There seems to be a lot of fretting going on in St. Louis Cardinals fandom about the fact that the Redbirds swept the San Francisco Giants — but couldn’t open up their lead over the Colorado Rockies, who put a beating on the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay.
First, let’s remember that St. Louis doesn’t need to play better than the Rockies. Having an identical record the rest of the way works just fine. If the Cardinals win — but Colorado wins, too — it doesn’t really matter. The calendar is in the favor of Cardinals fans as the Rockies are running out of chances to catch up. If the Birds take care of business, winning two of three against the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs in their final two series, the Rockies need to win their game in-hand AND win five of their other six games just to tie.
I like those odds a lot. Especially when you consider that the Rockies are as close to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West race as they are to the Cardinals for the a wild card berth. What does that mean? That means if the Rockies got red-hot they might win their division and the Cardinals could still have a chance to win over the Dodgers. Or the Cardinals could beat up on the Brewers and leapfrog Milwaukee to secure their place in the standings. With two wild card spots available, the Birds have the second-best record. Chances are pretty good, on paper.
In the past, I have literally lost sleep because of the precarious position the Cardinals were in as they tried to get into the playoffs. Maybe I feel better about it this year because of their position. But I have to admit that a big factor is that the idea the St. Louis even has a chance to get into the postseason at this point seems like a gift.
It was just a couple of months ago that the Birds were coming apart at the seams, struggling to stay over the .500 mark with a team that didn’t seem to do anything well. Pitching, base running, fielding, hitting, it was all terrible. Their manager and their hitting coach were fired, the bullpen was completely overhauled in the middle of the season. It was all over but the crying, and then the Cardinals somehow found a way to find new life and surge back into the playoff picture.
Another reassuring thing is that Cardinals slugging lead-off hitter Matt Carpenter seems to be breaking out of his mini slump. Carpenter hit his 36th home run over the weekend after snoozing most of the way through September. Baseball is cyclical and I’m glad, if the Birds were going to have a slump, that they had it early enough to have a chance to get over it.
So, let’s just enjoy the moment and hope for the best.
Wainwright deserves spot in rotation
Another thing Cardinals fans have fretted about a lot lately is the present and future of longtime ace Adam Wainwright. Some people were concerned that the aging veteran (it still feels funny to say that about a guy who is significantly younger than me) was getting a chance to play because of nostalgic reasons — not merit.
After a first game in which he battled but seemed to hit the wall early, he’s had a couple of really nice outings the past two times he started. Wainwright pitched six shutout innings against the Dodgers, allowing two hits and striking out six while walking three. Then he pitched a solid game against the Giants, allowing four runs over 6 1/3 innings — but one of the runs at least was the product of a terrible call. He got a ton of the plate on a pitch that should have been called strike three to end an innings. Instead, the umpire missed it and the batter hit a flair over the infield to plate a run. I can’t recall the last time I saw Wainwright so hot with an ump.
While I don’t think he’s a threat to reel off a streak of complete games, Wainwright has avoided the early elbow fatigue that caused him to be unable to execute his pitches — especially his signature curve ball — deep into games the last couple of years when his joint flared up.
If you ask me, I think Wainwright has to be in the starting rotation if St. Louis makes it deep into October baseball. It makes a lot more sense to have a veteran who has been a key part of one world series as a closer and a contributor in another (2013) as a starter in a pressure-packed playoff game than it makes to have a guy like John Gant starting it. I see a rotation of Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber and Wainwright in October.