Although they seemed completely over-matched in the Los Angeles series, the St. Louis Cardinals showed a lot of guts to regroup and take two of three games against the San Francisco Giants to bring home a respectable 5-5 record from their western trip.
I'm not into moral victories and excuses. Especially when the club made such a poor showing against the Dodgers, a team they'd likely face in the playoffs in they have any ambitions to make it back to the World Series in 2014. But after losing the last two games in LA -- badly -- it seemed that the Redbirds were on the brink of a free fall. By winning the last two games of the road trip, St. Louis was able to re-establish some momentum. And, thanks to the Toronto Blue Jays sweeping the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cardinals were able to shrink their NL Central deficit from 6.5 games to 5.
The key is to use their strong finish as a springboard to a strong homestand. St. Louis plays its next seven games at Busch Stadium, three against the Miami Marlins and then four against the resurgent Pittsburgh Pirates.
Miami is 14-22 on the road and they've lost six of their last 10 games. Pittsburgh, left for dead earlier in the year, has won seven of its last 10 games and is three games over .500 at 44-41. The Pirates have benefited from beating up on some of the weaker teams in the National League. They took three of four against the Pirates, three of four against the Cubs and two of three against the Diamondbacks. But they lost two of three to Milwaukee.
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The Cardinals offense opened up Thursday in San Francisco and there are some signs that it was more than just a lucky game.
Catcher Yadier Molina, who was in a month-long slump after a fast start, has shown signs of life the last few games and collected three hits Thursday. Matt Carpenter has hit .326 over the past two weeks -- including .526 in his last five games -- to finally get his batting average to the .290 point for the season. Oscar Taveras returned to the major leagues and, while his statistics haven't caught up with him yet, he's hitting the ball hard. Batting .188, Taveras was robbed of at least two hits by excellent defensive plays by the Giants.
On the down side, Allen Craig seems lost again after hitting .291 in May he fell to .255 in June and is hitting .220 over the past two weeks. Matt Adams has cooled off over the last week hitting .188 in 16 at-bats. He's faced some tough lefty pitching during that time so, hopefully, it's just a blip on the radar. Jon Jay, who was red hot for a while, is also on a downward slide, batting .214 over the past two weeks and .214 over his past four games. I'm not sure the criticism of the Peter Bourjos Lovers Society has bothered him or what the problem is. But Jay hits .264 at home this season compared to .315 on the road. Jay continues to punish lefty pitchers, batting .366 against them compared to .274 against righties.
Carlos Martinez has shown much more consistent stuff since his conversion from the bullpen to the starting rotation, especially in his slider which has become more consistent both in location and action. Martinez was excellent Thursday with five hits scattered across five innings in which he allowed one run. He struck out six. But, most importantly, he only walked one. Staying out of trouble of his own creation is a key to Martinez's success. The young hurler seemed as if he could have pitched at least one more inning. But manager Mike Matheny did the smart thing, pulling him from the game after he wrenched his neck on a diving play near first base. Baseball history books are littered with stories of pitchers who turned a minor injury into a career-ender by altering their mechanics to pitch through pain.