With a win—and some help—the St. Louis Cardinals can go to sleep late Saturday night as division champs once again.
St. Louis looks to take another step toward securing its third straight NL Central title when it continues a regular season-ending series with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Keyed by Albert Pujols’ 48th homer and a serviceable effort from its beleaguered bullpen, St. Louis defeated Milwaukee 10-5 on Friday. That combined with Houston’s 4-1 loss to Atlanta—ending the Astros’ season-high nine-game winning streak—reduced the Cardinals’ magic number to two.
“I don’t think you’ll hear the Braves chant going too often here,” said Cardinals starter Jeff Weaver, who earned his first win at Busch Stadium in nine home starts since being acquired in a July trade. “But it was nice to hear, and a big swing for us.”
Houston plays Atlanta in the second of a three-game series scheduled to begin at 7:05 p.m. EDT.
St. Louis (82-77) has been without closer Jason Isringhausen, who’s out for the season with a hip injury and has not pitched in more than three weeks. Since Sept. 20, when the Cardinals began a seven-game skid that reduced their division lead down to one-half game, relievers have combined for a 5.81 ERA.
“What we’ve got to make sure we do is what we’ve had trouble doing: keeping our eye on the finish line and backing up solid games,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “That’s an important two-step, but we’ve got to make sure nothing’s different about our game tomorrow.”
Looking to keep a late-season unbeaten streak going, St. Louis’ Jeff Suppan (12-7, 4.18 ERA) will have to rebound from a poor start. The right-hander is 3-0 with a 1.99 ERA in eight starts since losing to Pittsburgh on June 11, and appears set as the team’s No. 2 starter should the Cardinals reach the playoffs.
But facing San Diego on Monday, Suppan lasted just 3 2-3 innings—his shortest outing since July 5—and allowed five runs, six hits and three walks. He didn’t get a decision in a 6-5 loss.
“Basically (I was) missing down the middle a lot,” Suppan said. “They were able to capitalize on it. I put us in a hole early on. It’s a tough loss. It basically came down to my lack of execution.”
Suppan is 1-0 with a 2.59 ERA in four starts this season against Milwaukee, with the lone win coming on Aug. 6 in St. Louis.
Milwaukee’s Ben Sheets (6-7, 4.95) will wrap up another injury-shortened season.
After making 34 starts each season from 2002-04, the right-hander was limited to 22 starts in 2005 and just 16 this season coming into this game. Sheets began this year on the 15-day DL with a strained shoulder and later missed more than two months with shoulder tendinitis.
He’s lost both his starts this season against the Cardinals, including on Aug. 5 when he exited after one inning with a tight chest muscle. His 13 career losses to St. Louis are the most Sheets has recorded against any opponent.
Sheets, though, will try to build off one of his better starts. He allowed two runs and five hits over eight innings Sunday in a 5-3 win over San Francisco.
“We located the ball,” Sheets said, adding that backup catcher Mike Rivera “called a good game out there.”
Bill Hall hit his third homer in four games and 35th of the season in Friday’s loss. Hall, playing mostly at shortstop this year in place of the injured J.J. Hardy, had 32 homers in 343 games from 2001-05.
Milwaukee (74-86) will finish at or below .500 for the 14th straight season.