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It's about Baseball, and Off-season Sports

Randal Grichuk plates Adams and Molina for Cardinals 4-0 lead in the first..
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis Cardinals, being blanked in the first game by the Chicago Cubs, did not waste any time facing Jason Hammel. Hammel, who was 8-1/1.84 ERA at home this season, would be handed a 23.14 and be retired after 2.1 innings pitched. He had his first two outs on the first two Cardinals he faced, then bases loaded. Yadier Molina sent the leather out to left for 2-RBI double to put the Cardinals on the board.

He was followed by Randal Grichuk with a 2-RBI single to start the game with a 4-0 lead. Hammel got his third out, eighth batter faced, to close his first inning. 

Hammel was match-up against Cardinals rookie Alex Reyes, who made his debut as a starter against the Cubs. In his total 7.1 IP previously against the Cubs, he only allowed the Cubs two hits. Even though issuing seven free passes, he had held them scoreless, along with seven strikeouts in his two games in a relief role. As a starter, the Cubs initiated Reyes in his first. He allowed a hit, issued a walk before he got his first out. Ben Zobrist put a dent into the Cardinals lead with a 2-RBI triple. Reyes got his second "K" and a pop-out to close his first, leaving Zobrist stranded on third. 

Once again, Hammel had two outs in his second. Third hitter he faced, Stephen Piscotty. With a 1-1 pitch he blasts the two-seamer sailing high above the fans sitting in the left field bleachers to the street, for a solo-shot to boost the Cardinals lead. 

Hammel closed his second, and would return for the third. Reyes allowed one more earned run in his second, giving up a RBI double to Dexter Fowler to cut the Cardinals back to two runs. Hammel allowed two runners on in his third with one out. He was retired as Mike Montgomery followed. Grichuk to face him, and connects for a RBI double. Montgomery loaded the bases with a walk to Aledmys Diaz. Reyes hits into a double-play to close the inning. 

The game held with the Cardinals 6-3 lead until the seventh. Hector Rondon on the mound. Piscotty doubled, got his first out and issued a walk. Matt Adams punched out a RBI double, and Molina for a 2-RBI single to give the Cardinals a three run seventh for insurance. The 9-3 lead would hold until the bottom of the ninth. Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh was stung by Cubs back-up catcher Willson Contreras for a solo home run. Contreras does a solid job behind Cubs catcher David Ross, who will retire after this season at age 39 and 14 seasons in the majors. Not only is Contreras proving to be a worthy replacement for Ross, the kid can hit. That was Contreras' 11 home run for his 32 RBI this season, as he was 2-4 at the plate yesterday. The Cardinals close the game 10-4 and a tied series. 

Matt Bowman earned his 12 hold, following Reyes, in two solid innings with two strikeouts. He starts the double play in the sixth and taking down the side in his seventh. 

Zach Duke, in the eighth, followed Bowman's lead as he took down the side with two strikeouts.   

Piscotty was on his game yesterday, 3-5 AB/1 HR/2 RBI and added two runs. Molina was 3-4 AB/4 RBI with one run. Grichuk was 2-5 AB/3 RBI. Now, to bring that energy to the rubber match tonight. Reyes got his fourth major league win, handing Jason Hammel his 10 loss. 

ESPN SUNDAY NIGHT BASEBALL ~ 7:00 CST 

This will be the third match-up this season between Cardinals Carlos Martinez (15-8/3.16 ERA) and Cubs Jon Lester (18-4/2.36 ERA). Martinez is 9-1 on the road with a 2.42 ERA. However, he is 1-2 facing the Cubs this season, 24 IP/5.25 ERA with giving up 3 HR/14 ER. His last outing at Wrigley Field, he went 6 IP for 3 ER for a Cubs .282 BA, in the Cardinals 4-3 loss. Lester's last outing against the Cardinals, at Busch Stadium, he blistered the Redbirds with going 8 IP scoreless innings, only giving up three hits for the Cubs 7-0 shutout. He is 9-2/1.86 ERA at home. Lester has brought a first half ERA of 3.01 down to a 1.46 in this second half this season sitting second to Los Angeles Dodgers Clayton Kershaw 1.65 ERA in the National League. 

The Cardinals offense has their work cut out for them in tonight's match-up and need to find their way against Lester. Martinez, and bullpen, needs to keep pitches tight inside the strike zone so the Cubs sluggers aren't able to extend. 

The Cubs are looking to Lester to hand them one more win to have postseason home field advantage. The Cardinals are looking to Martinez to be extraordinary to see a win to keep them alive in the NL Wild Card race. After last night, with the New York Mets loss and the Giants win, those two teams are again tied for the #1 spot. Cardinals are 1/2 game behind in second. 

