Just think where the Cardinals could be.
After last night’s win against the Reds, the Cardinals again sit 2 1/2 games out of the second wild card spot. (This may be the widest spread in the history of the wild card game, as the Dodgers are now 12 1/2 games better than the Reds, so this feels like a lot of chasing for not a lot of payoff, but I digress.) So what if the Cardinals had not had those two bad innings, as Mike Shildt referred to them, and swept the Pirates like they could have easily done? We’d be talking about a chance for the Cardinals to pass the Reds tonight.
That’s just the most direct result, though. What happens if, instead of relying on Johan Oviedo and others when Jack Flaherty went down at the beginning of June, the Cardinals had gotten even some middling veteran guy–oh, someone like J.A. Happ or Jon Lester, just to pick a couple of names–and plugged him into the rotation instead? Even just a couple of more wins back then has the team in control of their playoff life much more than they are right now.
No matter how this season finishes up, there are going to be a lot more “what ifs” in relation to this team than there are episodes on Disney+. It’s pretty clear that this team would have needed a lot to catch the Brewers, which we didn’t think at the beginning of the season, but the results might have been significantly different from treading around .500 all year with a move here or a tweak there.
That’s for October, though. Right now, the Cardinals still can make some noise, even if it’s tough to believe they actually will. We’ve been at this precipice before, feeling like they were going to make a move or make up some ground, only to see it go horribly wrong. Getting a good start out of Jon Lester, the best of his Cardinal career, and beating Luis Castillo makes you believe a little more about the rest of the series, at least about taking two of three, but that’s how they get you. The Cards have been masters of raising hopes only to dash them this season.
As I wrote in the series preview, I don’t want to get fooled again. If they somehow work their way to two or three games ahead of the Reds in the next couple of weeks, maybe then I’ll bite. Until then, I am going to do my best not to get my hopes up.
I’ll probably completely fail at this.
Friday (4-3 win at Pittsburgh)
Hero: Tommy Edman. The NL Player of the Week only had one hit in this one, but it was a two-run homer that, following a Harrison Bader RBI double, gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead. He also added a sacrifice fly later that turned out to be the winning margin.
Notes: Giovanny Gallegos did his darndest to make it two in a row in bullpen meltdowns. The first two batters he faced went double-single, cutting the lead to one and bringing up the go-ahead run with nobody out. After that, it was a lot of #bagphone as the umpires had three reviews in two plays. The results went in the Cardinals’ favor each time, as Yoshi Tsutsugo actually was out on a groundout then Colin Moran was thrown out at home by Harrison Bader with no interference by Yadier Molina. Any of those go the wrong way, we aren’t caring nearly as much about this Reds series….Paul Goldschmidt had three hits yet somehow no RBI and he didn’t score any runs….J.A. Happ continued being that solid arm in the rotation, going 5.2 innings and allowing two runs. He walked three, which is a little high, but struck out four….Alex Reyes allowed a hit but struck out two in the ninth, which unfortunately did not signal a return to normalcy for the young man.
Saturday (13-0 win at Pittsburgh)
Hero: Adam Wainwright. All hail the king. Just over 24 hours from his 40th birthday, Wainwright threw seven scoreless innings, allowing only three hits. If he hadn’t given up a double and a walk in the seventh, he probably would have finished the game even with the lopsided score. Plus he drove in a run with a base hit and walked. Wainwright won’t get to face Pittsburgh anymore, which is a shame (4-0, 0.39 ERA, 13 hits, two walks in 30 innings) but I think he’ll do all right regardless.
Goat: Tough game to find one, but I guess we’ll go with Harrison Bader, who went 0-4 but did walk twice. One of those was intentional and one of them probably was semi-intentional since Wainwright was hitting behind him. Bader also left five men on base.
Notes: Some big lines in this one. Tommy Edman went 4-6 with a double and two RBI. Paul Goldschmidt went 2-4 with a double and three RBI. Then there was Edmundo Sosa, who went 4-6 with three runs, two triples, and five RBI. It’s not exactly a mystery why we haven’t seen a lot of Paul DeJong lately. Sosa hit .364 in the month of August (with one game to go) and has an OPS of over 1.000. Plus he has 10 strikeouts in 64 plate appearances to DeJong’s 19 in 65 plate appearances over the same span.
Sunday (4-3 loss at Pittsburgh)
Hero: Tommy Edman. Two hits and both for extra bases (double, homer) plus two RBI and two runs scored, so he had a hand in all three runs.
Goat: Alex Reyes. After a string of outings where Reyes walked no one (though was still not overly effective), seeing him walk the leadoff batter made me wonder if he was going to get back to form, that he needed a little wildness to be good. That would be no, walking another batter and then serving up a pitch that Yoshi Tsutsugo just crushed. Things were trending away from Reyes closing for a while but this sealed the deal.
Notes: Kwang Hyun Kim gave up three hits in the fourth, leading to the first Pirates run. Those were the only hits the Pirates got besides Tsutsugo’s walkoff. Kim looked pretty good in his start, though, with only that one inning being any trouble and, being that he’d loaded the bases with nobody out and only allowed a sacrifice fly, it was a good example of working out of a jam….the bullpen was great before Reyes came in, allowing only one walk by T.J. McFarland in four innings….Dylan Carlson had two hits, which meant four of the six hits came from him and Edman….Paul Goldschmidt went 0-4. He’s had only four such days this month..
Monday (3-1 win at Cincinnati)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. His two-run homer in the first was all that Jon Lester needed. Seriously.
Goat: Yadier Molina. 0-4 with three strikeouts and three left on. Given his history against Luis Castillo, this might have been a good night for Andrew Knizner to start, but I don’t know if Lester has that sort of outing with the youngster behind the plate.
Notes: Nolan Arenado had two hits, which was good to see as he’s been in a bit of a funk lately….Tyler O’Neill also had two hits, but in the grand tradition of the Cardinals getting four hits out of your four and five hitters netted no runs and just one RBI….Lester made it into the seventh, which was remarkable, and the bullpen appreciated it…..T.J. McFarland did the heavy lifting (1.1 innings), Luis Garcia got the last out of the eighth, and unsurprisingly Giovanny Gallegos took the ninth. However, after going in three of the last four days, he might be off limits tonight and it’ll be interesting to see who would get a save situation if so….Tommy Edman was named player of the week before the game, then went 0-3 with a walk because that’s just the way things go.