The St. Louis Cardinals over the last week have come up with as many weird ways to win ballgames as they came up with odd ways to lose them over the previous week and a half.
But I think most Redbird rooters will take it.
St. Louis had to count on a home run and a double from starting pitcher Adam Wainwright to provide the margin of victory Friday night against the Milwaukee Brewers and starter Mike Leake had a key RBI double to help the Redbirds to their win Sunday. So much for the argument that the National League needs the designated hitter.
Leake’s offensive outburst almost wasn’t enough as shaky reliever Seung-Hwan Oh brought the winning run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth – after the Cardinals started the last frame with a 6-2 lead – and Stephen Piscotty was able to haul down a long fly ball that was nearly a game-losing home run about halfway between the grass and the wall on the right field warning track.
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So, it wasn’t pretty. But wins are wins and the Birds were able to win six of the seven games on their road trip to pull within one game of .500 (9-10) after an atrocious 3-9 start. That’s good enough for 1.5 games out of first place in the National League Central Division. While it would be better to be in first, at this point, I’m just glad the team can still see the tail lights of the clubs in front of it.
Who is responsible for the turn around?
▪ Outfielder Randal Grichuk got off to a slow start and was looking up at .200 a few days ago. But, over the past week, he’s hitting .333 with three doubles and he’s turned in some super defense both in his usual position, left field and filling in for Dexter Fowler in center.
▪ Kolten Wong griped about possibly being a platoon player before spring training ended. But, with the way he was playing at the start of the season, it appeared he might be on the bench more often than not. He’s had a few more chances lately and seems to be heating up. Wong drove a ball to the centerfield wall Sunday to break open an important rally and also stole a base in the game. We’ll look past the fact that he was also picked off in the contest in hopes that he can put the setback behind him and focus on his positive accomplishments.
▪ The starting pitchers have been a hit or miss proposition in the early going. But, besides a mediocre outing by Carlos Martinez, the rotation has looked relatively solid this week. Wainwright tied Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean in career wins as a Cardinal with a nine strike out performance in Milwaukee. He only made it through five innings because his pitch count was elevated. But Wainwright had better action on his pitches than he has enjoyed for a while. Lynn and Leake looked very solid in their outings. I wish the Birds would take up Lynn on an offer to sign an extension before he gets too expensive.
▪ Relievers Matt Bowman, Brett Cecil and Trevor Rosenthal have been pitching very well lately to stabilize the bullpen. Rosenthal looks as if he wants his job as closer back. He’s been throwing 101 mph fastballs again and, besides one bad outing in his second appearance of the season, he looks like he deserves to be finishing games. Cecil seems to have his feet under him after some St. Louis fans were ready to send him back to Toronto and Bowman continues to be a steal. The righthander who the Cardinals acquired last year through the Rule 5 draft has been flawless in 2017.
▪ General manager John Mozeliak gets some credit, too, for putting a stop to the experimentation of using Matt Adams in the outfield. He could hit two home runs a game but still do more damage with his glove than he could make up with his bat.
I’m glad to see the Redbirds start to come together a little bit. But there is still plenty of room for improvement from the offense. Of the regular contributors, only Jedd Gyorko (.310) and Yadier Molina (.255) are hitting over .250 so far this season. Wong and Fowler are hitting below .200, Matt Adams is hitting .154 and Jhonny Peralta was hitting .120 when he was exiled to the disabled list because of a cold.
While the team looked impossibly bad a week ago, the Cardinals are finding a way to get the job done. But they look like they still have plenty of room for improvement.