In just one week, the St. Louis Cardinals have gone from coasting to another division title to looking for answers.
To avoid losing their eighth game in a row, the Cardinals will have to beat one of the toughest road pitchers as they meet Chris Young and the San Diego Padres in the finale of a three-game set on Wednesday.
On Sept. 19, the Cardinals (80-76) appeared to be easily headed toward a third straight NL Central title as they led Cincinnati by seven games and had an 8 1/2 -game lead over third-place Houston.
Since then, though, St. Louis has failed to win a game—which included a four-game sweep by the Astros, who have since extended their winning streak to seven. Cincinnati, meanwhile, has won three straight and five of seven to further complicate the playoff race.
With five scheduled games remaining, the Cardinals’ lead over the Astros is just 1 1/2 games and 2 1/2 over the Reds. They will not make up a canceled game against the San Francisco Giants from Sept. 17 unless it directly impacts the division title.
“We’re not OK because we can’t make enough happen to win a game,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “But we’re still alive, so we understand that also.”
To try and end the streak, St. Louis will have to find a way to defeat Young (11-5, 3.55 ERA), who has yet to lose in 14 starts away from home this year, going 6-0 with a 2.50 ERA and .179 opponent batting average.
He also nearly made history in his last start, coming within two outs of the Padres’ first no-hitter. The right-hander was perfect through 5 2-3 innings, but allowed a two-run homer to pinch-hitter Joe Randa with one out in the ninth in a 6-2 win over Pittsburgh on Friday.
Young has had two other no-hit bids this year. He carried one into the eighth inning of 2-0 win over Colorado in May 30. In his next start against the Pirates on June 4, Young held them hitless over six innings. He finished up by allowing two hits over eight innings of a 2-0 victory.
“I really didn’t think about being tired,” Young said Friday. “The adrenaline and the emotion of having the crowd behind me, they were so loud, my ears are still ringing from how loud they were. It was great fan support tonight. It made it a lot of fun being out there.”
Young has never faced St. Louis.
Cardinals rookie Anthony Reyes (5-7, 4.92) also will make his first career start against the Padres.
Before facing Milwaukee on Monday, the right-hander hadn’t pitched since Sept. 8 due to arm fatigue and the reshuffling of the rotation because of a back injury to Jason Marquis. Reyes responded by allowing two runs and five hits while striking out a career-high nine, but failed to get a decision in the Cardinals’ 4-3 loss in 11 innings.
“(My) arm felt good today and I was able to hit some spots,” he said. “For the most part, I felt I pitched well.”
Since the All-Star break, Reyes is 3-1 with a 4.58 ERA in four home starts but has not lasted more than 6 1-3 innings in any of them.
Besides continuing the Cardinals’ misery, San Diego (85-72) maintained its two-game lead over the second-place Los Angeles in the NL West after a 7-5 win on Tuesday. Mike Cameron’s two-run double off St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter capped a four-run seventh and erased a three-run deficit.
“It’s amazing that we were able to come back on him the way we were,” said Padres starter Woody Williams, a former teammate of Carpenter’s. “It doesn’t happen very often, but I guess things were on our side tonight.”
The Padres’ magic number for clinching their second straight NL West crown is four.
Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds went 2-for-5 with two RBIs in the loss. He’s 3-for-6 with a homer and five RBIs in two games after missing nearly a month with post-concussion syndrome.