Before we recorded Gateway on Sunday night, Tara and I were talking and I mentioned that it’s been a long time since the Cardinals played their way out of a playoff position they held going into the last week of the season. They’ve stolen some spots late–we all remember the most notable one of those–and they’ve held on to some spots they’ve had by the skin of their teeth, but they rarely drop out of the playoffs in the last week.
This, as we’ve seen for a long while, is a rare year.
Two straight losses to the Brewers combined with two wins by the Rockies have the Cardinals on the outside looking in when it comes to October with just four games (for them, the Brewers, and the Dodgers, while there are five for the Rockies and Cubs) left to play. Last night’s loss also reinforced a question we’ve been pondering for a bit: how much does this team have left?
Let’s be honest, the Cardinals have been playing playoff baseball for the last six weeks. The frantic rush through August, when the pedal was completely down and everyone seemed to play with their hair on fire, isn’t humanly sustainable. In a long season, you always give 100% if you are a player but the amount available for that 100% varies. Some days you’ve got a ton of energy, some days you have half that. You give all you have but maybe you just don’t have that much to give.
So I can’t blame the Cards for maybe running on fumes. What I won’t say is that this team has given up, that they don’t have any fight in them. A team with no fight doesn’t get down 6-0 in the fourth and then have the tying run at the plate an inning later. A team with no fight doesn’t have his leader ejected for arguing a questionable strike late in the game (even if the ejection seemed to be over the top) because said leader has trudged back to the dugout quietly if the fight isn’t there.
Said they are tired. Say they are spent. Say that there might be questions about the talent. Say the other teams are just better. All of those things may be true. What you can’t say (or at least, can’t say and be anything more than a troll) is that the Cardinals have given up. This team wants to win. This team thinks it can win. And while this team is still mathematically viable, who are we to say they can’t? After all, we talked after the Braves series about how hard it is to sweep a good team. If the Cardinals win tonight and the Phillies actually finally get to Colorado, St. Louis could be back in the playoff slot when we come together tomorrow morning (assuming I write a post tomorrow).
As for last night’s game, when it winds up 12-4 there’s really not a lot to say even with the rallies. You wonder if the game would have turned out differently had Jedd Gyorko not hit into a double play with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth (or, maybe more accurately, if the umpire had called the ball foul as it appeared) or if he could have gotten a two-out hit when he came up with the bases loaded again in the seventh. A couple of runs when it was 7-4, as it was both times, could have changed the entire complexion of the game. Instead, the Brewers escaped and the momentum shifted as a Cardinal bullpen that is starting to resemble the pre-July 27 one more than the August version put the game out of reach.
Let’s give the Hero tag to Yadier Molina, in part to honor Birds on the Black‘s #YadiWeek but also because his three-run homer was the biggest blow of the evening. Marcell Ozuna did go 3-3 with a walk but the only run he scored came on Molina’s homer and he didn’t drive anyone in. The Goat? You could just about pick a pitcher–even normally reliable cleanup man Tyson Ross struggled last night–but it’s hard not to go with Austin Gomber who got the Cardinals behind early with back-to-back homers from Jesus Aguilar and Ryan Braun and then couldn’t finish off the fourth, getting the first two before three straight singles from the bottom of the lineup, including an RBI single from the opposing pitcher Gio Gonzalez, ended his night. Ross allowed the other two to score and one of his own when Christian Yelich tripled. There’s only so often you can put the likely MVP in situations before he comes through.
The Cardinals aren’t eliminated from the division yet–that could happen today with a loss or a Cubs win–and everything else is getting tighter as well with the Rockies only a half-game behind the Dodgers. The chances of chaos–of at least a Game 163 if not a worse scenario–are still there, though these things have a way of working themselves out. It’d be nice if that way were a four game winning streak by the Redbirds but let’s take it a game at a time. John Gant goes tonight in the most important start of the year–unless he wins, then Friday will be the most important, and so on. Here’s to having four more very important games!