CARDINALS DL UPDATE

Matt Holliday, who was HBP by Cubs Mike Montgomery August 11 at Wrigley Field, sustained a fractured right thumb which required surgery, with pin to repair. He has been rehabbing and recently began 'live' BP. His third attempt in the past couple of days resulted, again, with swelling of his thumb. It was Holliday's hope that he would be able to return for tonight's game. However, per Rotowire data:  "Holliday (thumb) will meet with a specialist Monday before another live batting practice session, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold reports. (about 14 hours ago)." Well aware of Montgomery's history, I would think Cardinals rookie Aledmys Diaz was a tad nervous facing Montgomery in yesterday's game. He returned from the 15-Day DL, September 12, as he also sustained a fracture thumb/HBP on July 31 in their game against the Miami Marlins. Newly acquired from the San Diego Padres, Marlins starter Andrew Cashner provided that injury. 

JUST A PERSONAL GRIEVANCE  

In this final game tonight, I don't want to see any player hit-by-a-pitch. Should it happen and results in a DL injury, hopefully the ESPN announcers refrain from stating - "He's faking the hit", as was stated after Holliday sustained his. However, being familiar with the bias of ESPN regarding any top flight team, should a Cubs player be hit, rest assured it will be "retaliation". The competition between these two rival teams is fierce whether or not one or the other is contention in the standings. They play hard, they play tough; and, tonight's game will be no different.  

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Rookie Alex Reyes will start Game Two, his third appearance, against the Chicago Cubs.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs blanked the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-0, with Jake Arrieta serving up seven scoreless innings while fanning ten and only allowed five hits. Mike Leake was routed with the five earned runs in his 3.1 innings pitched. In support of Leake, there were some calls that were questionable. On the flip-side, he owns a horrible first inning. Even though, a hit that should have been called foul as it exited the first base line prior to reaching the bag. A stolen base which should have been an out, safe call held. Leake was hit-by-a-pitch on his right hand that was deemed "not" by the first base umpire Jim Reynolds. Leake's throwing hand compromised. However, the Cardinals offense were unable to hit off Arrieta; or, the Cubs bullpen. No run support for Leake; or, the Cardinals bullpen. 

The game is history, it is what it was; and, the Cubs take a 1-0 series lead in the "Route 66 Rivalry" three game series. With the loss, the Cardinals return to the third spot in the NL Wild Card race. The New York Mets are now the sole owners of first with the San Francisco Giants in second, one game separating each. With Cubs win, all they need is one more to have home field advantage for their postseason. 

GAME TWO AT HIGH NOON SATURDAY

Cardinals will look to their rookie starter, Alex Reyes, to right the train wreck of Game One. This will be his second consecutive start and his third appearance against the Cubs. This young 22 year old has tremendous talent, a calm confidence on the mound, smooth delivery, still working on "complete" control; but, it surfacing from Reyes. Beginning his major league career out of the bullpen, penciled into the rotation and back to a relief role. He returns to the rotation for his third start this season. 

The last Reyes faced the Cubs, at Busch Stadium, he followed Jaime Garcia in long relief. He went 4.1 IP/4 SO  but, issued six walks of his 18 season total. However, he only gave up one hit to the Cubs and was able to get out of two jammed innings to hold the Cubs scoreless for his second win in relief.  In his last start, September 18 for his third season win, against the San Francisco Giants, he brought his "A" game to the mound. He held the Giants to just four hits, only issued two walks with six strikeouts in his seven scoreless innings pitch for the Cardinals 3-0 shutout. 

He is 3-1/1.03 ERA in his total 35 IP relief and as a starter. He has only given up 1 HR/4 ER with 40 strikeouts since he was brought up from Memphis Triple-A, August 9. In 7.1 IP facing the Cubs 20 AB thus far, he has only allowed two hits and "no" earned runs for their 1.00 average. Yes, a lot is riding on the shoulders on the Cardinals young hurler. In my opinion, he will approach this game as he has all others. Pitching to each batter he faces. The plus, he is familiar with the Cubs sluggers. 

The question is will the Cardinals offense able to put runs on the board 'during the day'. 

Reyes was scheduled to face Cubs Kyle Hendricks. Evidently, the Cubs are looking to postseason to rest Hendricks postponing his next start to September 26 facing the Pittsburgh Pirates. Or, as I would like to think, Cubs manager Joe Maddon wants to save Hendricks (15-8/2.06 ERA) another loss. Facing the Cardinals, at Busch Stadium September 12, his no-no complete game was retired on a solo home run by top-of-the-order Jeremy Hazelbaker in the top of his ninth inning. His last outing at home, September 19, he was handed a loss in the 3-1 win by the Milwaukee Brewers. While fanning nine he gave up two earned runs in six innings pitched. Therefore, Reyes will face Cubs Jason Hammel (15-9/3.56 ERA). 

