Today, the Cardinals play in their second straight postseason.
Now, if you were reading that sentence about 15 years ago, you’d probably be a bit confused. Just two in a row? What happened? Isn’t it the Cardinals’ birthright to be in October every year? If you were reading that sentence toward the end of the Mike Matheny era, well, you’d at least know that better days were coming and some sort of normalcy was reigning across the land. (On that note, I have some bad news about 2020.) Whatever your point of view, whatever your expectations or hopes, having the Cardinals back in the postseason, as crazy of a postseason setup as this is, is a good thing.
What’s remarkable is that, after a lengthy layoff for COVID-19 and the huge number of doubleheaders and consecutive games that had to be played because of it, St. Louis would have made the playoffs even if–as we originally thought would happen once the players said we give up, you set the schedule–the postseason field had been the same as most normal years. They’d be in the exact same place, playing in San Diego, just in a winner-take-all series instead of a best-of-three. This team found a way.
That way wasn’t by outslugging teams, obviously. The Cardinals were 22nd in batting average, 14th in on base percentage (a ranking that dropped like a stone in the second half of the season, since they were at the top for a bit), and 27th in slugging. The Cards had 51 homers. Two teams had over 100. The bats didn’t win them their postseason standing and they aren’t likely to win them any postseason series, either.
By contrast, the Padres were 3rd in slugging. They were also 10th in average and 8th in OBP. Their OPS was over 100 points better than St. Louis’s. It’s no wonder that most experts aren’t giving the Cardinals much of a chance. However, as most baseball fans know, you write off a Red October at your peril. The history books are littered with series that the Cardinals were not supposed to win. The ink is still fairly fresh on one, even. Nobody really gave the Cards a shot against Atlanta last year, if I remember correctly.
If this series is a set of 2-1, 3-2 games, the Cards have a very good chance of moving on. Kwang Hyun Kim surprisingly gets the nod in the first game (and I felt better about that until gloomcaster Zach Gifford started in) but he’s been the best pitcher by some measures and, honestly, the Padres haven’t seen him live, which has to be a little edge. Interestingly enough, the Padres were 12th in OPS against lefties, almost 40 points lower than their overall OPS. You look for whatever edge you can get.
I am a little surprised that Adam Wainwright is set to go in Game 2 instead of Jack Flaherty, but there are a couple of thoughts I have there. One, we love Adam, but there have been some clunkers for him in October. In fairness, the good games outnumber the bad ones and he had an ERA under 2.00 last year, but if Kim can win the first one, having Wainwright in the second spot means there’s some cushion if he stubs his toe. Having Flaherty as an option in a winner-take-all game is not a bad thing.
My other thought is total speculation. I wonder if either Wainwright has indicated to Mike Shildt that this is it or Shildt is hedging about Wainwright perhaps retiring, making sure he gets at least one more postseason moment. If the Cards were swept in the series and Waino never got a chance to start, it might be almost like Kerry Robinson pinch-hitting for Mark McGwire in the 2001 playoffs. If that’s the case, do you blame Shildt? (That’s an honest, not rhetorical, question.) I’d have to think that if the Cards lose in two games, they probably lose in three. If the Padres can beat Kim and Wainwright, having Flaherty go in between might only extend the season a bit. That’s assuming that Flaherty would get a win–we’ve seen enough struggles from him in 2020 to know that’s not a guarantee.
It feels like this is a series where it’s almost vital for the Cardinals to get an early lead. Even getting up 1-0, with this pitching staff, has the potential to be a winner. If the Cardinals get down a couple of runs early, though, seeing them rally and come back could happen, but it wouldn’t be expected. Especially with old friend Trevor Rosenthal sitting in the Padres’ bullpen, ready to shorten a game. With Alex Reyes, Giovanny Gallegos, Tyler Webb, Genesis Cabrera, and perhaps even Johan Oviedo (it’ll be interesting to see if they use him and how he’d do in short bursts), you like the club’s chances if they can get a lead through five. Getting that lead, of course, is the hard part.
Most likely, this is a brief excursion into the familiar land of the postseason before finally going home and getting a real chance to rest. This team has been through so much that it’s remarkable enough that they were able to keep their .500+ record streak going, much less be one of the teams with a chance at being champions. If there’s any team that should be prepared for the crucible of no off days and needing all of your roster, it’s the Cardinals. There are no double headers in October, so this is almost like a vacation for them!
