This is 100% out of the sports-talk radio guy handbook (probably in section 1 of the first article), but today is the most important game for the 2010 Cardinals.
The season is barely halfway through, so I'm not going to be an ass and say this is a must-win or anything, but there are three major issues that will be looked at after the Cardinals and Rockies walk off the field today, and determine whether or not we need to start freaking out:
1) The Bounce-Back
After the bullpen lit the entire Rocky Mountain time zone on fire Tuesday, the Cardinals offense didn't hang their head too long, as they put up seven runs on Wednesday. Two months of offensive woes or not, you'd take seven runs every day of the week. So how does the offense respond after a second bullpen meltdown? A win (especially against Ubaldo Jimenez) would put the team's mind at ease, at least a little bit. A loss means a long flight to Houston and three mailed-in games before the All-Star break. And another bullpen loss means it's time to elbow-drop the Panic Button.
2) Chris Carpenter
Carp took a good ol' shellacking from the Brewers last weekend, giving up 7 in three innings. Any time something like that happens, you automatically think "is he hurt?" Not just the sore forearm; could be his shoulder, elbow, back, who knows? Before that Saturday start, he walked 4 or 5 batters in three of his previous four starts. Maybe it's because Wainwright has zoomed by him as the best pitcher on the ballclub, but he just hasn't seemed very Carp-like on a consistent basis this year. Despite 20 runs in two days, if he gets hammered by the Rockies, I'm worried.
3) How Do You Make Yourself Better Than The Reds?
At game time, the Reds are three up on the Cardinals. I think it's safe to assume Walt Jocketty isn't sitting around polishing his Executive of the Year trophies. So what do the Cardinals do to make themselves better? The Reds are scary to me because they have Edinson Volquez coming back very soon (juiced up and all!), along with Homer Bailey, from the DL. They might not single-handedly lead the Reds to the division title, but those are two possible stud arms available to them down the stretch. And their third bullet is Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban defector they inked this past off-season. They guy throws a legit 100 mph, and based on his last six appearances, it's easy to see what his role will be with the 2010 Reds. Holy. Shit. That could be really bad news for the Cardinals. I know we have no idea what hard-throwing, strikeout guys in the bullpen could mean, but I've heard they're helpful for winning ballgames, sometimes even in the playoffs.
Even better, the Reds are now rumored to be in the hunt for Cliff Lee. If that day comes, you should expect this to become a Rams and Blues site until February 2011.