It’s amazing how quickly things can change in baseball.
At the trade deadline, less than two weeks ago, the St. Louis Cardinals front office was so unimpressed with the current squad that it didn’t find it worth bolstering for a stretch run. It was all over except for the crying, apparently.
On Sunday morning, however, Redbird rooters awoke to find their favorite team tied for first place in the National League Central Division.
Suddenly, the Cardinals turned the page and baseball is fun again.
While this team didn’t appear that it was built very well for the regular season, I’m intrigued about how it might be set up for a playoff run.
A lot of folks have assumed that getting into the post season would be pointless because the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Washington Nationals have looked so tough throughout the season. Well, first I would like to remind people that the 2004 and 2005 Cardinals were far superior during the regular season than the 2006 edition of the club. Neither of the former two teams brought home the big trophy. But the latter did. After that, I’d point out that a startling number of wild card teams, including the 2011 World Series winning Cardinals, have won the championship since the current playoff format was put in place several years ago.
So, I’d be happy if St. Louis could make it to the second season to let the chips fall where they may.
But there is reason to believe the Birds could fare well in October — if they qualify. For starters, thanks to the Chicago Cubs under-performing, St. Louis has a much better chance to win its division than it does to qualify as a wild card team. The wild cards, most likely the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, will fight each other in a play-in game with the winner facing the runaway Dodgers. The winner of the National League Central Division would play the Washington Nationals, a team that has a huge lead in the NL East — but a team that saw its superstar outfielder Bryce Harper join fellow stars Adam Eaton and Stephen Strasburg on the disabled list over the weekend.
Playing a team depleted by injury is one plus. Avoiding the one and done wildcard game is another. But the biggest advantage would be the fact that the Cardinals could shorten their roster in a short series. They’d only need four starting pitchers at the most. That means the odd man out would likely be pushed to the bullpen, forcing out the weak link there. St. Louis has the deepest pitching in the National League. That could be the thing that helps them make it to the National League Championship Series.
If they make it to the NLCS, I’d take my chances. Baseball history is littered with times the Birds were underdogs to the Dodgers or Mets only to send their big city foes home as they scratched their heads about what just happened.
There is still a long way to go just to make the playoffs. But don’t buy it when people tell you that this team doesn’t have what it takes to go all the way.
It’s true, there are some big differences between the 2006 team and the 2017 team. There is no Tony La Russa on the bench, no Chris Carpenter in the bullpen and Adam Wainwright is hanging onto the major leagues by his fingernails as opposed to starting a promising career. But it seems that every team in baseball has its share of flaws this year.
The Cardinals showed over their eight-game winning streak how they’re capable of playing. The only team that can beat them day in and day out is themselves.