Reds-Cardinals Preview

The St. Louis Cardinals are in position to finish with the NL’s best record for the second time in three years, and they appear to have gotten good news on Yadier Molina’s left thumb.

Following the announcement that the star catcher could return during the regular season despite a torn ligament, St. Louis takes on the visiting Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.

The Cardinals (93-56) are the only team to have clinched a playoff spot and own a four-game lead in the NL Central over Pittsburgh, which has baseball’s second-best record. St. Louis avoided a sweep by the Chicago Cubs on Sunday with a 4-3 victory, and its mood improved further the next day after returning home from a 5-5 trip.

Molina suffered the injury tagging out Anthony Rizzo as he tried to score on a fly ball in the eighth inning. The Cardinals said Monday that the injury to his glove hand isn’t nearly as severe as the torn ligament he suffered in his right hand last year.

Batting .270 with 61 RBIs, Molina is widely considered to be the best defensive catcher in the game. The Cardinals are 5-8 when he hasn’t played this season.

”It’ll really depend on how the next 5-7 days go,” general manager John Mozeliak said.

Tony Cruz will be the everyday catcher for now.

”It’s always tough to fill someone’s shoes, but Cruz has had opportunities in the past and last year he ended up being on the postseason roster (in 2014) because of what he showed,” Mozeliak said.

St. Louis has dropped six of nine in this season series after winning six of the first seven meetings, and is hoping to flip the results of a pitching rematch from Sept. 10.

Six runs allowed over 4 1-3 innings in that 11-0 Cincinnati victory were both season worsts for Jaime Garcia (9-5, 2.52 ERA).

He looked better his last time out Wednesday at Milwaukee, though his numbers didn’t necessarily reflect that due to a big inning. He allowed four runs – all in the fourth, including a three-run homer – over 6 1-3 innings in the 5-4 victory.

"I was able to stay in the game," he said. "That really didn’t affect me mentally or physically. I was able to continue to make pitches just as if nothing happened. It was just a mistake, and I paid for it."

Garcia also lost to the Reds at home July 28, giving up three runs over six innings in a 4-0 defeat. Prior to this year, he had been 10-2 with a 2.97 ERA in 14 career starts against Cincinnati.

The left-hander is 4-2 with a 1.84 ERA in eight starts at Busch Stadium this season.

Cincinnati’s John Lamb (1-3, 5.35) has been shaky through his first seven career starts and comes off the shortest one yet, giving up three runs over four innings in a 9-8, 10-inning win at San Francisco on Tuesday. He limited the Cardinals to three hits over five innings in his last matchup, though he also walked six.

The Reds (63-85) have split the first six of this trip after stops in San Francisco and Milwaukee. Their starting pitching continues to be terrible with the rotation posting a 6.35 ERA over the last seven games. Anthony DeSclafani turned in the latest letdown, giving up five runs over 4 1-3 innings in an 8-4 loss to Milwaukee on Sunday.

Joey Votto has been locked in against Garcia this year, going 4 for 4 with a home run, double and two walks. He’s hitting .227 over his last eight games but still owns a .486 on-base percentage in that span, largely thanks to 12 walks.

He walked twice Sunday to push his season total to 135 and match his own team record and has reached base in 37 straight games, four shy of his career high.