This Isn’t Really Happening….Is It?

Another win by the Cardinals.  A loss by the Brewers and the Rockies.  Suddenly, somehow, out of all reason and logic, this Cardinals team sits 1.5 games out of the wild card.  (And five out of the division, of course, in case the Brewers start winning and putting that four game set with the Cubs next week into larger context.)  This is actually a little closer than the 2011 team was at when you look back, but again, that’s a historic team.  We shouldn’t expect this team to do the same.  Yet, somehow, they are doing a pretty good imitation.

St. Louis has upped its odds of making the playoffs to 22.5%.  On Sunday night, after that sweep by the Cubs, it was at 4.7%.  (Just imagine where it’d be right now if they’d taken even one from those baby bears!)  It’s still not a great shot–even with their recent failings, Colorado still has an easier schedule until their last three with the Dodgers, and given last year and even this year, we put no faith in the Dodgers actually helping the Cards out–but it means that there probably will be more meaningful baseball played this year than there was in 2010.  Meaning that since 2009, the number of games the Redbirds have played when eliminated will be able to be counted on two hands.  Think about that in comparison to the Giants being eliminated before September this season.

The Cards did their part last night by sweeping the Reds.  While there were a lot of offensive stars, it’s about time to recognize a Hero for not only what he did last night, but what he’s done all year long.  The Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons has been amazing in the second half and it’s been fun to see others join in on the #PatronPitcher bandwagon (even if they aren’t using the hashtag, which they really should).

We know the second half numbers, but it is definitely worth looking at them again.  Since the All-Star Break, our Ty Fighter (kudos to Dennis Lawson for giving me that one a year or so ago) batters are slashing .146/.253/.232.  He’s got a 1.04 ERA.  He’s struck out 34 batters in 26 innings.  His WHIP is 0.808.  These, in case you are wondering, are good numbers.

And even though Mike Matheny doesn’t always realize it, he’s perfectly good against righties (.640 OPS for the year) though obviously is better against lefties (.572 OPS).  Last night, he also proved just how dangerous he can be when armed with his trusty slider.

Carlos Martinez entered the seventh inning with a 6-3 lead.  He struck out a pinch hitter but then let up a home run to Scott Schebler and a single to Zack Cozart.  Suddenly the tying run was at the plate, and not just any tying run, but Joey Votto, all world hitter that always does damage against St. Louis.  Matheny, showing some of that urgency that we wish we saw more often, went ahead and turned to Lyons here as the game sat precariously in the balance.

All Lyons did was use that slider to frustrate Votto on a 3-2 count and then strike out Scooter Gennett to end the threat.  While he was a little less effective in his second inning of work, walking two, he also struck out two and left them stranded.  Juan Nicaiso let up a homer in the ninth but the fact that it got to him with a lead was mainly because of Lyons and his amazing work so far this season.  There is no reliever that most people trust more than Lyons now and that’s an amazing development when you look at the arc of not only his season, but his career.  This corner of the Internet has always been on his side, of course, but it’s nice to see him getting some recognition.

Of course, he had to have a lead to protect and that came from the offense.  Dexter Fowler continued his strong run here in the latter days of the season by getting three hits, including a double that led to the first run and a double that drove in two more later on.  The top of the lineup was outstanding, with Matt Carpenter getting two hits and a walk before leaving the game late, Tommy Pham with two hits, then Jose Martinez following Fowler in the lineup with two hits of his own.  Heck, Yadier Molina had a big hit that drove in two plus he got two walks and Randal Grichuk even had a couple of hits.  If only they could face Cincinnati’s pitchers all the time.

Let’s look a little more at Fowler.  I know folks are questioning him being in center and that’s probably a topic that’s not only legit but better suited for someone smarter than me.  Offensively, Fowler is providing value, even if it is in a different manner than we expected.  Take out the first month of the season, when you could say he was getting his bearings and such, and he’s hitting .281/.386/.532.  That OBP is close to that high from last season that we were sure would drop, but nobody saw that slugging coming.  18 home runs on the year?  10-12 we’d have expected, but nobody thought you could put Fowler in the cleanup spot and it not seem ridiculous, but that’s what’s happened.  When you realize he’s set a career high in homers in a career low mark of games (at the moment–he should pass the 116 he played in Houston and the 119 his last year in Colorado when it’s all said and done), that’s pretty remarkable.  Again, moving him to a corner might make the most sense, though if you put him, Pham, and Harrison Bader out there, you’d think those two would help counteract some of Fowler’s deficiencies.  Whatever the case, I think most of us should be happy Fowler’s going to be around for a while.

The only guy that really didn’t join in the fun last night was our Goat, Paul DeJong.  DeJong went 0-5 and left four men on base, though he did just strike out once.  It’s been a tough September for DeJong, as he’s batting .233 with four homers this month.  It’s probably not too surprising that a guy playing in his first major league season might wilt a bit due to the length and the grind, but after watching Aledmys Diaz completely crash and burn this year, folks get a little gunshy about any sign of weakness.  In fairness, we’ve always said that DeJong might be best suited to be the Jedd Gyorko utility type we thought we were getting (before Gyorko became a starter) but there’s nobody else at short unless a deal is made this offseason.  DeJong’s likely to be the 2018 starter and we hope this rookie season isn’t his career year.

The last three road games of the 2017 regular season start tonight in Pittsburgh.  The Pirates are 2-8 in their last 10, they are well eliminated, and are guaranteed a losing season, slipping back into that morass they were stuck in for two decades.  Whether they’ll be as easy to dispatch as they were two weekends ago in St. Louis remains to be seen, however.  Ivan Nova, Gerrit Cole, and Jameson Tallion go for the Bucs, so that’s not exactly the same as facing Cincinnati’s beleaguered staff.  The Cardinals can and have beaten those guys, of course, but it’s a tough road.  St. Louis counters with Michael Wacha tonight, Lance Lynn tomorrow, and John Gant (taking Jack Flaherty‘s spot) on Sunday.

You don’t want to say they have to sweep, because putting back to back sweeps together isn’t easy.  The Cardinals have won seven and eight in a row at different times this year, of course, so it can happen, but even if they can take two of three here, they should be OK.  We still have the Cubs and the Brewers going at it after the Brewers lost a heartbreaker last night and Colorado is just trying to hang on and not doing a great job of it, losing to the Padres last night and getting them for three more this weekend.  It’s going to take some help, it’s going to take some luck, but if we are still talking about St. Louis being 1.5 games out of the wild card or closer on Monday morning, there might just be a chance after all.  The next-to-last weekend of baseball is going to be intriguing and scoreboards are going to be watched, which is about all you can ask for!

Oh, and don’t forget to go vote on both semifinal matchups of the Greatest Cardinal Moments tournament!  You’ll find them both here and thanks so much to cardinalsgifs for the visuals!

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