The St. Louis Cardinals wrapped up the NL Central over the weekend, but their chances of securing home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs don’t look promising.
Their suddenly stagnant offense isn’t helping.
The Cardinals will try to avoid a fifth loss in six games Wednesday night against the host Cincinnati Reds, who have seen starter Bronson Arroyo(notes) get hit hard twice this season by the division champions.
St. Louis (90-67) clinched the Central on Saturday with a victory in Colorado, but that’s been the only win for manager Tony La Russa’s club in the past five games.
The Cardinals have totaled 12 runs and hit .228 in that stretch. Now, instead of potentially overtaking Los Angeles for the NL’s best record, they may wind up third in the NL and meet the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs.
St. Louis’ 7-2 loss to Cincinnati on Tuesday combined with a 7-4 Philadelphia win against Houston gave the Phillies a one-game lead over the Cardinals for the NL’s second-best record. Philadelphia also owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with St. Louis, and assuming Colorado claims the NL wild card, the Cardinals would begin the playoffs against the Dodgers.
“You want to compete the best you can,” La Russa said, worrying his team may be too relaxed. “You don’t want to turn anything off. You can’t turn it off and turn it on. Nobody is that good.”
For St. Louis, though, facing the Dodgers may not be a bad thing. The Cardinals are 5-2 against Los Angeles but 1-6 against the Rockies, whom they’d almost certainly face if they finish ahead of the Phillies.
Reversing their recent woes at the plate Wednesday could be a difficult task with Arroyo (14-13, 3.95) on the hill for the Reds (75-82), who got two homers and five RBIs from Jay Bruce(notes) on Tuesday to win for the seventh time in eight games.
Arroyo has lasted at least seven innings in all 11 starts since the beginning of August, going 4-3 with a 1.99 ERA. He gave up one run and five hits over seven innings in his latest outing, a 4-1 victory at Pittsburgh on Thursday.
“Another outstanding start,” manager Dusty Baker told the Reds’ official Web site. “It worked out perfectly, because he was out of gas after the seventh.”
Arroyo hasn’t faced the Cardinals during his stellar run the past two months after going 0-2 with an 8.71 ERA in a pair of starts against them earlier this season. Albert Pujols(notes) is a .326 hitter with three homers against Arroyo, while Mark DeRosa(notes) - who’s 1 for 16 in his last five games - is batting .417 lifetime versus the right-hander.
John Smoltz(notes) (1-2, 3.18) gets the ball for the Cardinals looking for a third straight quality outing, though he hasn’t won either. Smoltz gave up two runs and five hits over six innings last Wednesday at Houston in a 3-0 loss.
Smoltz is 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three career starts at Great American Ball Park, where he hasn’t pitched since 2006.
Smoltz has never faced Bruce, who has four homers in his last four games, nor has he faced the red-hot Joey Votto(notes), who also homered in Tuesday’s series opener. Votto, the NL’s reigning player of the week, is hitting .500 with three homers and 12 RBIs over his last 10 games.