," manager Mike Matheny said. "And he took care of business."

A day after the Cardinals suffered an extra-innings loss while wasting a strong Lance Lynn start, Wainwright dominated in what some teammates described afterward as the right-hander's best performance of the season. That's no small compliment, either, given that Wainwright has now thrown five complete games, three shutouts and 24 quality starts.

"Outstanding," was how his catcher, Yadier Molina, described it. "That's what we needed, and that's why he's one of the best pitchers in baseball. Everything was working for him. Everything."

Wainwright needed the offense to work for him, too, and it finally did late against Fiers, who was making his first appearance since hitting Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton in the face with a pitch. After being held scoreless since the first inning of Tuesday's 12-inning loss, the Cardinals found life in the seventh, one inning after Wainwright halted Fiers' no-hit bid by sneaking a single up the middle.

Fiers issued a one-out walk to Matt Holliday after the left fielder drove a pitch that had home run distance, but pulled just inches foul. The walk would do, however, as Matt Adams followed with a single that produced more than expected when outfielder Carlos Gomez slipped while trying to field the ball in center.

Holliday, sprinting first-to-third on the hit, was aggressively waved home by third-base coach Jose Oquendo. He scored just ahead of the tag.

"I just slipped," Gomez said. "Before I could even catch the ball, I was on the ground. ... Just one error right there, and it changed the game."

"We were having trouble getting a hit, let alone a run, so we have to pull out all stops and have to be overaggressive there," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny added. "When we're not getting things going, we have to make something happen"

Adams moved to second on the error, putting him in position to plate the insurance run when Jhonny Peralta followed with a single to center. It would send Fiers to his first career loss (five games, three starts) against the Cardinals.

"That definitely felt like playoff baseball out there with both guys going out there and having their 'A' stuff and both teams playing hard behind their pitchers," Adams said. "You could tell a run was going to be hard to come by. I'm just thankful we were on the right side of it."

Wainwright made do with the two runs of support en route to becoming the NL's second 19-game winner, joining Clayton Kershaw. He scattered seven hits, though none went for extra bases, and worked out of his only jam by inducing a bases-loaded flyout from Jean Segura in the third. The Brewers would not advance another runner into scoring position after that as Wainwright went on to finish nine innings on 102 pitches. He even dialed up to 95 mph on a pitch to Ryan Braun in the ninth.

This shutout came on fewer pitches than any of Wainwright's previous eight.

"It's good to be back making tough pitches when I need to," said Wainwright, who has followed his August lull by winning all four of his September starts. "This is a tough team over there, a tough lineup. They're fighting tooth and nail to stay in this race, so I knew we had a tough challenge. There was a good pitcher on the other side, too, so we needed some zeros up there."

The complete game was Wainwright's second in three starts, both coming against the Brewers, who have been on the wrong end of six Wainwright complete games over his career.

The win also sealed St. Louis' 21st shutout of the season, the most by any Cardinals team since the mound was lowered in 1969. Wainwright has started 11 of them.

"He's a special pitcher," Matheny said, "when he gets it all right."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cardinals' 21 shutouts most since 1968 club

Cardinals' 21 shutouts most since 1968 club play video for Cardinals' 21 shutouts most since 1968 club

ST. LOUIS -- The year 1968 has long been termed the 'Year of the Pitcher' as it was a season in which 20 teams combined for 338 shutouts and now Hall-of-Famer Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA for the Cardinals. It also led to the lowering of the mound -- from 15 inches to 10 inches -- in order to initiate a bit more parity.

The Cardinals combined for 30 shutouts that season, a number never approached since. However, this year's staff earned a feather in its cap on Wednesday night when, with a 2-0 victory over the Brewers, it secured the club's 21st shutout of 2014. It's the most by any Cardinals staff since that '68 team.

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"We challenged each other in Spring Training this year -- Who is going to step up and be the man?" Adam Wainwright said after throwing his fifth complete game of the season. "Every fifth day, we have guys out there who are wanting to go do that. I think with Lance [Lynn] and Shelby [Miller], those two young guys going out and pitching the way they have all year, it's been fun to watch. You add a couple great veterans to your staff, we have a great staff."

