It was great that the St. Louis Cardinals were able to pull out a last-inning win in the finale of their series against the Chicago Cubs.
But they never should have been in the situation where they were desperate for a series split.
I blame myself.
After I lauded the Redbirds for their come-from-behind win in game one of the four-game set, specifically for their veteran play which I pointed out separated them from the green Cubs kids over the first half of the season, they proceeded to play like they’d never seen the game before.
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They blew leads in all three games with some truly awful relief pitching, base running and hitting. While Jhonny Peralta’s dramatic home run saved the Cardinals from allowing the Cubs to cut into their National League Central division lead, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been able to do substantial damage in the standings as the Birds floundered against the likes of the Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox over the past couple of weeks.
Now the Redbirds head to Pittsburgh where they’ll have to take on the red-hot Pirates on enemy turf.
Nevermind that St. Louis is about a .500 road team. The Cardinals can’t make excuses. They need to resume playing their best baseball if they aren’t going to blow a substantial division lead before the All-Star Break.
While there is a lot of season to go, this is certainly a key moment on the schedule.
Win three of four and the Cardinals cool off Pittsburgh before the break, re-establishing their substantial lead. Lose three of four and the Pirates are emboldened and St. Louis virtually assures itself that the second half of the season is going to be a dog fight.
At least a split will take away a valuable chance for the Pirates to draw closer.
I have no idea what to expect. At times, the Cardinals play so fundamentally well that they’re very tough to beat without perfect play from the opposition. But then, as if a switch is flipped, they lose games by playing like a bunch of bush leaguers, handing over runs with defensive miscues and fumbling away scoring opportunities by making mistakes on the bases or failing to move runners up.
On the bright side, the Birds will get some of their veteran presence back when they soon add slugger Matt Holliday back to the active roster.
While one player can’t solve all of a team’s offensive woes, cumulatively, they can’t help but score more with one of the best offensive players of the last decade back in the lineup.
Here’s to hoping the Cardinals can make a good showing this week to set the tone for the rest of the season.
Then all we’ll have to do is sit back and wait for the eminent return of Jordan Walden, Matt Belisle and, hopefully, Jaime Garcia.