SERIES: NL Division Series; Game 1.
The San Diego Padres needed a late surge simply to finish with a winning record as the best team in a bad division. While they took advantage of the weak NL West to make the playoffs, they also earned a matchup with the league’s top team, the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Padres did not secure a winning season until Sunday, when they beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-1 for their fifth victory in the final six games and an 82-80 mark.
San Diego matched the 1973 New York Mets for the fewest wins by a playoff team in a non-strike interrupted year and set a new low for winning percentage (.506) by a postseason club in a non-strike year since the divisional format was created in 1969.
“It was great to win this division, but we really wanted to finish with a winning season,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I know there’s going to be a lot of talk about it, but there would have been more talk if we’d have finished at .500. This was a big game for us, to finish on this note.”
Moving into spacious Petco Park this season took its toll on San Diego’s offense. The Padres, in the playoffs for the first time since winning the NL pennant in 1998, are the first NL team in a non-strike interrupted year since the 1990 Cincinnati Reds to not have one player with 30 home runs, 100 runs or 100 RBIs.
“These pitchers have just thrown outstanding,” Bochy said after watching Eaton strike out 11 in Sunday’s win. “It’s great to see Adam on top of his game. That’s the Adam Eaton we know. What a great job he did. All of them, down the stretch here, they just found their game. It’s going to be important in this series. We know we need to pitch well.”
Astacio, who went 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three September starts, likely pitched himself into the rotation at the expense of Woody Williams, San Diego’s top offseason free-agent acquisition. Williams helped the Cardinals to the 2004 World Series as their No. 1 starter but struggled to a 9-15 record and 4.85 ERA this season.
Williams became expendable for the Cardinals after Mark Mulder was acquired via trade in the offseason, and St. Louis had little trouble winning its fifth division title in six years. The Cards had the best record in baseball and reached 100 wins Sunday, but manager Tony La Russa is not taking anything for granted after losing the season series to the Padres.
“I know the stories that some people want to write, which is the team with the worst record beats the team with the best record,” La Russa said after Sunday’s 7-5 win over the Reds. “But during the season they played us very tough.”
Mulder may have solidified the rotation, but the emergence of Game 1 starter Chris Carpenter as the staff ace and a Cy Young Award contender put the Cardinals ahead of everyone else. The right-hander stayed injury-free after missing the 2004 postseason with a strained biceps and all of 2003 with a shoulder injury, and posted career highs in wins (21), innings (241 2-3), strikeouts (213), complete games (7) and shutouts (4).
The Cardinals bullpen took a hit Monday when it learned Al Reyes will miss the playoffs with an torn ligament in his right elbow. The reliever, who had a 2.15 ERA in 65 appearances, suffered the injury in Sunday’s win.
“It was a one-pitch episode,” Cardinals trainer Barry Weinberg said. “He felt some discomfort and knew it wasn’t right.”
Offensively, the Cardinals again are led by MVP candidate Albert Pujols, who finished in the top three in each Triple Crown category with a .330 average, 41 homers and 119 RBIs. Jim Edmonds, Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders teamed with Pujols to hit 106 home runs, 24 less than the entire Padres team.
Game 2 is Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Padres - NL West champion. Cardinals - NL Central champion.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Padres - CF Dave Roberts (.275, 8 HRs, 38 RBIs, 23 SBs), 2B Mark Loretta (.280, 3, 38), LF Ryan Klesko (.248, 18, 58), CF Brian Giles (.301, 15, 83, 92 runs, 119 BBs), 1B Mark Sweeney (.294, 8, 40), 3B Joe Randa (.276, 17, 68), SS Khalil Greene (.250, 15, 70), C Ramon Hernandez (.290, 12, 58), P Peavy (.189, 0, 2). Cardinals - SS David Eckstein (.294, 8 HRs, 61 RBIs, 90 runs, 11 SBs), CF Edmonds (.263, 29, 89, 88), 1B Pujols (.330, 41, 117, 129, 16), RF Walker (.289, 15, 52), LF Sanders (.271, 21, 54, 14 SBs), 3B Abraham Nunez (.285, 5, 44), 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.294, 8, 59), C Yadier Molina (.252, 8, 49), P Carpenter (.065, 0, 2).
ROAD PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Peavy (13-7, 2.88 ERA). The right-hander did not get a decision in his only start against the Cardinals this season, limiting them to one run and two hits while striking out 10 in eight innings of San Diego’s 2-1 victory July 27. The 23-year-old Peavy, who pitched a career-high 203 innings, held opponents to three earned runs or fewer in his last 11 starts and lasted seven or more innings in 19 of 30 starts. He is 0-2 with a 2.81 ERA in four career starts against the Cardinals, and lost his only outing at Busch Stadium.
HOME PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Carpenter (21-5, 2.83). The right-hander went 0-1 with a 9.14 ERA in his last four starts, inflating his ERA more than half a run. He went 1-1 with a 5.14 ERA against the Padres this season.
SEASON SERIES: Padres, 4-3.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Padres - San Diego is 2-4 in playoff series openers. … Closer Trevor Hoffman is the only player from the 1998 team still on the roster. … Peavy led the NL with 216 strikeouts, the most by a Padres pitcher since Kevin Brown had 257 in ’98. Cardinals - Pujols, who topped the NL with 129 runs, is 5-for-9 with a HR and two walks lifetime against Peavy. … Carpenter had a 3.72 ERA in 12 daytime starts this season. … The Cardinals are 4-1 in division series openers.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Padres - 36-45 on the road. Cardinals - 50-31 at home.