DENVER — While the Cardinals spent Tuesday night looking for runs against the Rockies, events in San Diego and Miami shifted the race in the National League Central, not with results on the scoreboard but with results of X-rays.
The two leading vote-getters for last year’s National League MVP, winner Christian Yelich of the Brewers and runner-up Javier Baez of the Cubs, have injuries that will affect their availability for the final weeks of the regular season — in Yelich’s case end his season just as he was bidding to be the NL’s first back-to-back MVP since Albert Pujols. Yelich fouled a pitch off his right knee and fractured the kneecap Tuesday night in Miami, and on Wednesday the Cubs revealed that Baez will miss time because of a hairline fracture in his hand.
Their absences could shape the standings.
“I don’t know how it will end up being shaped,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Listen, we love competition, and for me at least the competition is at its best when everybody is at their best. The one thing we do understand about this — and it’s important — is everybody is going to have their fair share of them, and that’s injuries. That’s why it really is a team opportunity and a team accomplishment when you win.
“You just want people to be at their full-strength when they compete.”
A week after Yelich and the third-place Brewers won a series against the Cubs to help the Cardinals widen their lead in the division, Milwaukee will visit Busch Stadium for a three-game series that starts Friday. It’s the Brewers last series of the season against a team ahead of them in the standings.
Shildt referred to Yelich as “the anchor of their team offensively,” and he has had some of his finest games this season against the division rivals the Brewers are chasing. In 35 games against the Cubs and Cardinals, Yelich has hit .328 (40 for 122) with 20 extra-base hits, 13 homers (eight against the Cardinals), 35 RBIs, and a .705 slugging percentage.
The Brewers were shaken by the Yelich’s season-ending injury, according to reports from Miami, but their sentiment about the division race echoed the Cubs’ after they learned of Baez’s likely absence from this pivotal span of games. The Cubs, trailing the Cardinals by four games entering Wednesday’s play, have seven games remaining against the rivals.
“Javy’s the heart of this team,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras told The Chicago Sun-Times. “We’re going to miss him a lot, but like somebody said once, ‘One steps out, one steps up.’”
Shildt’s comments captured the reaction in the Cardinals’ clubhouse.
“Still have to win games,” Dexter Fowler said. “Teams aren’t built of one person.”
MELVILLE GETS SECOND SHOT
When Tim Melville, a graduate of Holt High in Wentzville, last faced the Cardinals he was 26, making the second start of his big-league career, awestruck by Busch Stadium and, truth be told, a touch overwhelmed.
“I hit (Matt) Holliday, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I just hit Matt Holliday. He’s going to charge the mound on me and crush my skull,’” Melville recalled. “Thankfully, he didn’t do that. But he hit a bomb off of me. It is an intense environment there pitching at Busch. I was pretty intimidated by it. And I didn’t know how to settle down and look at it as another game. That was probably the most scared I’ve been pitching in a long time. You have to level with yourself: ‘OK, next time I have that opportunity what am I going to do differently?’”
He finds out Thursday, on his home turf. His new home turf.
After several years out of the majors and a detour that included independent ball and a job last winter working at a barbecue joint in Phoenix, Melville has seized on an opening in Colorado’s rotation. He’s gone 2-1 with a 3.66 ERA in four starts, and he’s coming off a start in which he struck out eight Padres to get his second big-league win.
Melville, who turns 30 next month, moved to Wentzville for high school and was drafted after graduation by the Royals in 2008. Eight years later, with Cincinnati, he plunked Holliday on his way to a three-inning, seven-run start at Busch. He had one more start in the majors after that until this August with the Rockies. In Phoenix last offseason, he worked out with Cubs pitcher Danny Hultzen and though both were inching toward 30 the thought the majors were out of reach never came up.
“We never really talked about quitting,” Melville said Wednesday. “We’re kind of old in the public’s eyes and around baseball you’re usually looking for another job at our age. But we were always on the same page — trying to further our baseball career. We didn’t see anything to do as enjoyable as playing baseball.”
Alex Reyes has halted his throwing program for the year and will soon shift to an offseason program designed to ready him for spring training in 2020. The highly regarded prospect has had three consecutive seasons interrupted or erased by injury, and in the coming week he’ll meet with the Cardinals’ head physician, Dr. George Paletta, to map out a winter workout plan to move him beyond recurring injuries to his right shoulder and pectoral area.
Because of his time this summer at Class AAA Memphis, the 25-year-old righthander will fall shy of being arbitration eligible this season, giving he and the Cardinals another season to determine his role and health before his salary climbs.
Derrick Goold @dgoold on Twitter firstname.lastname@example.org