About the only hope for the St. Louis Cardinals to salvage the 2018 season two weeks ago was to go on a run that seemed beyond the club’s potential.
It was a pretty clear that the front office lost faith in the team’s ability to win this year when it did more selling than buying at the trade deadline. When it pulled the plug on manager Mike Matheny, the Cardinals couldn’t even commit to naming a permanent field manager. Instead, Mike Shildt was given the job through the end of the season on a trial basis. That’s not exactly the move one would expect from a team that was going all in.
But waddya know? The Redbirds, who couldn’t win a series to save former manager Mike Matheny’s career, had to go on the road to try to salvage a wasted season. When they took on the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium at the end of July, the Birds were on life support. But they won two of three at home before taking to the road to win three of four against a then-red hot Colorado Rockies and two against a team they trailed in the standings, the Pittsburgh Pirates. St. Louis kept things rolling by winning two of three against the Miami Marlins. Then they swept the Royals in Kansas City. Only one game over the break-even mark when Matheny was relieved, the Birds are now a shocking eight games over .500 for the season and Shildt’s record stands at 16-9.
While St. Louis could still see the taillights of the teams ahead of it in the playoff chase, there were so many teams in the way, it didn’t seem that there was any way the Cardinals could catch and pass them all. But after their long-awaited hot streak, the Redbirds are suddenly ahead of the Pirates and tied with the Rockies. They’re half-a-game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers because they’ve played one game fewer than their opponent. If they win that game, they have a clear path toward the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies 2.5 games ahead.
Suddenly, making the playoffs is possible.
So, will the Cardinals be sorry they didn’t do more to try to bolster this team? Or is it the youth movement that has propelled them back into relevance? Can St. Louis still make an August move or two to try to get a push toward the postseason?
I don’t know what they would be willing to give up for him. But the Toronto Blue Jays, who have have refused to entertain the Birds overtures for slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson, now have no reason left to keep him. Donaldson is nearing a return from the disabled list after managing to be healthy for only a few games during the 2018 season — and he’ll be a free agent when it’s over.
With the bullpen largely — and successfully overhauled — and youngsters admirably filling in for injured veteran starting pitchers Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha, with Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill outplaying Tommy Pham and injured veteran Dexter Fowler, the biggest need is a big bat to help the inconsistent offense put up more runs. It doesn’t hurt that Donaldson would greatly improve the infield defense and give the team a source of veteran leadership.
If I was in charge of the St. Louis front office, I’m not giving up a top prospect for seven weeks of the services of a guy who’s missed three-quarters of the season. But if Toronto would part with Donaldson for a middling prospect, I’d be a buyer.
The Cardinals are still facing an uphill battle to make a run in the playoffs. They’re five games out of the Central Division with time running out. So, if they make the postseason, it’s likely going to be a one-shot gamble as a participant in the wild card game. I wouldn’t mortgage the farm for that sort of chance. But, the Birds are suddenly a lot more in play now than they were at this point of the 2011 season. And they walked away from that one with a World Series trophy.