The Cardinals, much like Mr. Twain, would like to say that the reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. John Mozeliak would like to point out that not all that glitters is gold but diamonds are found in the dirt.
At the trading deadline, the Cardinals seemed pretty close to dead. Their playoff odds were around the 1% mark, they were playing blah baseball, and their only additions were a couple of seemingly washed up lefties. Meanwhile, other teams were loading up on stars (many from the Chicago Cubs) and looking like they were going to put some significant distance between themselves and their closest competitors, a category that didn’t even include the Cardinals.
Funny thing about that. Baseball loves to be unpredictable.
The Cardinals since the trade deadline have gone 10-5 thanks to their current six game winning streak. While they haven’t really made up ground in the division, still trailing Milwaukee by 10 games with 45 to play, the wild card has become much more attainable. Which goes to that second point.
While the Mets might be getting most of the attention for a buyer that hasn’t seen results (they are 4-12 since the deadline with three of those wins coming against the depleted Nationals), the Padres have seen their postseason lead shrink as well. Granted, they’ve also had to deal with a Fernando Tatis Jr. injury (which, given the two home runs he hit yesterday in his return, was a big issue), but San Diego finds themselves 7-8 since the break and it took that win on Sunday to avoid a four-game sweep by….the Diamondbacks? Is this right?
That slip on the postseason path is all it took for the Cardinals, who are playing possibly the best they’ve played all year, to make up some ground. They still have the Reds two games ahead of them, but St. Louis is 4 1/2 back with only that Cincinnati squad between them and the Padres. The odds are still long that postseason baseball is ahead for the Redbirds–Baseball Reference gives them a 4% chance, which is more than four times what it was at the beginning of the month but still real slim–but at least there’s something to watch for.
The reason that there’s hope is partly because of the schedule–it’s a good time to be playing teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City–but also because the Cardinals seem to have jelled a little bit. Each of the last three months, the Cardinals pitching staff has had a strikeout to walk ratio less than two. In August, it’s at 2.85, the highest it’s been all year. Teams have an OBP against the Cards less than .300 for the first time. Somehow, throwing strikes makes you successful. Who knew?
And those two trade deadline pieces, who came covered in dirt from their last location, have been cleaned and polished. Jon Lester had a couple of rough outings but even then there were reasons for optimism, reasons that paid off in his most recent start. J.A. Happ doesn’t even need a qualifier, having gone 2-0 with a 1.62 ERA in his three starts since putting on the birds on the bat. The deals weren’t exciting but they seem to have been what the team needed. It allowed them to move some struggling pitchers to Memphis and let steadier workhorses fill in the gap.
It helps that the offense is starting to click as well, but (and this is not to take anything away from the fact that they’ve scored four or more runs in 11 straight games) I have to wonder if that’s somewhat because they’ve seen lesser pitching. We’ll find out real quick this week, as the Brewers throw three of the top four National League ERAs at the Cardinals. If they are able to hit this week, I would say something is going very right.
This could just be a summer mirage, a bit of a surge that eventually peters out and nothing comes of it. We should enjoy it while it lasts and if it lasts a few more weeks, who knows what could come of it?
Thursday (7-6 win at Pittsburgh)
Hero: Lars Nootbaar. It’s not easy for a rookie to come off the bench, especially when those opportunities aren’t all that frequent. Thankfully we saw Nootbaar get a couple of starts this weekend, but on Friday Allen and I were talking about using him more. In this one, his two-run pinch-hit homer put the Cards in the lead and they didn’t relinquish it, though they tried.
Goat: Alex Reyes. Nobody really stands out here, but Reyes did give up a two-run homer in the ninth that, had it not been for the insurance run in the top of the inning, would have tied the game. However, the runner reached on an error by Tommy Edman and without that Reyes might have gotten through the inning unscathed. We’ve seen worse Goats is what I’m saying.
Notes: Wade LeBlanc gave up three runs in the first inning but left after the second with an elbow issue that put him on the injured list and will probably keep hi there for a while. It was definitely an uncharacteristic outing so hearing about the injury at least make it explicable…..Paul DeJong hit a two-run homer in the same inning as Nootbaar, cutting the deficit to 4-3….Paul Goldschmidt was the only batter to have more than one hit and his double in the ninth brought in Jose Rondon with a big extra tally….the Cardinals used a lot of the bullpen given LeBlanc’s early exit and for the most part it went well. Andrew Miller allowed a home run around striking out the side and Giovanny Gallegos allowed four hits in his 1.1 innings, but struck out three to limit the damage.
Friday (6-0 win at Kansas City)
Hero: Jack Flaherty. Jack was most definitely back. If Bauer had been this efficient and this dominating he’d have found the terrorists in 17 hours. Six innings and only two hits allowed with no walks and five strikeouts. At only 81 pitches, Jack probably could have started the seventh, but given it was his first outing off the injured list there was no reason to push him. If there were any concerns about Flaherty, which would have been fair, he answered them in spades.
Goat: Edmundo Sosa. The only bad game he had in Kansas City, Sosa went 0-4 with a strikeout and left two men on base.
Notes: Big power day as Nolan Arenado, Tyler O’Neill, and Lars Nootbaar (again, this time as a defensive replacement for Jose Rondon) all homered….Yadier Molina went two for four including an RBI double….Paul Goldschmidt also had two hits, plus threw in a walk for good measure…..the bullpen did a fine job, though why Mike Shildt used Giovanny Gallegos a night after he threw 30 pitches when the Cards were up 5-0 (and yes there were two runners on but still, let the man keep his arm) I don’t really know.
Saturday (9-4 win at Kansas City)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. A good weekend continued for the third baseman, as he had two hits (including another homer) and four RBI.
Goat: Tyler O’Neill. TON seems to be up one day and down the next lately. 0-4 with three strikeouts.
Notes: Jon Lester got his first Cardinal win, allowing a run in 5.2 innings. I think we’d take that every time out….Andrew Miller scuffled, allowing three runs on four hits. While I think Justin Miller has a better chance of being released, there will need to be room made for Miles Mikolas here soon….big day for Edmundo Sosa, who had three hits (four on the day of the game, but one later was changed to an error), scored two runs, and made a number of stellar plays in the field….two hits for Tommy Edman leading off (yes, I guess there was more method to the madness than I gave Mike Shildt credit for) and three RBI by Paul Goldschmidt.
Sunday (7-2 win at Kansas City)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. RBI single in the first, two run homer in the second.
Goat: Andrew Knizner. I know Kiz needs to play and I want him to get at least a game in each series, but I also want to see him produce. 0-4 in this one and left five on base.
Notes: Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt, and Arenado had two hits each, meaning the top of the order was quite good. Most all of that came against Kris Bubic in the first two innings, but if you get up 7-0, adding on is more optional than required….two hits also for Edmundo Sosa, who may get a chance to let this hot streak die out at the expense of Paul DeJong….J.A. Happ continued his Cardinal run by allowing no runs in 5.2 innings….the only runs came off of Justin Miller, who allowed a two-run homer in his inning of work.