The 21 shutouts equals the Rays for the most in the Majors. Wainwright has started 11 of them, two fewer than Gibson did back in '68. Lynn is second on the staff with helping the Cardinals to four shutouts.

"Starting pitching has just been so strong for us, and we need them to stay with this," manager Mike Matheny said. "Adam has had an exceptional season and has been in the middle of a lot of those shutouts that we've seen. We needed him to come up big today, and that shouldn't be a surprise to us."

Wednesday night's gem by Wainwright lowered the staff's ERA to 3.54 in a season where the Cardinals have now not allowed a run in 25 percent of their victories.

"They are not afraid to pitch," catcher Yadier Molina said of the staff. "They go right after people and have some good talent. They obviously have good fastballs, and they're getting more experience. That's the key, I think. When you get more experience, you get confidence and [this is] what happens."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Waino aiming for 21 wins after gem against Crew

Cardinals ace picks up 19th victory with shutout of Brewers

Waino aiming for 21 wins after gem against Crew play video for Waino aiming for 21 wins after gem against Crew

ST. LOUIS -- Adam Wainwright kept his pursuit of a second career 20-win season alive with No. 19 in the Cardinals' 2-0 victory over the Brewers on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium. And while 20 remains, as he described it, "a notch in the belt," Wainwright has his eyes on one better.

"In my mind, I have two starts left potentially, and I'm thinking 21," Wainwright said. "Why say 20 when you have two starts left? The idea and the goal is to win every one of them. We'll see where they fall. Twenty is a cool thing. But 21 is cooler."

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It would also be a first, as Wainwright entered this year with two 19-win seasons (2009, '13) and one with 20 (2010) on his career resume. He had to win his last two starts in 2010 to reach the round number and therefore he never had the chance to go for No. 21.

Wainwright is slotted to pitch next on Monday against the Cubs. That would line him up to be ready for the team's series finale in Phoenix, though there is also the chance that the Cardinals rework their rotation plans if a postseason berth has already been secured.

After going 3-5 out of the All-Star break, Wainwright has reeled off wins in each of his four September starts to position himself for another career milestone.

"Woody Williams used to say this all the time: 'If you want to win, you have to go at least seven,'" said Wainwright, who has now done so in 22 of his 31 starts. "Wins, a lot of times, are a product of you hanging in the game. Today, if I had been out of the game early, I wouldn't have gotten the win. It's all about hanging around and giving your offense enough chances to go out there and score runs off a tough pitcher sometimes."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Lackey, Wacha will face Reds in weekend series

Lackey, Wacha will face Reds in weekend series play video for Lackey, Wacha will face Reds in weekend series

ST. LOUIS -- Encouraged by the pitch command Michael Wacha showed during bullpen sessions on Sunday and Wednesday, the Cardinals are ready to insert the right-hander back into the rotation to see if he can provide a boost down the stretch and potentially into October.

Following Wacha's mound session on Wednesday, manager Mike Matheny announced that Wacha will start against the Reds on Saturday. John Lackey has been slotted in to start on Friday, which means Lackey will have had eight days off since his last start, which lasted only two innings because of an ejection.

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Wacha will be pitching on 10 days' rest. That extra time was built in after the club was concerned with the lack of crispness on Wacha's pitches and how his arm responded after his start against Cincinnati on Sept. 9. Wacha, who has made two starts since missing 11 weeks with a right shoulder stress reaction, used this down time to work in extra throwing on the side.

Because this layoff did not cost Wacha the arm strength he had been building up, the Cardinals expect that he'll be able to push past 70 pitches (the total thrown in his last outing) if his command is sharp.

"I don't see us going backwards," Matheny said in answering a question about potential pitch count. "I think we'll have kind of a number in mind. If he looks good, we'll stretch him. If he doesn't, we're not going to necessarily have to push it to a number. We have to win a game."

The scheduling of Wacha's start means that he will face the Reds in consecutive outings. Cincinnati tagged Wacha for six runs (five earned) on six hits three walks in four innings last week. Wacha did not find the feel for his changeup during that start.

