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Reason to Worry with Wild Card?

Is there reason for concern for this St. Louis Cardinals team (71-59) that was shutout for the second consecutive day by the Pittsburgh Pirates (70-60) Wednesday night? With that loss, the Cardinals lost the season series to the Pirates and would now have to travel to Pittsburgh for possible one-game playoff if the two teams tie at the end of the year. St. Louis is only 31-33 on the road this season while Pittsburgh has an impressive 40-26 home record. Therefore, Cardinals fans cannot be too confident right now with only a one-game lead over the Pirates for the second wild card spot.

In addition, just as David Freese returned from his left wrist injury to start Tuesday night, Yadier Molina was on the wrong side of a vicious collision with Josh Harrison only two innings into the game. Molina held onto the ball for the third out of the inning, but suffered injuries to his upper back, left shoulder and neck. At the time, the Cardinals were worried that they had lost the 2012 league’s most valuable catcher for rest of the season. Although he looked like he was in a lot of pain after the play at the plate, Molina still expects to return during the upcoming four-game series with Washington Nationals.

The Cardinals and Nationals are surprisingly the only NL teams that have not played each other yet this season. The seven games between these contenders in August and September will most likely determine the NL postseason races. Washington had lost five straight games coming into Wednesday, but the team ended its slide with a victory over the lowly Miami Marlins. Even with their recent struggles, the Nationals still have a 29-17 record since the All-Star break, so they will make it tough on the Cardinals this weekend.

In order to succeed against the Nationals, the Cardinals will need their top run-producers to perform better than they did in the Pirates series. Matt Holliday (90 RBI, tied for most in NL) and Carlos Beltran (85 RBI, third-most in NL) were a combined 3 for 21 (.143 BA) in the last three games against Pittsburgh. The lone bright spot for the dynamic duo was a Holliday solo home run in the first game of the series, but they were nowhere to be found in the final couple games. Since Holliday gathered his 1,499th career hit with that home run, he has not reached base in his last eight plate appearances. Meanwhile, Beltran has only two hits over his last five games (.105 BA). Holliday and Beltran have to produce more and do it soon, or the current two-game skid may continue. With the recent offensive struggles, Cardinals fans need to be a little concerned because the team’s hold on the second wild card spot is getting tenuous.

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