ACKERMAN: It’s Now Or Never For Cards

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Now that the worst umpire performance since Don Denkinger is a thing of the past, it’s time for the Cardinals to refocus and concentrate on winning the National League Central.

Yes, home plate umpire Chris Segal’s decisions on Wednesday in Boston were atrocious — including calling a timeout on his own (!) in a crucial ninth-inning moment – but the Cardinals weren’t close to their best in a two-game sweep at Fenway Park.  It’s imperative that they find out why, and soon.

The first order of business is to determine the extent of any possible injury to closer Trevor Rosenthal, who was removed in the ninth after throwing a 91-mph fastball that Xander Bogaerts slammed for a solo home run.  The Red Sox eventually rallied against Zach Duke and John Brebbia for a 5-4 walk-off win.

The Cardinals are experiencing what most teams go through in mid-August: a potentially worn-out bullpen.  Matt Bowman has made 59 appearances going into Thursday’s game in Pittsburgh.  Brett Cecil has appeared in 57 games.  Seung-Hwan Oh, 51.  Rosenthal made his 50th appearance last night.  Tyler Lyons (33 appearances), meanwhile, looks the part – he hasn’t given up a run since July 6.

As important as Mike Leake and Adam Wainwright are to the rotation, it’s equally as important to keep an eye on both for future starts in September.  At the end of June, opponents were hitting .238 against Leake.  That number is now .278.  Leake’s ERA jumped from 2.98 to 3.88 over those ten starts, including Tuesday’s eight earned runs in 4.1 IP.

Wainwright, a leader who fuels this team emotionally, has seen a dip in his velocity.  His last two starts have lasted three and five innings, respectively, issuing eight walks and striking out only one.  But as his record (12-5) indicates, Wainwright has shown an ability to push forward and give his team multiple chances to win.  His track record is more than strong enough to back up that claim… and tonight’s start at PNC Park is another big one for him.

Of course, this also means the offense must find the consistency it had during a recent eight-game winning streak.  At least it appears manager Mike Matheny has settled on a regular lineup: Carpenter, Pham, DeJong, Fowler, Molina, Gyorko, Wong and Grichuk seem to be it.  (A certain Marlins slugger, massive contract and all, would look awfully good in red… but I digress.)

There is a long way to go in the NL Central race, which currently has the Cubs, winners last night on a wild pitch walk-off, up 1.5 games on the Brewers.  The Cardinals, who sit 2.5 back, have 42 games remaining on the schedule.  22 of those are against either the Cubs, Brewers or Pirates.

The Cards’ combined record against those three teams this year?  15-20.  It’s time to turn that around.  Don’t count them out just yet.

“There’s been maybe six or seven times this year when I thought, ‘Man, this whole thing is about to fall apart, they’re going to be out of this thing in a heartbeat,’” former Cardinal Kyle McClellan told me this morning.  “And they always seem to come back.”

“This team has not quit all year,” McClellan continued.  “But now they are heavily tested.  This is when injuries really start to show themselves.  We’re going to find out what this team is made of in the next 7-10 days.”

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