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The Cardinals just made a huge statement against the Mets

Dexter Fowler and teammates Jedd Gyorko and Tommy Pham celebrate a walkoff hit that gave the Cardinals an early-season series win against the New York Mets.
Dexter Fowler and teammates Jedd Gyorko and Tommy Pham celebrate a walkoff hit that gave the Cardinals an early-season series win against the New York Mets. AP

There is still a lot of room for improvement. But the St. Louis Cardinals are suddenly playing a whole lot better and are showing a lot more fire lately.

Color me encouraged.

It was hard to get a good idea of how good the club was when it was playing against the hapless Cincinnati Reds. But the New York Mets are a much stronger foe and the Redbirds fought tooth and nail, splitting a pair of one-run games in the bookends. And they pummeled New York in the middle contest by a 9-1 score.

Why are the Cardinals playing better?

First, the pitching has been much better for the most part. Greg Holland was a disaster after getting called up from the minors too soon after being signed opening day. He seems to be getting up to speed quickly. While youngster Jordan Hicks hasn’t been racking up the strikeouts like some would hope, he’s only allowed one run as his responsibilities have been intensified. Bud Norris is pitching well. Ironically, the best starting pitcher the first two times through the rotation — Luke Weaver — has become the weakest the last two times. But Michael Wacha has been spectacular, Carlos Martinez was robbed of a pair of wins he pitched well enough to earn and Adam Wainwright was solid before his second trip to the DL in the first month of the season.

The defense is also much better lately. Kolten Wong has been incredible in the field and that seems to have given him something to hang his hat on. When his confidence starts to build, his all-around game gets much better. I think we all anticipated Marcell Ozuna to be a big addition in the batting order. But his outfield works has been a breath of fresh air. Although he’s been battling an arm problem, he throws to the right place, covers a good bit of ground and always hustles. Harrison Bader has made several nice plays in the outfield playing in a fill-in role.

Offensively, this team is full of haves and have nots. Tommy Pham is a one-man wrecking crew while Ozuna, Wong and Fowler have struggled to hit their weight. But, while Pham just keeps chugging along, the latter three have all begun to show signs of life. Wong got a couple of infield hits because of hustle and you could almost see the burden being lifted off his shoulders. Ozuna had a pair of big RBI hits that helped break open game two of the Mets series and Fowler won the finale with his extra innings hit.

Hopefully, the Cardinals can keep the momentum up as they start to play more games against the National League Central Division foes.

The Milwaukee Brewers are going to be a formidable enemy. They’re tied with St. Louis for first place while the Chicago Cubs have struggled in the early going to get in gear. Chicago will certainly be a factor in this race before all is said and done. The Cardinals need to take advantage of the powerful Cubs by playing up to their potential and building confidence.

I still wish the Cardinals had a legitimate ace who could lead this pitching staff. But, in the meantime, I’m enjoying watching the kids play. And I think the Birds have united as a team more than they have in recent seasons. That has them playing a more cohesive and intense brand of baseball that could potentially get them back into the playoff picture.