Walton's Game Observations – Saturday – Cards 5-1

The Cardinals clinched the NL Central crown as they beat the Chicago Cubs by a 5-1 mark Saturday afternoon.

The St. Louis Cardinals won their second consecutive National League Central championship as they defeated the Chicago Cubs by a 5-1 score at Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon. The Cardinals' best record in baseball is now 95-55 as they are 2-1 so far in the four-game weekend series.

In his 30th start of the season, Mark Mulder took on Greg Maddux and won his 16th game in the process. Mulder allowed eight hits and two walks in seven innings. The run came on a solo homer by Jeromy Burnitz. Al Reyes and Jason Isringhausen finished up.

Without any long balls for the second day in a row, the Cardinals pecked away at Maddux. Larry Walker had a pair of hits, a stolen base and two RBI. Jim Edmonds doubled twice, scored once and drove in one. David Eckstein contributed a single and a double, scoring twice. Mulder even contributed a hit and an RBI.

A compelling case for the MVP race
Friend Lee Sinins of the amazing Sabermetric Encyclopedia has this to say about the MVP contest. "RCAA" is runs created, a very useful measurement of offensive value.

"While (Andruw) Jones is touted as a potential winner of the silly MVP award, he has a too close to call battle for the MVBNJ award (Most Valuable Brave Named Jones).

Chipper Jones 32
Andruw Jones 31

Even if we were to limit MVP candidates to those whose first names start with A, Jones is not only not a worthy candidate, but it is far from clear that he should even be a runner up--

1 Albert Pujols 74
2 Adam Dunn 32
3 Andruw Jones 31"

Mulder skipped again
Lefty Mark Mulder will be again passed over in the rotation this coming week, with his next start scheduled on Saturday in Milwaukee. In addition, Jeff Suppan switched places with Jason Marquis and will go on Tuesday in Cincinnati, with Marquis sliding to Wednesday. All the upcoming match-ups are at the bottom of this page.

Other side of Soup
There was a great Jeff Suppan feature on This Week in Baseball, where the cameras followed him to his home, his family's, as well as his high school.

Saturday's lineup – Back to the future
Eckstein, Edmonds, Pujols, Sanders, Grudzielanek, Taguchi (rf), Molina, Luna (3b) and Morris. This is the first time in two months that the four remaining big guns (sans Rolen) have started together – Pujols, Sanders, Edmonds and Walker. Yadier Molina missed the game with a stomach ailment. Had he been playing, only Scott Rolen would have been missing from the original starting eight.

On to the game…

Cards first – Out on top
Eckstein led off with a single and took off on the first pitch, but Edmonds fouled it off. Eckstein moved up on a dribbler back to Maddux. Pujols shot a one-hopper to Maddux for the second out. Walker's clutch RBI single went just past the second baseman. Walker swiped second base for only his second steal of the season. Sanders fanned for the third out. Cards 1-0.

Cubs first – Grounders are Mulder's friends
Neifi Perez singled off Nunez' glove at third with one out. Derrek Lee walked, putting Perez in scoring position. It worked out fine as Nomar ground into a routine 6-4-3.

Cards second – Pushing the envelope
Grudz drew a leadoff walk in four pitches. Nunez traded places with him as he legged it out to first to avoid the double play. With Grudz running, Einar Diaz dropped a single into the right field corner. Mulder laid down his first sac of the season, a suicide squeeze on the first pitch. It was so perfect that Nunez scored before Maddux even fielded the ball. Cards 2-0.

Cubs second – Little ball gone bad
Jeromy Burnitz and Matt Murton singled. Corey Patterson bunted them into scoring position. As Henry Blanco bounced to short, rookie Murton inexplicably tried to advance. Burnitz had to move, too, and was a dead duck at home.

Cards third – Cubs being nibbled
Edmonds doubled off the top of the ivy in center. Patterson didn't jump for it, as he and Edmonds both seemed to think it was going to be a home run. Edmonds alertly took off for third on a 5-3 play and made it easily. Edmonds trotted home on a broken-bat single to right by Walker. Sanders shot a single to left. Grudz ground into a double play to end it. Cards 3-0.

Cubs third – Threat turned back
With one out, Perez singled past a diving Eckstein. Lee followed with a single to right. Nunez muffed a sure double play ball, getting only one out at second as a result. Runners on the corners with two out for Burnitz. He whiffed on three pitches.

Cubs fourth – More ground balls
Murton singled, but was doubled up.

Cards fifth – Another runner
Albert singled with two down. He was stranded.

Cubs fifth – Nothing much
Jose Macias doubled to left with one out, and moved to third on a ground out, but did not score.

Cubs sixth – No shutout
Burnitz homered into the right field seats. He was only the third lefty to take Mulder deep all season. Cards 3-1.

Cards seventh – Chasing Maddux
Mulder singled. He took off on a hit and run as Eckstein doubled him home standing up. Edmonds double scored Eckstein. So long to Maddux and his chance at 15 wins. Walker was intentionally walked with two outs, but So was retired to end it. Cards 5-1.

Cubs seventh – Blanco is blue
Blanco walked leading off. He only made it as far as second base, which he had taken on a wild pitch. Taguchi hauled in Perez' drive on the track to end the threat.

Cards eighth – In and out
Grudz singled, but was thrown out trying to take second as Nunez fanned.

Cubs eighth – Mulder's day done
Al Reyes took over. Burnitz walked with two outs, but that was it.

Cards ninth – Shenanigans?
Edmonds was plunked by a Sergio Mitre offering with two outs. That angered the Cards. Pujols took a free pass, but Walker was retired.

Cubs ninth – Izzy time, not very often
Jason Isringhausen has made only one appearance in four of the last five series including this game. He retired the Cubbies 1-2-3.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Sunday @ Cubs: Chris Carpenter vs. Carlos Zambrano 1:20pm WB11
Monday: Open day
Tuesday @ Reds: Jeff Suppan vs. Randy Keisler 6:10pm FSNM
Wednesday @ Reds: Jason Marquis vs. Ramon Ortiz 6:10pm FSNM
Thursday @ Reds: Matt Morris vs. Brandon Claussen 6:10pm FSNM
Friday @ Brewers: Chris Carpenter vs. Wes Obermueller 7:05pm FSNM
Saturday @ Brewers: Mark Mulder vs. Chris Capuano 6:05pm WB11
Sunday @ Brewers: Jeff Suppan vs. Doug Davis 1:05pm WB11

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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