Senior Baseball Columnist

Weekend Buzz: Cardinals playoff return would be no stunner -- unlike 2011

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Adam Wainwright's gem on Sunday puts the Cardinals second overall in the wild card race. (Getty Images)  
Adam Wainwright's gem on Sunday puts the Cardinals second overall in the wild card race. (Getty Images)  

The Weekend Buzz while you were taking one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind back toward school. And kids, when you get there, I hope they teach you about Neil Armstrong. ...

1. Piece of (Anniversary) Cake: Bird feeders full, wings flapping, about to take full flight heading into another September. ...

And the Cardinals' degree of difficulty is a breeze compared to where they were this time last summer.

Last Aug. 26, they were 9½ games out in both the NL Central (Brewers) and NL Wild Card chase (Braves).

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Now? After Adam Wainwright's latest masterpiece Sunday against the Reds -- Aug. 26 -- the Cards trail the Cincinnati by six in the NL Central and rank second overall in the wild card scramble, two games behind the Braves and half-game ahead of the Dodgers. Atlanta and St. Louis would meet if the season ended Aug. 26.

Catcher Yadier Molina, leading all major league catchers with a .323 batting average, told MLB.com that the Cards have "pretty good talent, the same or better than last year." Which, among other things, is a tribute to Carlos Beltran, who ranks third in the NL in both homers (28) and RBI (85).

With Beltran around and with Matt Holliday rolling (with four hits and four RBI Sunday, he now leads the NL with 89 RBI), the Cardinals have barely noticed Albert Pujols is gone.

Molina, meantime, has racked up a career-high 17 home runs, and, with 61 RBI, he's only four short of matching his career high in that department.

With far better postseason odds now than a year ago (coolstandings.com gives St. Louis a 62.2 percent chance of qualifying for October, as opposed to 2 percent last Aug. 26), the defending World Series champions are poised to stomp all over fading Pittsburgh's Cinderella story, and who knows what else? And victims won't even have Tony La Russa to hate. Who knew his replacement, Mike Matheny, would have such a steady hand?

These Cardinals remain a work in progress, and the weekend series in Cincinnati started a pivotal 10-game trip that continues to Pittsburgh (three games) and then moves to Washington (four). They continue to battle bumps and bruises, with Molina (ankle) and third baseman David Freese (wrist) missing time over the weekend while Lance Berkman (knee) rehabs at Triple-A Memphis.

Meantime, struggling All-Star Lance Lynn (6.56 ERA this month) has been shuffled to the bullpen in favor of rookie Joe Kelly.

Wainwright's win over the Reds on Sunday was big, especially because he was 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA in his two previous starts against Cincinnati this season. After missing all of 2011 following arm surgery, Wainwright (12-10, 3.63) has found his groove: He is 5-0 with a 1.47 ERA in five August starts.

The Cards will need every bit of that to make a 2012-style run, plus lots of help from Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook, Kelly and the rest of the gang. Because we know, even without Pujols, they're going to score.

2. Tide's in, Beckett, Crawford and Gonzalez are out: You may have heard about the nine-player mega deal Los Angeles and Boston completed as the Red Sox did some major cleaning and new Dodgers owners did some major sucking-up to their fans. According to Red Sox research, the deal is believed to be only the fourth in club history involving at least nine players, and the first since 1971 when Boston sent Jim Lonborg, Ken Brett, Billy Conigliaro, Joe Lahoud, George Scott and Don Pavletich to the Brewers for Marty Pattin, Lew Krausse, Tommy Harper and Pat Skrable.

3. Isn't that the way it goes? In his first Dodger Stadium at-bat Saturday night, Gonzalez ripped a three-run homer that was dramatic enough that Vin Scully mentioned it in the same sentence as Kirk Gibson's 1988 World Series homer. James Loney's first Fenway Park at-bat? He, uh, grounded into a double play Sunday. Pfffft.

4. The Dylan Bundy Project: The Orioles added a pitcher over the weekend, but not the one everyone's salivating over. Figure on a standing ovation if and when Bundy shows up. Joe Saunders? "He's got some American League experience," O's manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Baltimore.

5. Just don't touch his head: Adrian Beltre slammed three homers against Baltimore last Wednesday (nothing new for the Rangers, Josh Hamilton crushed four in a game against the Orioles in May) then hit for the cycle against the Twins on Friday. So now, you've got something. Beltre is the first player in major league history to hit for the cycle in the same ballpark (Texas) as a home and visiting player, according to Elias Sports Bureau. And he is the 16th player ever to have both a three-homer game and a cycle in the same season. No player has ever accomplished both feats only two days apart.

6. So much for that six-man rotation: Great story in Atlanta derailed as Ben Sheets lands on the disabled list because of a sore shoulder. Since going 3-0 with an 0.50 ERA and a .200 opponents' batting average in July, Sheets is 1-4 with a 5.34 and .322 opponents' batting average in five August starts. Manager Fredi Gonzalez and the Braves tried to massage him through the rapids -- thus, the six-man rotation, giving him extra rest between starts, which was a wise move -- but couldn't pull it off.

7. Phillip Humber, you're up: White Sox take a hit when Gavin Floyd leaves Sunday's start with a sore elbow. Especially worrisome: Floyd, 5-2 with a 3.17 ERA over his past 10 starts, spent time on the disabled list last month because of a bad elbow. So now would be a good time for Humber to reprise his perfect game form as the Sox work to hold off the Tigers.

8. Nationals emergency? Swept by Philadelphia over the weekend, the Nats now have lost four in a row. And they're still going to shut down Stephen Strasburg!

9. Skeeter biting: Roger Clemens worked 3 1/3 scoreless innings Saturday for some independent league outfit called the Skeeters, which apparently has the Astros intrigued. Of course they are. Have you seen them play lately?

10. Vin Scully will return: And among the many reasons he listed for coming back, here's the one we all need take to heart: "There's an old expression," Scully said. "Squeeze the juice out of life before life squeezes the juice out of you."

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