Jeff Gordon previews today’s game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets at 12:45 p.m. (FSM) at Busch Stadium.
THE STAKES: The Cincinnati Reds are rolling. They have won five consecutive games and are getting healthier. They loom just 2½ games back in the National League Central. The Pittsburgh Pirates won back-to-back games to remain 3½ games behind.
So the Cardinals can’t ease off the accelerator, even during the day game after a night game against a reeling opponent. This tough division race affords little opportunity for charitable activity.
PITCHING FOR THE CARDINALS: Adam Wainwright (5-2, 2.30 ERA). He struggled mightily in two starts against the Mets last season, losing both games while allowing 12 runs on 14 hits in 11 1/3 innings.
So several Mets have has good career numbers against Wainwright, including Lucas Duda (double, homer, five RBIs), Daniel Murphy (3 for 6, triple, RBI), Ike Davis (2 for 7, homer, four RBIs), Mike Baxter (2 for 6) and Justin Turner (1 for 3, double).
PITCHING FOR THE METS: Jonathon Niese (2-4, 5.93 ERA). He is trending the wrong way, having lost his last five starts. He allowed 15 runs in 8 1/3 innings his last two starts. But the lefthander won his only start against the Cardinals last season while throwing six shutout innings.
Ty Wigginton is 4 for 10 with five walks, two doubles, three RBIs and a 1.200 OPS against Niese in his career. Jon Jay (3 for 7, double, RBI), Allen Craig (1 for 2, double), Daniel Descalso (1 for 2, double) and Carlos Beltran (1 for 3) have also had some success against him.
LINEUP INTRIGUE: Mike Matheny needs to get Wigginton more work to help him perform more effectively. Wigginton’s success against Niese made him an obvious choice to start a day game after a night game. He plays first today and bats seventh. Craig moves to left field in place of the resting Matt Holliday. Carlos Beltran moved into the No. 3 slot behind Matt Carpenter and center fielder Shane Robinson – who is giving Jay a day off in center field.
Yadier Molina caught his break Wednesday night, so he got back in the lineup (and the No. 5 spot) to work with Wainwright. David Freese returns to third base as the No. 6 hitter.
BULLPEN INTRIGUE: Middle reliever Seth Maness throws strikes. That’s great, but former Cardinal Rick Ankiel launched one of them for a game-tying two-run homer Wednesday night. With Mitchell Boggs throwing well in Memphis, Maness and fellow prospect Carlos Martinez will continue operating on a game-to-game basis at this level.
DOWN THE FARM: Starting pitcher Richard Castillo (3-3, 3.52 ERA) delivered a sterling performance at Tulsa on Wednesday as Springfield won 5-3. He allowed just one run on four hits and two walks over seven innings. Castillo, a product of the organization’s Venezuelan program, was 9-8 with a 3.27 ERA last season splitting time between Palm Beach and Springfield.
Reliever Keith Butler, back at Springfield after a tough stint (9.53 ERA in seven appearances) at Memphis, earned his sixth Texas League save of the season. Adam Melker, fighting for at bats in the crowded Springfield outfield, hit two homers and drove in three runs.
Speaking of that outfield, fast-starting Tommy Pham (.314, .998 OPS) suffered a mild oblique muscle strain that landed him on the disabled list. By Pham standards, that is just a minor ailment.
During a 10-game span at Palm Beach, infielder Danny Stienstra went 14 for 38 but with just three doubles and seven RBIs. The former San Jose State star hit .345 at Batavia last season and skipped the Low-A rung.
Class A Peoria suffered a 4-0 loss at Kane County, but outfielder Charlie Tilson (1 for 3, RBI) continued his good hitting. He is 6 for 19 in his last six games.