The question at the beginning of the 2015 season was which would be stronger, the St. Louis Cardinals’ veteran presence or the Chicago Cubs’ influx of youthful talent.
So far this season, chalk up a win for the old guys.
The Redbirds are 8-2 in head-to-head competition with the Wee Bears and hold a 9 1/2-game lead over Chicago in the National League Central Division standings.
All of this while the Cardinals have struggled terribly to score runs this season, especially lately, with both third-place hitter Matt Holliday and clean-up man Matt Adams on the disabled list.
Still, St. Louis finds a way to keep winning games. Their 54-28 record is the best in Major League Baseball going away.
The Monday night game was a study in perseverance and veteran guile.
The Cardinals found themselves hit-less in the top of the seventh with Cubs high-dollar ace Jon Lester cruising. It seemed like only a matter of time until one of the Cubs sluggers, perhaps wonder rookie Kris Bryant, would jack a homer over the brick wall at Wrigley Field and break the back of the Birds.
Instead, Bryant would play an entirely different role in the outcome.
St. Louis shortstop Jhonny Peralta hit a ball down the line that Bryant had to play on the backhand at third base. The ball kicked off Bryant’s glove for the first Cardinals hit of the game. St. Louis right fielder Jason Heyward immediately picked on Bryant a second time. He hit what seemed to be a perfect double play ball -- and a chance to erase the rookie’s previous mistake. But Bryant threw wildly toward second base. Instead of ending the inning, St. Louis had runners at second and third with one out.
Yadier Molina hit a sacrifice fly to right to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. Then second baseman Kolten Wong, who saved the game earlier in the day by making a diving play to start a double play with one out and runners at the corners, singled in a second run.
The Cardinals had precious few opportunities. But somehow they managed to carve out a lead.
After a lengthy rain delay, the St. Louis bats seemed to loosen up.
In the top of the ninth, the Birds used a walk followed by four hits to plate four insurance runs to break the game open.
Mark Reynolds and Randal Grichuk, both deep in weighty slumps, made big contributions.
Reynolds hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded to plate the first run. That’s a big deal for a guy who strikes out so frequently. Grichuk, with two outs, doubled to left to drive in two more runs.
While the Cardinals don’t score a lot, they sure have a knack for pushing across runs when they count the most.
Hopefully the late-inning outburst is a sign that the bats are coming out of their slumber.
The Cardinals still have six games left in their road trip against the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates. And today will be no easy task with St. Louis having to reach into the minor leagues for starters Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney to start the games of a double header. (Remember way back at the beginning of the season when the Cubs called a game a rain out when it never actually rained? Well, this is what we get out of that deal. But at least their over-due stadium renovations are now complete, allowing them to sell thousands more tickets. So that’s good, right?)
Lyons performed well in his past couple emergency starts. But there is reason to believe the Cardinals will need to score a lot more runs if they hope to win Tuesday.