A month ago, the St. Louis Cardinals were inventing ways to lose.
Now the Redbirds are suddenly the most resilient team in baseball, coming back time and time again against the Kansas City Royals to sweep the four-game interleague series between the clubs.
When the match-up began, the Royals were threatening the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central Division standings and the Birds were trying to stay relevant, under .500 and in third place in the National League Central. After the four-game tilt, the Royals are fading out of the Junior Circuit playoff picture and St. Louis is just one game out of first place in the NL Central.
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Kolten Wong went from a drag on the offense to its biggest catalyst. He suddenly seems to have figured out his tools. He’s hitting the ball to all fields instead of trying to pull the ball in effort to try to hit home runs. He’s got his batting average up to .303 and, by getting on more frequently, Wong has been able to use his speed to put pressure on opposing defenses.
After his public tilt with manager Mike Matheny, all-star catcher Yadier Molina seems to have found a laser-beam focus. He’s winning games with his bat by hitting a clutch grand slam against the Royals and with his glove by picking off a runner during an intentional walk to end a Kansas City rally. When he’s at his best, Molina is mentally at a level above the average MLB player. And he appears to be at his best.
Dexter Fowler, since coming off the disabled list, has added the spark he was expected to bring when he was signed as a free agent. Knocked out of his traditional leadoff spot by Matt Carpenter, Fowler has filled the void in the middle of the St. Louis order quite nicely. He was 2-for-4 with a grand slam Thursday night to turn a 3-0 deficit into an 8-6 win. It was a game the Cardinals easily might have mailed in earlier this season, satisfied to win three of four. But, suddenly, they have a killer instinct.
Speaking of Carpenter, he’s showing signs a of life these days. He didn’t have a grand slam like Fowler and Molina hit against the Royals. But his three-run shot in Kansas City was pretty good, too. Carpenter has shown a lot more bat control lately and looks like the hitter he was a few years back when he made a lot of contact and found gaps for doubles instead of swinging from the heels to try to hit home runs.
Trevor Rosenthal has his swagger back, regaining his old job as closer. He’s throwing strikes without fear and, when he does that, it puts tons of pressure on hitters who can’t get ahead in the count and then sit on pitches.
Tommy Pham keeps collecting hits, swiping bases and playing solid defense in the outfield and Paul DeJong has done wonders to solidify the defense at shortstop while continuing to produce at the plate. DeJong isn’t a typical third hitter because he strikes out a lot and walks infrequently. But, somehow, the Birds are making it work with him batting in a key spot in the order.
The starting pitching has been a bright spot all year. But Lance Lynn was particularly amazing Thursday night, taking a line drive off the head and reusing to come out of the game.
Frankly, I can’t believe the Cardinals allowed Lynn to stay in the game even though it was obvious he wanted to when he hopped right back up after being floored by the 105-MPH comebacker. Lynn casually put his cap back on and then turned his back to Matheny and the training staff as they rushed out to see if he was alright, the message being that he didn’t want to hear any nonsense about being relieved. I can’t believe the Cardinals don’t have room for such a tough competitor, especially when word leaked out the team tried to trade for starting pitcher Sonny Gray at the non-waiver trade deadline.
St. Louis apparently wasn’t keenly interested in trying to acquire slugging right fielder Jay Bruce through a post-deadline trade. The slugger, instead, went to the Cleveland Indians. He would have looked nice in the middle of the St. Louis order. Rumors indicated that St. Louis has been looking for bullpen help lately. But, with Rosenthal pitching better, John Brebbia and Zach Duke contributing and the depth they have in the relief corps, I’d still prefer an imposing hitter if St. Louis could make just one move.