As for Lackey, the Cardinals delayed his start by three days after the veteran notified the staff that he was dealing with a "dead arm sensation." Lackey has given up eight runs on 13 hits over his last two starts (eight innings).

The Cardinals have three long relievers -- Marco Gonzales, Tyler Lyons and Nick Greenwood -- ready behind either of these pitchers if needed.

"I would say from here on out, every pitcher is going to have to be on point," Matheny said. "Any time something doesn't look right, we'll be able to jump in. Marco, [who started in place of Wacha on Sunday], has definitely put himself in that mix to be a guy who can come in early in the game and give us a chance. So we're not going to shy away from that."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["clemente_award" ] }

Motte named Cards' Clemente Award nominee

Motte named Cards' Clemente Award nominee play video for Motte named Cards' Clemente Award nominee

ST. LOUIS -- A regular visitor at pediatric cancer centers and the creator of the "K Cancer" player initiative that went leaguewide this season, Cardinals reliever Jason Motte has begun earning recognition for the charity efforts he has long performed outside of the spotlight.

Already named as a candidate for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, Motte was announced on Tuesday as the Cardinals' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given annually to one of the 30 club finalists who best represents the game through positive contributions on and off the field. Carlos Beltran was the overall Clemente Award winner while with the Cardinals last season.

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"Carlos and I were talking last year and he made a point that you make time for what you want to make time for," Motte said on Tuesday. "That's something that is important to me. You look at all the guys who were nominated, and these guys do some really great stuff. It has to do with some of your on-the-field stuff -- you obviously have to be here to be nominated for it -- but it also has to do with stuff that doesn't have to do with baseball. It shows that there is stuff that is bigger than the game."

Motte and his wife, Caitlin, established the Jason Motte Foundation in order to raise awareness and money for cancer patients and research. The couple has hosted a Strikeout Cancer event in Memphis the last two offseasons to benefit the Wings Cancer Foundation and they have another planned for November. He also participates in Cardinal Glennon's Homers 4 Health and K's for Kids initiative and served as the honorary chair for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure this year.

But Motte's most visible work has come over the last 16 months. During his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Motte created a "K Cancer" T-shirt that, fittingly, has a Clemente quote printed inside: "Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don't, then you are wasting your time on Earth."

After selling the red shirts in St. Louis to raise money for his foundation, Motte took the concept league wide, getting shirts created in every team color and finding a player on each team willing to back the cause. Together, players across baseball held a Strikeout Cancer Day on Sept. 2. Motte estimated that t-shirt sales on that day raised $50,000-60,000 for charity.

"They've been very committed to going out and making a difference," manager Mike Matheny said of the Mottes. "I think we saw on a national level, too, where it was getting some acknowledgement across the league, people realizing it's a great cause that he's been very active with. He should feel good about the difference that he's making."

The Cardinals will recognize Motte during a pregame ceremony as part of Roberto Clemente Day on Wednesday. Fans can play a role in determining the overall winner by voting on ChevyBaseball.com from Wednesday through Oct. 6. A selection panel, which includes Vera Clemente, the wife of Roberto Clemente, will also help choose the winner, which will be announced during the World Series.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cards looking for quicker delivery from Siegrist

Reliever isn't able to stall opponents' running game this season

Cards looking for quicker delivery from Siegrist play video for Cards looking for quicker delivery from Siegrist

ST. LOUIS -- Just a little more than a week after fixing the mechanics of his leg kick to improve the momentum of his delivery, Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist has been challenged by the staff to make another adjustment -- this one to stall the running game.

A day after Carlos Gomez swiped second and third off Siegrist to set up the Brewers' go-ahead run in the 12th inning en route to a 3-2 win, manager Mike Matheny reiterated the necessity of Siegrist being quicker to the plate in order to give his catcher a chance to throw out runners. Those adjustments, Matheny said, will need to happen immediately.

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"We're going to have to or we can't pitch him," Matheny said. "He's just long, that's it. Too long. We're not going to make overhauls because he made some overhauls that got his stuff right. I don't necessarily want to compromise those for the running game purpose. We have to be creative in how we do that."

