Cheap Seats

The Cardinals passed the first test. Now they have to beat some mediocre teams.

The Cardinals have plenty to celebrate after their road trip, but they must stay focused as the schedule gets easier.
The Cardinals have plenty to celebrate after their road trip, but they must stay focused as the schedule gets easier. AP

The St. Louis Cardinals did the hard part. They took four of six games against two playoff contenders — the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers — on the road.

Now we’ll see if they can keep up their momentum in games they should dominate.

The Cardinals will play their next 15 games against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals and Detroit Tigers. Those clubs seem to be thinking about next year. They all have records under .500. But that doesn’t mean they’re not going to be dangerous. Their rosters are full of players who are auditioning for a job next season, whether they’re youngsters trying to break through or veterans who are trying to find a role and a paycheck for one more year.

It’s important not to have a letdown or a bout of overconfidence. This is by far the easiest stretch of schedule the Birds have left. They need to make the most of it. Now is the time to make a run at the Chicago Cubs for the National League Central Division title — and to put some ground between the Cardinals and the teams that are chasing them for a wild card berth.

Sunday was an important test for the Redbirds, and they passed with flying colors. After an eighth inning blowup Saturday night torched the bullpen, it was interesting to see if the team could get its mojo back. And it did, indeed, pasting the Rockies with six runs in the first inning. Then, the Cardinals never let up.

How important was that response? It kept the Birds in the first wild card spot and prevented Colorado from tying them for the second. In short, St. Louis needed to come up with a show of strength to continue to control its playoff destiny. And it did just that.

Meanwhile, the team appears to be on the verge of getting a huge boost. Michael Wacha is getting great reviews in his rehab stint and Adam Wainwright, written off by many Cardinals watchers, is, too. There is going to be a ton of competition for a meaningful spot on the roster down the stretch. While it was uncertain just a few days ago what role Wainwright might be capable of filling, he certainly seems like a candidate for the starting rotation, as does Wacha. The bullpen, minus the Saturday game in Denver, has been much better lately. But imagine how strong it will be with John Gant and Austin Gomber coming in to pitch relief innings.

I completely wrote off Dominic Leone who has been out since the first quarter of the season with an injury. But, suddenly, he’s back, too. That’s in addition to the fact that team ace Carlos Martinez is already working relief innings after coming back from a second stint on the disabled list. This team just keeps getting stronger and stronger at the right time.