If there is a blessing behind all of the trial and tribulations the St. Louis Cardinals have faced this season, it’s the fact that everyone on the bench is contributing as the team comes down the stretch.
Not only have the substitutes done an admirable job, they’ve forced the guys in the front office to have to make some tough decisions as players are getting healthy and coming back to the active roster.
It sure seemed that Matt Carpenter was dead in the water, struggling even to hit in the minors after an all-to-frequent injury. But, pushed down in the batting order after a stay on the bench, he seemed to finally be playing without pressure Sunday when he broke out with a three-hit day and a walk against the Colorado Rockies, helping the Cardinals complete a four-game sweep. The momentum propelled the team from second place in the National League Central to a two-and-a-half game lead with both the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers losing on Sunday.
Another guy who fought his way into the picture is pitcher Ryan Helsley who did a great job picking up the slack Sunday when veteran starter Michael Wacha could’t complete five innings even after being staked to a huge lead. Helsley earned the win with two and two-thirds innings of relief that included four strikeouts, one walk, one hit and one run. It was a great effort from the rookie when the regulars in the St. Louis bullpen needed a day or two of rest.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that Kolten Wong finally got his act together after the All-Star Break and started hitting like we hoped he would when he was a highly-touted prospect, Tommy Edman continues to impress, collecting three hits and a walk on Sunday to help set the table at the top of the lineup. Wong is out for a few games after fouling a ball off his foot, but St. Louis didn’t miss a beat. That’s a big deal at this time of year because there are no games to give away — and players are dinged up so it’s a luxury for them to be able to afford to sit out to get healthy.
Another really key factor for the Cardinals lately is that young hurlers Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson have blossomed into the starters St. Louis so desperately has needed. As I have mentioned previously, it’s not surprising when guys who are fresh on the scene in the big leagues need some time to get their feet beneath them. I still think the Cardinals could use some veteran help to take the heat off the kids in big games, and it’s a bummer that Alex Reyes and Austin Gomber have had injury problems this year, preventing the Cardinals from reaching the full potential of the starting rotation. But Flaherty and Hudson could be the co-aces this team so desperately needs in another year or two.
Goodbye horrible Players Weekend uniforms
Another nice thing about Sunday was it was the last day we’ll have to look at those horrific black and white uniforms the players were forced to wear, allegedly in honor of little league baseball. I don’t remember anything quite like that when I was a youth league ballplayer. If they really wanted to create an authentic experience of what it was like playing baseball as a kid they should have sent the players out there in pants that were older than them, a cheap T-shirt with a sponsor’s name on it, iron on numbers and their older brother’s mostly worn out baseball shoes. Or, better yet, leave the uniforms alone and stop coming up with every excuse imaginable to put another model of replica jersey in the gift store for sale.
It used to mean something to wear a major league uniform. There were only so many teams and they had one home outfit and one road getup. These days, some teams have six or eight standard uniforms and then there is something different for Mother’s Day weekend, Fathers Dad Weekend, Independence Day Weekend, Military Appreciation Weekend and this little league deal. You can’t even know for sure who you’re watching anymore.
It grinds my gears that the Cardinals stopped wearing the snazzy navy road caps that they’ve sported since the 1930s unless they’re playing other teams with red caps like Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Washington. But now these alternates — not to mention the hideous blue pajamas St. Louis has worn to a 1-10 record -- take up the handful of games when they would have otherwise worn the traditional unis. Enough already.