Because of his naturally exaggerated leg kick, Siegrist has never been particularly quick with his motion home. It never emerged as much of a topic last year, however, because of how few hitters actually reached against Siegrist during his rookie season. The lefty went through 2013 allowing 17 hits and 18 walks over 39 2/3 innings. Opponents were 0-for-1 in stolen base attempts against him.

This season, in 30 innings entering Wednesday, Siegrist allowed five steals in six attempts.

"When you see a guy, like, 1.6, 1.7 [seconds to home plate] and you've got one of the fastest runners in the league, everybody knows I'm running," Gomez said. "You just play the game, and when they give me the opportunity [by] picking the leg up, I'm going."

"[Gomez] didn't even have great jumps and was still not giving [catcher] Yadi [Molina] a chance," Matheny said. "That's something that we can't do in those types of games, and I think [Tuesday] was a great reminder to our whole staff."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Three keys to Cardinals taking division crown

After recent surge, trio of factors play into St. Louis sustaining success

Three keys to Cardinals taking division crown play video for Three keys to Cardinals taking division crown

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals ended the Brewers' 150-day reign atop the National League Central on Sept. 1 and haven't slipped out of pole positioning since, giving the club a clear view of its desired finish line as it prepares for the final two weeks of the regular season.

Seeking their first consecutive division titles since 2004-06, the Cards hold a 3 1/2-game cushion over the Pirates and a magic number of 10 with 12 games remaining. Their surge past the Brewers has been aided by a 12-4 run, the best 16-game stretch the team has had all season.

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Here's a look at three factors behind the Cardinals' recent climb to the top of the NL Central and three keys in their quest to hold off the Pirates and Brewers for another two weeks:

Three keys to the recent run

Rest for the bullpen's weary: The Cardinals have leaned heavily on late-inning relievers Pat Neshek and Trevor Rosenthal, largely because the club has been involved in 74 games determined by two or fewer runs. But the reemergence of Carlos Martinez has given the Cards another setup option, allowing manager Mike Matheny to be more active in spelling rest for Neshek and Rosenthal. Since the All-Star break, Neshek has pitched on consecutive days just five times. Rosenthal hasn't pitched in three straight games at all during that span, and he's been sharper because of that.

Yadier Molina: While Molina has not made an overwhelming impact in the lineup, his presence behind the plate has made an immediate difference. It's not a coincidence that St. Louis is 12-4 in Molina's starts since recovering from thumb surgery. He has had a noticeable impact on a handful of pitchers in particular, mostly notably Martinez. Shelby Miller opened the month with back-to-back scoreless appearances during which he didn't shake off Molina once. Molina's return has also stalled opponents' running game.

Return of RISP success: While the Cardinals were never going to match their 2013 team average of .330 with runners in scoring position, the club's drop off was severe for a team that has been at or near the bottom in home run production all season. Over the past 16 games, the Cards have had more success stringing hits together and manufacturing runs still with little show of power. The club is hitting .356 with runners in scoring position during that span. That's a leap from the .241 average the team had in such situations up until that point.

Three keys to keeping it going

Miller: With questions surrounding Michael Wacha, who remains out indefinitely, and John Lackey, who had his next start bumped back, the Cardinals need Miller to -- like Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn -- be a reliable rotation member. Miller has recently reaped the benefits of throwing more curveballs and incorporating the sinker, and he's performing like a pitcher who does not want to be forgotten come October. With the other questions in the rotation, the Cards are going to need him to first help the team get there.

Right-field production: Though the Cardinals will finish the year with some of the Majors' lowest offensive numbers out of right field, Matheny has a chance to maximize his assets down the stretch. Randal Grichuk's success vs. left-handers gives the Cards a strong option when the matchup is right. Oscar Taveras still offers potential and has shown recently that he responds well to adversity. If Matheny can find the right times to work in both bats, he might finally have found a right-field situation that works.

Defense: With the Cardinals continuing to play tight games, they must continue to play well in the field. The Cards will enter the final two weeks leading the Majors with 60 Defensive Runs Saved this season, which has helped the club to a 28-21 record in one-run games. For a team that continues to operate with a near-even run differential, those runs saved by the fielders have helped win St. Louis several games.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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