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Hochman: Cardinals, Giants both limping

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St. Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs

St. Louis Cardinals' Aledmys Diaz is tagged out by Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist while trying to steal second in the first inning during a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Chris Lee,

Starting Thursday in San Francisco, tune in to see which dwindling wild-card contender will prove it’s not as bad as the other!

The Giants, jeez, are now 20-35 since the All-Star break, after the paltry Padres swept them this week — in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, the maddening, Maddon-quarreling Cardinals have lost three of their past four games, and in those three, they totaled just seven hits.

And at least one of these teams is a playoff team.

I still think it will be the Birds. The Giants are a mess, even if they’re still believin’, or as their ads say, citing their success in 2010, 2012 and 2014 – “beli-EVEN.”

But this is a peculiar September for St. Louis — trying to find reasons to be optimistic about your Cardinals, even though your Cardinals are still right in the wild-card mix.

Here’s some veiled optimism: The Cards were probably going to lose to Kyle Hendricks (2.03 ERA) and Jon Lester (2.40 ERA) anyway, so does it matter that they only conjured four hits on those two combined?

Keep in mind that the last time two Cubs finished first and second in ERA was 1938.

“Not everybody is going to be that good every day, so you just move on,” said the Birds’ Brandon Moss, after Wednesday’s 7-0 loss to the Cubs. “I think we’re pressing a little bit at home, trying to right the ship at home. And obviously it hasn’t gone well here for us. We put a little too much pressure on ourselves here, but when we go on the road, we’re a little more loose and relaxed, and hopefully that continues into these next 10 games.”

STL SPORTS CHAT: Benjamin Hochman Live at 2 p.m.

Loose and relaxed? Shoot, on the road, the Cards are the dang Cubs. St. Louis is 43-28 away from Busch. No team has more road wins. National League, American League. No team.

Why do the Cards stink in St. Louis? They are a home-run hitting team, and home is unaccommodating for such prowess. A fair guess. But no one truly knows why.

Asked why the Cards are so good away from Busch, but not at Busch, former Padre Jedd Gyorko deadpanned: “I’ve never been on a team that’s ever been good anywhere, so ...”

Jedd said this in Wednesday’s losing clubhouse, a depressing locale, filled with sighs and scowls and short answers. It was as if Stephen Piscotty, the whiz-kid from Stanford, was challenging himself to answer reporters’ questions with the fewest words possible. Indeed, the Cards were embarrassed by Lester and should’ve been embarrassed by their lack of grit. Manager Mike Matheny noticed this. As the skipper said postgame, “We believe we can beat any team any night, no matter where we are. We have to do all the little things right. We’ve got to figure out ways to grind through at-bats — that’s one of our top priorities right now, figuring out how to get those tough-fought at-bats from top to bottom, and then we’ll jump up and surprise somebody with a long ball. But we’ve got to grind.”

While this San Francisco-St. Louis matchup is as enticing for outsiders as that San Francisco-Los Angeles football game the other night, we know this four-game Giants series is giant. (The Cards enter Thursday one game behind San Francisco for the first wild-card spot and a half-game behind the Mets, though the Mets’ remaining schedule features the terrible Twins, Braves, Marlins and Phillies.)

The Cards must win at least two games in San Francisco — and that would also secure the wild-card tiebreaker — but where are the wins on the schedule? Keep in mind that only one park, Marlins Park, has allowed fewer homers this season than AT&T Park. Honestly, the only game of the four that I think St. Louis’ starter will outduel San Fran’s is Friday. Sure enough, that’s when Cards rookie Luke Weaver faces Matt Moore.

On Thursday, Adam Wainwright faces old foe Johnny Cueto, who’s seventh in the league in ERA (2.90) and sixth in quality-percentage (0.69).

On Saturday, former Giant Mike Leake faces Jeff Samardzija.

And on Sunday?

This leads to the most fascinating story of the season, but is it for better or worse.

Matheny didn’t say who would start Sunday. If it was surely going to be Jaime Garcia, he would’ve said something such as – of course, it’s Jaime, it’s his turn in the rotation.

So it’s probably Alex Reyes.

Pitching potentially the biggest game of the 2016 season.

This is fitting. This season has been unpredictable. Aledmys Diaz an All-Star. All the home runs. More than 140 lineups. The poor pitching and ensuing DL trips by Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal. The baserunning buffoonery (what was going on Wednesday, by the way?). Jaime’s demise.

So yeah, of course the fate of the 2016 season could come down to the kid.

It’s easy to worry about the walks. But not the pressure. Reyes seems wired right.

And, apologies for bringing up bad memories, but you know what could be a key part of Sunday — Wacha coming out of the bullpen in San Francisco.

So here we go, two oft-October participants and four days in September, a wild-card spot on the line. Who will stumble into it?

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