Monday, August 18, 2014

NL Central Foes Battle for Playoff Spots

It's been a struggle for newest Cardinal, Justin Masterson (2-1, 6.00 ERA), since he came over from the Indians on July 30. Sure, he's 2-1, in three starts since being dealt from Cleveland to St. Louis, but he hasn't looked like the Masterson we're used to seeing. His 6.00 ERA could just be the result of a small sample size, but expanding to his season overall, it's remarkably similar to the 5.51 ERA he posted in 19 starts with the Indians.

In seven Major League seasons, Masterson has never posted two consecutive sub-4 ERA seasons. Now, he's suffering through his worst season as a professional. There's plenty of cause for concern in St. Louis. Still, their reputation for developing pitchers precedes them. Inconsistency notwithstanding, he's always had great stuff. In 2013, it all came together for the 6'6'' righty, striking out 195 batters in 193 innings. Coupled with his 3.45 ERA and three complete-game shutouts, it looked like the 28-year-old was finally living up to the hype. Unfortunately, his control has also always been an issue. Even in his strong 2013 campaign, he walked 76 batters. This year, though, he already has 62 walks, and his walks per 9 innings has ballooned to almost five. Masterson should provide the Cardinals with a veteran arm down the stretch, but if they want anything else out of him, the coaching staff will have to work yet another miracle.

Tonight, the Reds counter with Mike Leake (9-11, 3.59 ERA), as they'll look to get a over a double-header sweep at the hands of the Rockies on Sunday. Cincinnati has now dropped to two games under .500, and has five teams to leap-frog in the Wild Card standings. Long story short, they have to start putting some victories together. Still without Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, that task will be easier said than done. Yet, with Leake on the mound, the Reds like their chances.

Of late, the Cincinnati hurler has hit a hot streak, allowing just three runs allowed over 20.2 innings in his last three starts. He's also gotten the better of St. Louis more often than not this season. Leake has yielded two runs over 14 innings across two starts this year against the Redbirds, and set for another strong performance tonight. After trading away Allen Craig for John Lackey, and still without Yadier Molina, Mike Matheny is forced to play the washed-up A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate. With both lineups missing key pieces, we should see a typical low-scoring National League game.

Coverage of this key NL Central contest starts at 8:10pm, so you can predict the action for yourself!
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