A dash of the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals and a heavy dose of the 2011 edition of the team are what keep my hopes up for this year’s team as this season heads down the stretch.
The 2006 team proved that you can win the World Series without the best starting pitching, although that definitely seems like the harder route to go. While the Cardinals have a lot of guys who they can throw out there on any given night, they don’t really have anyone close to the definition of the ace of their staff. The 2006 team had Chris Carpenter. But after that it was guys like Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver and Anthony Reyes who rounded out the rotation.
The current Cardinals still have Adam Wainwright, a rookie reliever in 2006 and a Cy Young Award contender in his prime. But he’s not the same guy with a couple of million miles on his pitching arm and surgical repairs to his arm and his Achilles tendon. Right now, if the Cardinals were going to count on a pitcher to put them on his shoulders and carry the club deep into the post season, the best candidate is Jack Flaherty who was masterful Tuesday in Kansas City. It’s tough to rely on a young guy to do so much, but the Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t shy about counting on their young starters.
Like the 2011 team, the Cardinals have under-performed for most of the season. Hopefully the 2019 team can follow suit and get red-hot during the last quarter of the year and ride the wave all the way to the end of the line. Similarly to the 2011 team, St. Louis couldn’t stay healthy for the first three quarters of the season and, finally, the whole team got on the field at the same time and came together at the end.
The current Cardinals have seen Yadier Molina, Marcel Ozuna, Tyler O’Neill, Jose Martinez, Brett Cecil, Matt Carpenter and Jordan Hicks have all miss significant time because of injuries. Unlike the last St. Louis World Series winners, the current team won’t get Hicks back and it didn’t get a big boost of talent at the trade deadline. Still, the Cardinals have most of their big guns back for the first time in a long time and, with a favorable upcoming schedule, they have a chance to concentrate their fire power on opponents and win some games.
If there is a downside to getting some of the injured players back, it’s that the players who filled in — and did a better job than the starters — will get less playing time. Yario Munoz, Tommy Edman and Lane Thomas have been big contributors at times as has backup backstop Matt Wieters. It’s a gamble to pull back players who have been hot in exchange for rusty guys like Carpenter who was hitting .215 when he was put on the Injured list. The thing is, while the floor for the veteran players might be lower than the guys who have been playing, their ceiling is higher, too.
It doesn’t matter what the names are on the back of the jerseys at this point. This is the time to make a move. From now until Sept. 1, St. Louis has eight games against the Cincinnati Reds, four games against the Colorado Rockies and one against the Kansas City Royals — all teams that are significantly under the .500 mark for the season. The other six games are against the Milwaukee Brewers, a team the Cardinals need to beat if they want to have a serious chance of winning the NL Central or at least win a wild card berth.
So let’s forget about the talk that there are a lot of games left to play and it’s a long season, blah, blah, blah. With a very tough last two weeks of the season on tap, the Cardinals need to create some daylight between themselves, the Cubs and the Brewers and take the heat off the last few games of the year.