Appreciate the extra baseball. If it doesn’t work out for them, let’s not get too worked up. After all, it’s 2020. The team survived to this point, which is an achievement. If they lose, let’s take a breath and then we can start to figure out 2021.
If they win, though, the rest of baseball is going to get a bit nervous.
Friday, September 18, Game 1 at Pittsburgh (6-5 win)
Hero: Tyler O’Neill. A two-run homer and a walk, leading to one of the few times the Cardinals got a lot of runs early.
Goat: Paul DeJong. 0-3 at the plate and two errors in the field.
Notes: Carlos Martinez gave up five runs but only one was earned as the Cardinals made four errors. That said, he walked four batters and still didn’t make it through the fourth….Ryan Helsley got the save but made it very interesting, walking two batters before getting the final outs…..Kolten Wong led off with a home run, which was a nice jolt for this team….Alex Reyes went 1.2 innings and picked up the win. So good to see him having success.
Friday, September 18, Game 2 “vs.” Pittsburgh (7-2 win)
Hero: Dylan Carlson. The Official Prospect of the Blog had a bit of a coming out party in the last week, starting with this game. Two hits, including a three-run homer in the sixth that helped cap the scoring.
Goat: Kolten Wong. 0-4 with two strikeouts and two left on.
Notes: Daniel Ponce de Leon found his footing as well at the end of the season. Here he went five innings, striking out nine and only allowing two runs. He looked in line for a tough-luck loss until the bats came through late….Paul DeJong drove in two runs, one with a sac fly, one with a hit….Andrew Miller pitched the sixth and struck out the side, showing he’s still got something in the tank and he could also be a weapon against the Padres (as could Ponce).
Saturday, September 19 at Pittsburgh (5-4 win)
Hero: Tyler O’Neill. The first hit of the game was a big one, a double that didn’t waste a bases-loaded situation while also keeping the inning viable.
Goat: Kwang Hyun Kim. His one bad start of the year, allowing four runs in just 5.1 innings.
Notes: The Cardinals were no-hit for six innings before the Pirates bullpen went and basically gave the game away….I mean, the Cardinals got three hits but scored five runs….I don’t usually talk about the other team here but Ke’Bryan Hayes looks like he’s going to be a nice player for Pittsburgh.
Sunday, September 20 at Pittsburgh (2-1 win)
Hero: Jack Flaherty. Six innings, one run, 11 strikeouts. Sure, it was the Pirates, but it was a really good thing to see anyway.
Goat: Tyler O’Neill. 0-4 with three strikeouts and two left on. TON really seemed to be boom or bust this year, didn’t he?
Notes: The Cardinals struck out 11 times against PIttsburgh’s starter, Joe Musgrove, as well on their way to 15 K….Paul Goldschmidt had two hits, the only Cardinal to muster that….the bullpen of Tyler Webb, John Gant, and Andrew Miller threw three perfect innings….Miller’s option vested here, which if he pitches the way he has of late, won’t be the worst thing for next year even as it complicates some of the finances….Yadier Molina‘s two-run homer was all the scoring, continuing to prove that Yadi knows clutch.
Monday, September 21 at Kansas City (4-1 loss)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. His solo homer was the only thing keeping the Cards from being shut out.
Goat: So many options, but I’ll say Paul DeJong. 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on.
Notes: Adam Wainwright can’t be brilliant all the time, though he wasn’t terrible here. He faltered in the sixth, allowing a two-out single to Salvador Perez, a fairly deliberate walk to Jorge Solar to load the bases, and then a two-RBI single by Maikel Franco. Then he walked Hunter Dozier before Tyler Webb came and bailed him out. Should Mike Shildt have gone to the bullpen sooner? Probably. There’s a lot to be said for Wainwright’s heart and his outcomes, but getting into the last week, you have to manage like your hair is on fire….two hits for Yadier Molina, the only multi-hit game out of the Cardinal hitters….Giovanny Gallegos looked shaky, but that was his first outing after being on the 10 day IL and, thankfully, it didn’t carry over.
