A spot in the team record books is on the line Sunday, as well as an opportunity to solidify their playoff positioning.
But if the St. Louis Cardinals are to beat the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium and capture their 11th consecutive series, they will probably need a strong start from a guy that recently lost his spot in the rotation.
Manager Mike Shildt has opted to give an extra day of rest to the likes of Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and John Gant ahead of their starts Monday through Wednesday in Washington. Shildt is going with righthander Luke Weaver (7-11, 4.59 ERA), who will make his first start since an Aug. 16 loss to the Nationals, which occurred four days after he was scratched with a cut on his right index finger from trying to open a food tray.
After starting the season as perhaps the team’s second-best starter behind Carlos Martinez, Weaver hasn’t been able to consistently command his pitches. Good starts became less frequent, replaced by outings in which the Cardinals had to dip into their bullpen before the fifth inning was over.
Since moving to the bullpen, Weaver has yielded one run and five hits in four innings over three appearances, picking up the win in a 5-2 victory Aug. 21 at the Los Angeles Dodgers with 2 1/3 innings.
Weaver is 3-0 with a 5.16 ERA in five career games against Cincinnati, but will probably be on a short leash. With St. Louis (76-60) occupying one of the two wild-card spots in the National League and sporting a fresh bullpen after Tyson Ross soaked up 4 2/3 innings of long relief in Saturday night’s 4-0 defeat, Weaver won’t have much room for error.
The Cardinals had little chance Saturday night. Reds starter Luis Castillo dominated for 6 2/3 innings, whiffing 11 and allowing only two hits in earning the win.
“The reality is not a lot of people are going to do anything to him with what he had,” Shildt said of Castillo. “He had really nasty stuff and was able to repeat it and, locate it. Nice outing by that young man.”
Cincinnati righthander Anthony DeSclafani (7-4, 4.34) will try to replicate what Castillo did. In his last outing Tuesday night, DeSclafani picked up a 9-7 victory over Milwaukee on Tuesday, allowing seven hits and four runs in 6 2/3 innings while walking one and fanning six.
He went 3-1 with a 2.62 ERA in five August starts.
“I think we see Anthony DeSclafani as handling the workload,” Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said to mlb.com before Tuesday night’s game. “He’s a good Major League pitcher.”
DeSclafani has pitched well against the Cardinals in his four-year career, going 5-2 in nine outings (eight starts) with a 3.30 ERA. But they got to him July 15, ripping him for six runs on five hits and a walk in 3 1/3 innings of a 6-4 loss.
And St. Louis might beef up its lineup for the series finale.
It activated left fielder Marcell Ozuna (shoulder) off the 10-day disabled list Saturday. Shildt said before Saturday night’s game that he anticipates Ozuna will return to the lineup Sunday.
The Cardinals enter Sunday 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs in the NL Central.