Matt Holliday(notes) probably figured he’d get plenty of attention when he finally made his first visit to Denver, where he led the Colorado Rockies to an NL pennant and was nearly the league MVP two years ago.
But the St. Louis Cardinals’ slugger will have to share the Coors Field stage with several story lines Friday night, including the Rockies’ role in a tightening NL wild card race and Aaron Cook’s(notes) first start in more than a month.
The Cardinals - with ace Chris Carpenter(notes) on the mound - will be more concerned with clinching the NL Central title, something they can accomplish with a victory against a team they could face in the playoffs.
Holliday has been a big reason for the Cardinals’ second-half surge, batting .356 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs in 55 games with his new team. St. Louis (89-64) is 37-18 since acquiring Holliday from Oakland on July 24.
The outfielder spent his first five seasons with the Rockies, playing a vital role in the team’s impressive surge to the World Series in 2007 as he won the NL batting title with a .340 average and finished second in the MVP voting. Holliday, who will be a free agent at the end of this season, was traded to the Athletics in November.
Playing in Oakland from June 26-28, Holiday was 4 for 10 against his former club but failed to homer or drive in a run as the A’s were swept in three games.
Even without Holliday, the Rockies (86-67) have a great chance to get back to the playoffs. Despite losing seven of their last 11 games - including their final two against San Diego this week - they hold a 3 1/2-game lead on Atlanta for the NL wild card.
Still, Colorado is eager to turn things around after blowing a three-run lead in Thursday’s 5-4 defeat to the Padres.
The team hopes to get a boost from Cook, who was 10-3 with a 3.88 ERA at the end of July before going 0-3 with a 12.19 ERA in August. He hasn’t pitched since Aug. 21 due to a shoulder problem, and will be limited to about 70 pitches Friday.
“I don’t care,” Cook said. “I just want to go out there and do what I can. I mean, if I can get five innings, four innings, seven innings, whenever they feel it’s time to hand the ball to somebody else, that’s the beautiful thing about September is we’ve got 12 or 14 guys that can get the ball and run with it.
“So, I’ll just do what I can as long as I can.”
Cook (10-6, 4.47 ERA) had lost four straight starts to the Cardinals before giving up a run and four hits in eight innings of a 10-1 win in St. Louis on June 6. That was part of the Rockies’ four-game sweep, extending their winning streak against the Cardinals to six.
Carpenter, however, didn’t pitch in that series, and is 3-0 with a 0.62 ERA in four career starts versus the Rockies.
Carpenter (16-4, 2.34) could be the front-runner for his second NL Cy Young Award, especially after giving up eight hits in eight shutout innings in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday.
Although he didn’t get the victory, the right-hander is 11-1 with a 2.29 ERA in 15 starts since July 5.
“We’re throwing our best at them. They’re starting Cook, which is their best in my opinion,” St. Louis’ Skip Schumaker(notes) told the Cardinals’ official Web site. “So I think both sides are looking forward to the series. They’re still trying to clinch a playoff berth … so I think it’s going to be kind of a playoff-type atmosphere.”
The Cardinals squandered a chance to clinch the division title Wednesday, losing 3-0 at Houston. They were one strike away despite being idle Thursday, but the Cubs came back to beat San Francisco 3-2 and remain mathematically alive.
Assuming the Rockies hang onto the wild card, they could face St. Louis in the division series if the Cardinals finish with a better record than likely NL East champion Philadelphia.