Tuesday, September 22 at Kansas City (5-0 win)
Hero: Dylan Carlson. The big prospect had his first breakout game. Three hits, which included a double and a triple, plus two runs scored and two driven in. It was beautiful.
Goat: Yadier Molina. 0-4 with two strikeouts and four left on.
Notes: The Carlson game overshadowed an excellent outing from Austin Gomber, who went six scoreless innings as he took Dakota Hudson‘s place in the rotation….it might not have been high stress, but Jake Woodford struck out the side in the ninth, albeit after allowed two base runners via walk and hit….Kolten Wong also had a multi-hit game (2).
Wednesday, September 23 at Kansas City (12-3 loss)
Hero: Harrison Bader. Two hits and two RBI, which much more than most anyone else did.
Goat: Carlos Martinez. It says something about Martinez’s season that the longest start he had was the one where he gave up eight runs in the first three innings and basically had to save the bullpen by staying out there.
Notes: Getting beat by almost double digits to one of the worst teams in the American League didn’t really look to bode well for these Cardinals, but they made it the playoffs anyway….Seth Elledge had one of his rougher nights as well, giving up three runs in his inning….Kodi Whitley allowed a run in his first appearance since being shut down for COVID (and staying there as he dealt with some arm issues)….another two hit night for Yadier Molina who was pushing hard to get to 2,000.
Thursday, September 24 vs. Milwaukee (4-2 win)
Hero: Dylan Carlson. Drove in three of the four runs, two of them on a home run in the fourth that gave the Cards the lead that they would not relinquish.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. 0-3 with four left on, though he did draw a walk. Struck out twice, though.
Notes: Kwang Hyun Kim was back to his norms, allowing just one run over five….Alex Reyes was a little shaky, but otherwise the bullpen was again rock-solid. Overall, they went four innings, allowed one run on four hits and a walk, and struck out seven….10 hits feels like an offensive explosion for this team….Tommy Edman and Yadier Molina with multi-hit games, which for Yadi meant he made it to 2,000 in Busch Stadium wearing a home Cardinal uniform, which made the lack of fans being there even more acute.
Friday, September 25, Game 1 vs. Milwaukee (3-0 loss)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. His double kept this from being yet another game where the Cards didn’t have an extra-base hit.
Goat: Tommy Edman. 0-3 with two strikeouts batting second.
Notes: You’d like to see Jack Flaherty have a better line than three runs in five innings, but that’s much better than he did against the Brewers the time before and that is usually a good enough line to keep your team in the game. Not so much this team….good to see Ryan Helsley have a good outing. Two strikeouts in a scoreless frame.
Friday, September 25, Game 2 “at” Milwaukee (9-1 win)
Hero: Daniel Ponce de Leon. Ponce really turned a corner over his last few starts. In this one, he went six of the seven innings, allowed just one run, and struck out six.
Goat: Paul Goldschmidt. The bats got warm and the most reliable one went 0-3 with two strikeouts. Because 2020.
Notes: Even with Goldschmidt in the middle, the top of the lineup was productive. Kolten Wong, Tommy Edman, and cleanup batter Matt Carpenter all had two hits….Edman had a two-run homer in the fifth, part of a six run inning….Dylan Carlson had a double, two RBI, and ended the day with an average over .210 for the first time.
Saturday, September 26 vs. Milwaukee (3-0 loss)
Hero: Tyler Webb. There wasn’t much to cheer about in this one but Webb struck out the side in the ninth, giving up just a hit.
Goat: Adam Wainwright. I don’t really want to do this, but giving up back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning is a bit of a death knell for this team when they are having one of their days. And they were having one of their days.
Notes: I remember earlier in the year there was some big deal out of the Cardinals only getting two hits and not having an extra base hit for the first time in a long time. They’ve done that plenty during 2020 though….Kolten Wong singled to start the game, Yadier Molina singled to start the second, and that was it.
Sunday, September 27 vs. Milwaukee (5-2 win)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. Three hits, an RBI, and a run scored.
Goat: Tommy Edman. 0-4 with three strikeouts.
Notes: This will always be remembered as the “Harrison Bader hit Fredbird’s painting with a home run” game….Bader also had a triple in this one and has done enough offensively this year to at least make you do some thinking about how real it was this offseason….Austin Gomber went four and allowed just one run, then the bullpen locked it down.