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Healthy Yadi fuels Cardinals' faith in stretch run

On flip side, Westbrook's continuing slump a cause of concern for contenders

MILWAUKEE -- The St. Louis Cardinals won what amounted to a split decision Wednesday.

On the plus side, they won a game and a series from the Milwaukee Brewers with an 8-6 victory at Miller Park. And they demonstrated a continuing faith in the notion that their invaluable catcher, Yadier Molina, would be able to play on a truly regular basis.

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On the minus side, Jake Westbrook's slump was not ended.

Over the last five starts, Westbrook's ERA has ballooned from 2.95 to the current 4.49. In this game, Westbrook was handed a 7-0 lead, but could not get through five innings to record a decision, giving up five runs, four earned. He did have three innings in which he kept the Brewers off the scoreboard, but after getting the first two outs in the fifth, he gave up four straight hits. At that point, Kevin Siegrist was summoned from the bullpen, and he got out of the inning with a 7-5 lead.

"Getting two quick outs there in the fifth and not being able to finish it off was pretty frustrating for me," Westbrook said. "The way that I've been throwing, the string of hits that I'd just given up, I guess it's tough to leave me out there. But the bullpen came in and did a great job."

Westbrook did his bit with the bat in the Cardinals' six-run second, ripping a two-run double.

"I was happy to be able to contribute in that sense," he said.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, asked if Westbrook's status in the rotation would be reviewed, responded: "We review everybody, all the time."

On the good news front, Molina has started and played with no ill effects in six of seven games since he returned from a knee injury and a stay on the disabled list.

He played one game and sat out one game, but has since started in five straight, including Wednesday, a day game after a night game.

"Yadi's like the guy who gives the confidence to the starting rotation and the relievers," said Carlos Beltran, who hit a two-run homer off the scoreboard beyond center field Wednesday. "Having him behind the plate is a big difference. I don't want to take credit away from our other catchers, but every year he's one of the best behind the plate, defensively."

"I feel good," Molina said. "We've been winning, and that's important."

The Cardinals, not at all coincidentally, are 5-1 in Molina's starts since his return from the DL.

Molina's importance to this team cannot be overstated. He is a Gold Glove catcher, a diligent and astute handler of the pitchers, a particularly important trait with so much youth on the St. Louis staff. And he is having an outstanding offensive season. He should be the National League's Most Valuable Player. It could be argued that he should have already won this award.

He would get the MVP vote of Brewers manager Ron Roenicke.

"And I wouldn't just say that for this year, either," Roenicke said. "When you're voting on things, his defense should come into it. It should be 50 percent of what you're looking at, for me, because of what he does behind the plate and how he handles that staff, what he does to baserunners, the whole package.

"What percentage do the writers usually give on the MVP to defense? Very small. With this, when you're talking about a catcher and what he does to a game, he should be 50/50. That outweighs, for me, any [other player's] offensive numbers. As long as he is doing well offensively, it outweighs everyone."

There had been some thought that Molina would be rested frequently when he returned from the DL. Asked about that Wednesday, Matheny made it clear that Molina's well-being at this point did not preclude regular playing time.

"This conversation is going to be very similar probably from here on out," the manager said. "He's going to get a day off when he needs a day off. We have a lot of conversation when we have young players; we do a lot of decision-making for them. When we see a veteran, we have a conversation and let him know what we see. But these are grown men. These guys know what they need, they know where they are.

"And we're all pulling in the same direction, trying to achieve the same common goal. The guys who have been doing this for a long time, they're going to be the best source of information that we have.

"We're getting clearance from our medical people that he's responding very well. And he's telling us that he feels good. And that's what we're going to have to go with. We're going to trust that.

"It might not look like everybody else wants it to look, but that's not our concern, even a little bit. What's best for our player is best for our team."

If Molina can remain at anything resembling full health while playing regularly, this is a huge plus for the Cardinals down the stretch. In that regard, Wednesday's split decision was looking more like nine out of 10 than two out of three.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

St. Louis Cardinals, Yadier Molina, Jake Westbrook