Hammel is 2-2/3.65 ERA facing the Cardinals. He has given up 4 HR/10 ER with 22 strikeouts in his total 24.2 IP. Cardinals collective past history against Hammel, they have hit him for a .293 average. Even though, Hammel is on his own turf this afternoon. At home, he has been a force to contend with. He is 10-1/1.84 ERA. In his total 83.1 IP he has only given up 6 HR/17 ER with 74 SO, but issued 29 free passes. He is 1-2 in September with a 6.87 ERA; however, two of those games were on the road. His last stand, September 19, at Wrigley Field, he went 7 IP/1 HR/2 ER/1-BB/6 SO for the Cubs 5-2 win. 

THE FINAL DECISION WILL BE THE LAST OUT MADE

All the paper numbers are meaningful as guidelines. But, as Cardinals fans saw yesterday, with Arrieta having a rough beginning in September, he was lights-out for the Cubs 5-0 shutout. Today's match-up between Reyes and Hammel could prove to be quite the duel. However, if Cardinals offense has returned, I feel Reyes will realize his fourth win this season.  

I look for both 1B/OF Brandon Moss and SS rookie Aledmys Diaz back in the line-up today. Moss who has struggled of late at the plate has had two days off to regroup. Diaz, coming back from DL sustaining a fractured thumb HBP, has been held out of play as precaution. As all find out yesterday, Cardinals need the experience of Moss in the outfield. Kolten Wong was thrown in the fire playing left field yesterday. His first in the position. I feel, as we are coming down the stretch, this is not the time for 'try-outs'. The Cardinals have bench players OF Tommy Pham and Jeremy Hazelbaker, both seasoned left-fielders, who would have done a far better job. I'm not faulting Wong. He accepted his 'specified' assignment to try and do his best. Bottomline, even though he worked in centerfield while spending some time at Memphis Triple-A this season, second base is his expertise.    

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St. Louis Cardinals arrive at Wrigley Field to take on the Chicago Cubs

THE THREE WAY NL WILD CARD TIE BECOMES TWO

The MLB National League Wild Card race is now in a two way tie for first place, at least for the moment. The St. Louis Cardinals had yesterday off; therefore, no chance to keep a three way tie in place. They were taken out of three knot tie with the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants. The Mets hosting the Philadelphia Phillies won their game last night, 9-8, in extra innings with a walk-off homer by Asdrubal Cabrera. The Giants, hosted by the San Diego Padres at Petco Park, won in a close match, 2-1, to keep the Cardinals sole owner of second place in the NL Wild Card race. The Mets will have September 29 as an off day. The Giants will have their day of rest on September 26.  In my opinion, this three way race while come down to the wire. 

CARDINALS - CUBS IN THREE GAME SERIES 

The Cardinals arrived in Chicago to take on the first place team in the NL Central division, their rivals the Cubs. This series will be just as heated as their first, April 18-20, and both teams have a stake in the balance. The Cubs have already clinched their postseason berth and the first team to do so in both MLB leagues. Now, they need two wins to have home field advantage for postseason. The Cardinals look to get back on the winning trail to stay alive in the NL Wild Card race now one game behind, by default, coming down the stretch. With ten games left to play for the 2016 regular season, each game is just as important as the next, no matter the team they face. 

GAME ONE THIS AFTERNOON ~ 1:00 CST

Cardinals Mike Leake (9-10/4.54 ERA) will face Cubs Jake Arrieta (17-7/2.96 ERA) for their first game. Leake has held the Chicago sluggers to a .276 average. Even though, batters from the left have been held to a .269, from the right they hold a .302 BA. Leake is far better during daylight hours, 3-1/3.16 ERA. The last he pitched at Wrigley Field, August 14, he gave up three earned runs, issued one walk and had four strikeouts in six innings pitched for a no-decision in the Cardinals 6-4 win. Arrieta has held the Cardinals to a .194 average, and from the left, a .179 BA - right, a .191 average. During the day, Arrieta holds a 2.81 ERA. However, in September with two losses at home, were played in the afternoon. The last he pitched against the Cardinals at home, August 12, he went 5.2 IP/1 HR/1 ER/2-BB/6 SO in Cubs 13-2 rout over the Cardinals. 

For more on both pitchers, you can go to Cardinals Mike Leake To Face Cubs Jake Arrieta

The battle between the two teams begins at 1:00 CST this afternoon. The "Route 66 Rivalry" is alive and well ~ even more so now. Should be a partly cloudy day with temps in the lower 70's for this afternoon's game, time to "PLAY BALL". 

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