Suddenly, the St. Louis Cardinals are 50-42 and only two games back of the Milwaukee Brewers. After beating the Pittsburgh Pirates for the third straight night on Wednesday, the Cards had stormed back into the forefront of this National League Central Division race. The Pirates came in on the heels of the Cards and have been knocked back. The Reds are staying hot and have stepped over the Pirates. The Brewers have lost 8 of 9 and the wheels are starting to come off there. Who are these Cardinals? They are scoring runs, getting the pitching and winning big games. The identity of this team continues to shift. How baseball can change inside of a week is unlike any other sport.
The Cards had lost back to back games to the Miami Marlins. They crept into this Pittsburgh series wounded and moody. Momentum from a series win in San Francisco had been halted. Anger filled the walls at Busch. A scoreless game entered the bottom of the ninth and with one mighty stroke Matt Adams gave the Cards a victory.
Tuesday, the Cards battled back from a 4-2 deficit and Kolten Wong lit up the sky with Cardinal Red and fireworks. A blast from the young man’s bat gave the Cardinals another victory and the first back to back nights of walk off home runs for the club in three seasons.
Wednesday night, Lance Lynn took the mound and fired 6.2 innings, striking out 4 and walking only 2. He put guys on base, threw a lot of pitches but held a baseball team that has battered him in the past in check. Lynn is 10-5 and is the first Cardinal pitcher to win 10 game before the All Star Break in back to back seasons. This is a different pitcher and one who isn’t breaking down in July. Matt Adams had three more hits and is hitting .336 to go with 10 home runs and 38 RBi even though he missed 15 days to the DL. Matt Holliday had another huge RBI and Peter Bourjos made a catch that made all his loyalists smile for just a few minutes.
It wasn’t all good last night in Cardinal Nation. Allen Craig remained a hitless groundball to third base machine and there are no answers there. Craig has failed to build on Saturday’s home run, and while he has 42 RBI, the man hasn’t been collecting that many lately. He hit 7th in the lineup and still looked off at the plate. Is his foot hurt? Is his body not right? Is he getting solved by pitchers? Is he barely a mistake hitter these days? The answers will come on Craig and they may not be pretty. The reason I haven compared him to David Freese is last year Freese suddenly became an easy out and that was new for a solid hitter like Freese who literally carried this team to a World Series win 2 years before and had a great 2012 season. Craig is showing shades of lost in the desert Freese at the plate. Scary!
Still, the team wins besides its most clutch hitter from the past two seasons being unable to hit a ball out of the infield and their best player on the field exiting the game.
That’s right. All Star Game starting catcher Yadier Molina exits with a thumb injury and Tony Cruz slides in and picks up a hit immediately. Molina goes down and the game holds. That’s called depth. That can’t be bought in this league. You grow it, preserve it and hold onto it.
The Cardinals are suddenly lucky, timely and making the right plays. This is a testament to an old saying I learned growing up in this game. A rough game at the ballpark only means tomorrow takes on extra meaning. In this game, you turn the page every day. The best teams survive.
Trevor Rosenthal walks the leadoff man in the 9th and gets the next three. Rosenthal has been hard to watch but he also has 27 saves in 31 chances. At his worst, the man is still an effective pitcher who can blow 98 mph smoke past any bat.
The Cards’ 5-2 win tonight taught us many things but maybe this was the biggest statement. The 2014 season has been tumultuous and rough on the senses. It hasn’t been easy watching this team, but slowly, the Cards are coming together. Since Matt Adams came off the DL on June 13th, the Cardinals are 16-10.
While their offense has been bad for most of the season, the Cards starting pitching has been among the best and that comes with the fact that 3/5 of the original rotation is out. The Cards bullpen is solid and ranks right in the middle of the pack. The defense ranks among the league leaders in defensive runs saved. The Cards lead the Majors in shutouts.
2014 hasn’t been that bad and lately, things have been pretty good. Expectations are beginning to be met. The Cardinals are playing their best baseball of the season, having won 6 of their last 8 games. This level of play comes at a perfect time, as the Pirates came knocking and the Brewers are starting to fall.
Can the Cardinals keep this up? Does cardiac arrest just suddenly stop? NO. The Cards will always keep the pressure on their fans but as July gets older, they are slowly starting to put the pieces together.
This sudden turnaround in events makes one wonder. Do the Cards need to make any immediate moves or is this the team needed? Maybe the current parts just needed to wake up.
Thanks for reading and have a good day,