The St. Louis Cardinals had plenty of doubters heading into 2012 after losing their best player and legendary manager from a team that won the World Series the previous fall.
Fast forward to another October, and St. Louis is on the verge of a return trip to the postseason.
With their magic number to clinch the NL's last playoff spot down to two, the Cardinals look to secure a postseason berth as they begin their final series Monday night at Busch Stadium against the Central champion Cincinnati Reds .
St. Louis beat East-leading Washington 10-4 on Sunday and remained two games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wild card with three to play."We're one step closer, but there's still a long way to go," Matheny said. "We've got to keep playing and playing well. The guys came out pushing (Sunday) against a very good team."
Beltran homered from both sides of the plate to snap out of a 1-for-14 slump, giving him a team-high 32 homers to go with 97 RBIs."As ballplayers, you're going to go through good stretches and bad stretches," Beltran said. "I try not to focus on that. I try to focus on the work that I do, come to the ballpark and prepare myself."
Jaime Garcia went through a rough stretch of his own with one victory over his previous nine starts before beating Houston in his last two, and he'll take the mound again Monday.
Garcia (6-7, 3.99 ERA) beat the Astros 5-4 on Sept. 20 before allowing six hits in seven innings of Tuesday's 4-0 victory."That was one of his best outings of the season," Matheny said. "He was spot-on. It was fun to see."
The left-hander entered this season 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA in seven starts versus the Reds, but he's 1-1 with a 4.08 ERA in three starts in 2012. He allowed four runs in six innings of an 8-2 loss Aug. 25 at Cincinnati.
The Reds (96-63) secured home-field advantage for the division series with a 4-3 come-from-behind win over Pittsburgh on Sunday, and are tied with Washington for the NL's best record, which would give them home-field throughout the playoffs.
If Cincinnati finishes with the top record and St. Louis beats Atlanta in the one-game wild-card round, the teams would meet in the NLDS."It was a big win for us because we want to get home-field advantage," said Zack Cozart , who replaced Brandon Phillips in the sixth inning Sunday after Phillips experienced tightness in his left leg. "It seems like we kind of lull through games a lot then turn it on at the end."
Cincinnati has dropped Bronson Arroyo 's last three starts, and hopes to give him more offensive help Monday.
The Reds have provided Arroyo (12-9, 3.70) two runs over his last 20 innings, though he didn't do himself any favors by allowing four in six innings of an 8-1 loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday.
The right-hander gave up three runs in eight innings to beat the Cardinals 6-3 on April 19, ending a seven-start winless streak against them in which he went 0-4 with a 5.95 ERA.
These teams have split the first 12 meetings this season, but the Reds have won five of the last seven.
|September 19, 2012||Aroldis Chapman||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder fatigue|
|September 19, 2012||Ryan Ludwick||Day-to-Day||Left game - left groin tightness|
|September 08, 2012||Zack Cozart||Day-to-Day||Strained left oblique|
|August 31, 2012||Kristopher Negron||15-Day DL||Torn right ACL - out for season|
|August 01, 2012||Devin Mesoraco||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|August 01, 2012||Wilson Valdez||Day-to-Day||Left game - stiff neck|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|September 28, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Sprained right ankle|
|September 28, 2012||Matt Holliday||Day-to-Day||Left game - left elbow contusion|
|September 23, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Lower back spasms|
|September 09, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Swollen left ankle|
|September 09, 2012||Matt Carpenter||Day-to-Day||Cut hand|
|September 09, 2012||Jake Westbrook||Day-to-Day||Strained right oblique|
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Jaime Garcia is in fine form for the postseason, winning his last three starts and homering off Bronson Arroyo , too.
The St. Louis Cardinals are almost there, clinching a tie for the second NL wild card and spoiling Dusty Baker 's return from a mini-stroke with a 4-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.
"I'm excited," Garcia said. "It's a huge win for us."
After winning for the 11th time in 14 games, the defending World Series champions stayed at Busch Stadium more than two hours after the final pitch to watch the Dodgers snap a ninth-inning tie and beat the Giants 3-2 to avoid elimination. The plan for a late-night delayed victory party had been somewhat muted, with five cases of champagne on ice instead of the usual overkill of 20 cases of champagne and 20 cases of beer.
A loss by the Dodgers or another Cardinals win would wrap up a playoff spot for St. Louis and a visit to Atlanta for the wild-card game Friday. Both teams have two games to go.
"It's different with this one-game playoff looming over our heads if we get there," second baseman Daniel Descalso said. "I wouldn't expect a raucous celebration but, you know, some celebration is in order if we do clinch it."
First-year manager Mike Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak, dress shoes propped on an end table, watched the game in the manager's office.
"One step closer," Matheny said. "Too early to start going there."
Arroyo (12-10) threw 73 pitches while allowing three runs over five innings in a tuneup for the postseason after learning beforehand from Baker that he wouldn't go deep into the game. Arroyo topped 200 innings for the seventh time but is 0-3 in his last four starts.
"He talked to us about going shorter, but it doesn't matter, it doesn't take the sting out of it," Arroyo said. "We could be 160-0 and a loss is a loss is a loss. It sits there on the back of my baseball card until I die."
The Reds are 96-64, tied with the Nationals for the best record in the National League with two games to go, and must finish ahead of Washington to get home-field advantage throughout the postseason after losing the season series.
More important at this point is getting to the postseason fresh. Baker made it a point to get work for relievers Alfredo Simon and J.J. Hoover, both of whom hadn't pitched lately.
"It was a matter of trying to win the game, but trying to get your guys fresh at the same time," Baker said. "Right now, we're about preservation and conservation."
Baker missed 11 games, including the NL Central clincher and Homer Bailey 's no-hitter, while recovering from a stroke in a Chicago hospital that he had while being treated for an irregular heartbeat. He appeared noticeably fatigued after the game and spoke briefly.
Garcia (7-7) made it 5 for 5 at the plate against Arroyo when he led off the third with a drive that just cleared the right-field wall for his second career homer, although the perfect run ended when he flied out to end the fourth.
"I knew. I'm not going to lie to you. I faced him the last couple years and I knew I was 4 for 4," Garcia said. "He's a really good pitcher and he made a mistake and I put a good swing on the ball."
Allen Craig and Yadier Molina added an RBI apiece in a three-run third, and Descalso had an RBI triple in the sixth that made it 4-1. Jason Motte worked a perfect ninth with two strikeouts for his 41st save in 48 chances.
Garcia gave up six hits, including three singles in a span of four at-bats in the third, with Brandon Phillips getting an RBI. Scott Rolen doubled, advanced on a passed ball and scored on Ryan Hanigan 's sacrifice fly in the seventh.
The lefty has been a major asset at home throughout his career, going 20-11 with a 2.48 ERA at Busch Stadium, the lowest career mark of any pitcher with 10 or more starts, including 4-2 with a 2.82 ERA in nine starts this year. He's 3-5 with a 5.02 ERA in 11 road starts this year and 14-12 with a 4.47 ERA overall.
NOTES: Arroyo has allowed 26 homers, tied for third-most in the NL with Bailey and fellow Reds pitcher Mike Leake . ... Ryan Ludwick returned to the Cincinnati lineup after missing eight games with left groin tightness but was removed in a double switch in the sixth. ... Reds pitchers combined for seven strikeouts to set a franchise record with 1,231, breaking the mark of 1,227 in 2008. ... Motte has all of the Cardinals' saves. The franchise has never gone a season with just one pitcher getting all of the saves.