Imagine a forest dense with fog. The whole place reeks of ozone and mildew. Moldy old sticks crack in the near-distance as the enemy nears. When he comes into view, it's far uglier than you expected. The sinewy mass was terrifying enough in your memory, a hairless tool of destruction you are far too familiar with. But missing fingers come into the forest's light, then retreat. That bleeding scar that turns its snarl into a smile comes into appearance for a split-second then retreats back into the fog. The labored breathing - that every so often turns into a chuckle - is unseen but not unheard. The world is full of fresh horrors. But not unmanageable ones. Unbowed no matter how bloodied yourself, you turn to face this worthy adversary.
We are now at the high point of the narrative arc of the season, and what a time to be there. After a grueling trip away, the Reds have to come back home to face a fearsome beast made all the moreso by their own stumblings. The Reds' own recent failures have been striking in their own right, and Lord knows they could use some help from the cozy confines of Great American. I cannot suggest that this weekend's series will be pretty. But it will be gripping.
When we look back in November, we'll be remembering series like this upcoming one. What I mean to say, if the time-traveling verbs of that sentence confused you, is that this is a make-or-break point. The stakes are pretty clear: driving seat in the Wild Card and first nippin' rights at the fading-any-time-now-juuuuuust-any-time Pirates. Meanwhile, if the Reds do something unspeakable this weekend, they may find themselves in the Diamondbacks' sights. They do not want to be in the Diamondbacks' sights.
The Cardinals are wounded. Their catchers are a "Tony" and a "Rob." They are famously losers of their past seven, but have the same 15-15 in the last 30 as the Reds. They're playing a lot like the Reds - they hadn't scored more than 2 runs all last week - but their pitching isn't even holding up like the Reds. Lynn is doing his second-half flail and their bullpen is Trevor Rosenthal and the Optimistics. Wounded animals are very scary, though. It is very important to them not to have their season slip-slide away, and Jake Westbrook is the reigning Reds killer.
You know about the Reds. Missing two fingers of their bullpen fist and the big toe of their kickin' rotation foot. July was a month of quiet desperation and unquiet sighs.
But it's August now. And I'll go to brawl with Arroyo/Cingrani/Leake. A brawl it will be, and the posturing before it is amusing. Votto must have won some sort of award for the lack of F's he G'd in his interview with my buddy Jim Day, talking about the Cardinals like they were the Mets or something. The Cardinals, on the other hand, are throwing around the word "panic" with reckless abandon. "We're not panicking", just so you know, is like "I'm not a racist" and "No offense" in terms that are about to end in "But, [HORRIBLE THING THAT IS HAPPENING]."
The Cardinals are in the fog as well. They count their fingers; all ten of them. They feel their face; sooty but not scarred. They examine their surroundings; unfamiliar.
The Cardinals aren't the terrifying beast. The Cardinals aren't in control of their destiny. The Cardinals are the hunted. The ones looking to, at best, wound and escape.
I can't begin to imagine what happens come October. That said, the path to the playoffs is long and arduous, and each next step is the first step. Tomorrow, the first step is on the Cardinals' necks. Arroyo is going to nod, lift his left foot high in the air, and then *WHUMP* take it.