The St. Louis Cardinals are heading to the playoffs as the NL Central champs, but continue to stumble down the stretch.
While going into the playoffs on a winning streak can provide some momentum, it isn’t essential. The Cardinals proved this in 2006.
Before trying to win its second World Series in four years, St. Louis looks to end the regular season on a positive note Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers.
With Saturday’s 5-4 loss to the Brewers, the Cardinals (91-70) dropped their seventh in nine games to fall to the third playoff seed ahead of only the wild-card winner. This means St. Louis will open the postseason on the road.
“We’re definitely not firing on all cylinders,” manager Tony La Russa said. “If it’s true that we lost a little focus or lost an edge, that’s not our style.”
This season is ending in similar fashion as 2006 - the last year St. Louis made the postseason.
The Cardinals lost nine of their final 12 regular-season games in 2006 and nearly missed the playoffs before regrouping in the postseason to win the World Series. They started each of their three playoffs series on the road that year.
St. Louis won 11 straight games with Pineiro on the mound from July 3-Sept. 1 with the right-hander recording eight victories and a 2.87 ERA, but things haven’t gone as smooth lately. Pineiro is 1-3 with a 4.88 ERA in his last five starts with the Cardinals losing four.
He’s also coming off one of his worst starts of the year, yielding a season high-tying seven runs and eight hits in six innings of Tuesday’s 7-2 loss to Cincinnati. Pineiro entered that game having allowed seven home runs - tied for the fewest in the league among qualifying pitchers - before serving up three.
“I’m glad I get one more start,” he said. “I want to finish on a good note. I need to fine tune some things and get ready for the next level.”
A start against Milwaukee might be just what Pineiro needs to finish the regular season strong.
He has posted a 2.81 ERA in winning both starts against the Brewers this season and is undefeated in five career starts against them.
Milwaukee (79-82), which made the playoffs as the wild-card team last season, is hoping to sweep the Cardinals at Busch Stadium for the second time this year. The Brewers are 12-5 in St. Louis since the start of 2008.
Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun is a big reason for the Brewers’ success in St. Louis, batting .397 with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last 16 games there. The two-time All-Star became the first NL player to reach 200 hits with a two-run homer Saturday and is batting .432 with three homers and 10 RBIs during an eight-game hitting streak.
Jeff Suppan(notes) (7-12, 5.30) takes the ball for the Brewers on short rest to reach the 30-start mark for the 11th straight season. Only Washington’s Livan Hernandez(notes) has a longer streak among active pitchers with 12.
While he’ll reach the milestone, it has been a tough season for the right-hander.
Suppan is 2-8 with a 6.05 ERA in his last 15 starts and has been knocked around for 16 runs and 22 hits over 10 1-3 innings in losing his last two outings.
Suppan, who was tagged for eight runs and 10 hits in Wednesday’s 10-6 loss at Colorado, is making his first start on three days’ rest since 2000. The 15-year veteran, who pitched for the Cardinals from 2004-06, is 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA in four starts against his former team this season.