SAN FRANCISCO — Both teams will begin with question marks and end with uncertainties when the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants meet in the finale of a four-game series on Sunday afternoon.
The game is a big one for both teams, but especially for the Cardinals, who trail the Giants and New York Mets by two games in the race for two wild-card playoff spots in the National League.
A win Sunday not only would allow the Cardinals to close the gap on the Giants, but also would secure a 4-3 win in the season series, which would give them the home-field advantage should the two teams finish in a tie for a wild-card spot.
There are only 14 games remaining in the season.
“I can feel it, and I know the guys can feel it,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of the pressure of the playoff race. “We know where everybody stands.”
But neither manager can even pretend to know what he's going to get from Sunday's starting pitcher.
Each will be going with a rookie who has never faced the other team — the Cardinals' Alex Reyes and Giants' Albert Suarez.
Reyes has made only two previous major league starts, and didn't win either. He pitched well, giving up just three runs in 10 2/3 innings, but those games were against two of the worst teams in baseball, the Oakland Athletics and Cincinnati Reds.
Suarez, meanwhile, has more of a track record, having gone 3-3 in 20 appearances, including 10 starts.
He appeared to be in good shape to win a fourth game in his last start Tuesday, but the Giants' bullpen blew a 4-1 lead in the ninth inning and the club dropped a 6-4 decision to the San Diego Padres.
The Giants' bullpen hasn't gotten any better since then. Three relievers combined to give up two hits, a walk and two runs in the Cardinals' ninth-inning rally Saturday night that might have saved their season.
It surely didn't save closer Santiago Casilla's job. After Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn't have the confidence in him to start the ninth inning with a 2-1 lead, Castilla wound up blowing the save anyway after entering the game with one on and one out.
Bochy was booed when he went to the mound to bring Casilla into the game, and booed louder when he had to go back and pull him two batters later.
“I understand in this game, everybody likes it when you do good. But then they forget what you do,” Casilla said after the loss. “I never have that moment (boos) before. So when we lose the game, it's not so easy. So I feel bad.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, meanwhile, used his best reliever, Seung Hwan Oh, two innings Saturday night, which makes him unlikely to be available in the series finale.
Matheny also has former closer Trevor Rosenthal at his disposal. But Rosenthal said he felt sore after pitching one inning Friday night in his return from the disabled list, so he also might not be ready for work Sunday.