The Cardinals clinched the NL Central title over the weekend, giving themselves two weeks to get ready for the playoffs and another shot at the World Series. They were swept by Boston last October.
The Cardinals are trying for their first back-to-back 100-victory seasons since they had three straight in 1942-44. While they count down to 100, manager Tony La Russa is trying to figure out which starters will stay in a condensed playoff rotation.
“I feel I could help this team in that role,” Marquis said. “If not, so be it.”
Marquis (13-14) has earned consideration with his late-season upturn. He lost seven consecutive starts from July 21 to Aug. 23, but has won four of his last five with excellent control—only two walks in 39 innings.
On Wednesday, he shut out the Reds until Edwin Encarnacion homered in the seventh. The right-hander gave up eight hits and one walk, throwing 109 pitches overall.
“In my last five starts, I’ve gotten back to my game plan,” he said. “I attack the strike zone, get ahead early and let my defense make plays.”
Asked if Marquis could stay in the playoff rotation, La Russa said, “There’s a chance. Let’s just say he’ll be considered.”
The Reds’ 81st loss eliminated them from wild-card contention and guaranteed a fifth straight season without a winning record, their longest such stretch since 1945-55. Their rotation has been one of the NL’s worst, keeping them in their rut.
By contrast, the Cardinals’ rotation has 80 wins, by far the most in the majors and four more than last season.
“Every one of their pitchers has got good late movement, cuts the ball or sinks it, and has command,” Reds interim manager Jerry Narron said. “That’s why they’re the best pitching staff in the league.”
Albert Pujols, the heart of the Cardinals’ dangerous lineup, had three hits and gave teammates a scare when he pulled up while running out a fifth-inning double. Pujols waved off La Russa and a trainer while hunched over at second base, and played the rest of the game.
“Albert rolled his ankle,” La Russa said. “He’s fine.”
Pujols leads the league in runs and multihit games, and tops the Cardinals with 39 homers and 109 RBIs. He went 3-for-4 on Wednesday, raising his average to .337. Pujols started the day second to Chicago’s Derrek Lee for the NL batting lead.
His right foot slipped when he rounded first base on his fifth-inning double off Ramon Ortiz (9-11). Pujols then hopped twice on his left leg while making his way to second base, but didn’t want to leave the game even though the Cardinals have clinched a playoff spot.
“There will be no letup,” Eckstein said. “We have a week and a half left. We’re going to play every game hard, as you can tell by the last two nights.”
Second baseman Mark Grudzielanek was back in the lineup and went 0-for-4, one day after he twisted his right ankle in a collision at first base.
Eckstein hit a two-run homer in the second inning, matching his career high with eight for the season. Taguchi led off the fourth with his eighth homer, putting the Cardinals up 5-0.
Ortiz lasted only five innings, giving up 10 hits. Despite a groin injury that sidelined him early in the season, Ortiz has given up 30 homers, fifth-most in the NL. Teammate Eric Milton has allowed 40, the most in the majors.
“I threw a couple of bad pitches tonight, but I threw a lot of good pitches and they hit them,” Ortiz said.
Eckstein also hit eight homers in 2002 with the Angels. … Marquis had an infield single, his career-high 27th hit of the season. … La Russa plans to play OF Larry Walker often next week. Walker missed 26 games because of a herniated disk in his neck before returning on Aug. 20. He had an RBI double in his first at-bat Wednesday. … Reds RHP Paul Wilson plans to start throwing in November. Wilson had surgery on June 17 to repair a torn rotator cuff and labrum. … Ken Griffey Jr. missed his 15th game with a sprained right foot.