A few weeks ago, the St. Louis Cardinals weren’t in the playoff picture: we were talking about the Los Angeles Dodgers as the holder of the first Wild Card spot with a comfy advantage; and teams like the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds were fighting for the second berth.
Baseball is a beautiful sport, filled with surprises.
As of Monday afternoon, the surging Cardinals, winners of their last eight games, have a firm hold of the second Wild Card spot with a 79-69 record.
— Michelle Smallmon (@msmallmon) September 19, 2021
They won’t catch the Milwaukee Brewers in the division, but the Cards now have a three-game advantage over the Reds for the second Wild Card.
The Philadelphia Phillies and the San Diego Padres are each 3.5 games back.
It has been an impressive stretch of games in which St. Louis has scored 52 runs and conceded only 27.
Incredibly Valuable Wins
During their eight-game winning streak, St. Louis has defeated several direct rivals in the quest for the Wild Card: the Reds twice, the New York Mets three times, and the Padres, also three times.
Sweeping the Padres over the weekend was a stupendous display by a scorching-hot team that overcame one of the game’s brightest young stars in Fernando Tatis Jr.
In the past week, the Cardinals have been playing like true contenders and, if they manage to keep the Reds, Phillies, and Padres at bay, they will give the Dodgers a run for their money in the Wild Card game.
St. Louis’ strength as of late has been its offense.
Scoring 6.5 runs per game over an eight-game stretch is impressive, and proof that their combination of steady veterans with exciting youngsters is working.
Paul Goldschmidt (.290/.362/.495, 26 home runs, 12 stolen bases) and Nolan Arenado (.255/.310/.496, 32 homers) have been the two veterans leading the charge in the lineup, but the young guns, namely Tyler O’Neill (.282/.353/.536, 28 round-trippers, 13 steals) and Dylan Carlson (.258/.336/.417, 15 homers), have broken out and helped carry the offense, too.
The pitching, however, has been the most surprising part of the Cards’ season.
They have been without their best pitcher, Jack Flaherty, for most of the season, yet they have the seventh-lowest batting average against (.234) and have allowed the ninth-fewest runs (4.2 per game) in MLB.
When the deadline passed and most contenders were acquiring the Max Scherzers and Jose Berrios’ of the world, the Cardinals added two veterans with (seemingly) little left in the tank: Jon Lester and J.A. Happ.
Veterans Are Carrying The Team
The organization, however, turned them into useful pitchers: Lester has a decent 4.14 ERA in St. Louis after slumping to a 5.02 mark in Washington, while Happ is rocking a 4.33 ERA with the Cards after an ugly 6.77 in Minnesota.
Perhaps the most surprising development has been Adam Wainwright’s Cy Young-caliber season.
The 39-year-old right-hander, a contributor in the 2006 World Series title (yes, he has been pitching that long) has a 2.89 ERA in 196.1 innings.
Adam Wainwright in his last 11 starts:
9-1, 1.72 ERA, 78.2 IP
The 40 year old leads the entire MLB in innings pitched and wins in that span, and now sports a 2.88 ERA
— Gateway Grinders (@gatewaygrindrs) September 14, 2021
It’s the veterans who are the ones showing up day in and day out in the box score, helping return the Cardinals to the headlines with their performance.
It’s unclear how far this team is going to go, but the Cardinals are currently playing like true contenders.NEXT: Ranking The Cardinals' 3 Best Players in 2021