I never thought I’d be happy to see the St. Louis Cardinals at .500 as we near the end of the first month of baseball.
But a double-header sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays that included a miraculous come from behind victory in the first game and a rush out to a big lead and then hold on for dear life final competed the Redbirds’ effort to climb out of a 3-9 start to the 2017 season. St. Louis is 8-2 over its past 10 games to even its record at 11-11
What’s the difference between the sad sack first half of the month Cardinals and the comeback kids of the second half?
First, the pitching has been much better. The starters haven’t been dominating. But they’ve allowed their team to stay in games and have a chance to win on a pretty consistent basis. Second, the bats of several key players have suddenly awoken.
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Randal Grichuk, who had a pair of key hits in the first game of the double dip including a two-out, game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, was trying to raise his average to the .200 range a week ago. He’s now hitting a respectable .250.
Dexter Fowler was off to an ice-cold start. He raised his average 40 points Thursday from .184 to .224 by collecting five hits and, suddenly, he appears to be taking much better swings. Fowler also walked twice and appeared to be the instigator the Cardinals signed him to be.
Matt Adams was 3-for-3 with a pair of RBIs in the second game of the double-header to raise his average to .242.
The Cardinals showed a lot more ability to manufacture runs and to rack up extra-base hits in spring training. Hopefully, with a revamped offence that subtracted Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss’ power in exchange for Fowler’s ability to get on bases and use his speed to score, it just took a while for the team to gel and things will improve from here on out.
St. Louis failed to make the playoffs last season because of a rare losing record at Busch Stadium. This year, the birds are 7-5 at home through their first dozen games.
Regardless of their record, the Cardinals desperately need to find a way to improve their defense, which is giving opposing teams several extra outs a game with which to try to score, and their baserunning, which is snuffing out rallies before they get started.
During the first game of the series Tuesday, the Birds made four defensive miscues that combined to cause them to lose the game.
In the first game of the double header Thursday, the Cardinals saw Kolten Wong get picked off – again – when the team needed baserunners to try to get back in the contest. Later, Grichuk drove in a run with a single but made the last out of the inning on the same play, trying to stretch his safety into a double.
I love aggressive baserunning. But you have to pick your spots. When you’re running out of outs and you’re down multiple runs, it doesn’t pay to take reckless chances. Smart players know when its appropriate to take risks and when they’re likely to be successful. Right now, it seems like several Redbirds players are just guessing.
While the Birds have accomplished a lot, they need to continue to refine their game and take advantage of the struggling Cincinnati Reds who are 2-8 over their last 10 and a half-game out of last place in the National League Central Division at 10-12.
The first half of this series, from the start of the opener through the first six innings of game two, made it seem like the Cardinals’ road hot streak was a case of good luck. But the club finally got into gear late in the middle game of the series and kept the heat on through the finale. It would be nice if they could ride this streak for a while.