A month ago things were hopeless.
Two weeks ago it seemed like maybe the St. Louis Cardinals had a run in them.
But, over the past few days, it sure seems like the Cardinals grabbed the NL Central by the throat and made it theirs to win or lose.
First the Cardinals had to go to Milwaukee and play the Brewers. Then they had they had four games in two days against a Cincinnati Reds team on the rise. After that, they had to play a still-dangerous San Francisco Giants team including a holiday day game the day after a double header and a match-up against Madison Bumgarner.
And when that was all done, the Cardinals had to go on the road to play the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It was a trying stretch of games that could have broken the Birds’ season. Instead, it seems to have made it.
Even when they stumbled Friday night and blew a seemingly solid lead in the late innings, the Cardinals bounced back and took it to the Pirates on Saturday with the bats and then suffocated them with tight pitching on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Brewers beat down the Chicago Cubs in Milwaukee and, suddenly, the Cardinals have a 4 1/2 game lead and are firmly in the Central Division driver’s seat.
Make no mistake, a lot can happen with 19 games left to play. But their fate is securely in their own hands.
If St. Louis takes care of business in home and away series with the Cubs the last few days of the season, it would be almost impossible for Chicago to catch them to win the division. Meanwhile, while the Cardinals weathered the storm of injuries that shelved Marcell Ozuna and Yadier Molina for long stretched and ruined the seasons of Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks, the Cubs are starting to see things even up. Pitcher Yu Darvish is struggling with elbow issues while shortstop Javy Baez broke his thumb over the weekend.
On one hand, I hope that the Cardinals are too far ahead for the Cubs to catch when they face each other in a couple of weeks. On the other, the team is playing its best baseball of the year — by far — right now. So I would sort of like to see them fight all the way to the end and not put things in neutral.
We saw it when the Cardinals played Detroit in the World Series 13 years ago. St. Louis was playing life and death games while the Tigers coasted to the finish line of the regular season and then easily dispatched their playoff opponents. When it came time to turn it on again, they just couldn’t do it.
So keep pushing, boys. All the way to the finish line.
Remembering Chris Duncan
While things are going so well for the Cardinals, it’s heartbreaking that 2006 World Series champion Chris Duncan died following a lengthy struggle with cancer. I know I’m a little late to the table on this one. but I wanted to tip my cap to a guy who was a real character on a team with a rich history of characters. Dizzy Dean, Ducky Medwick, Mike Shannon — I bet they all would have loved to be Dunc’s teammate.
While much was made about Duncan’s abilities in the field, he was a fearsome hitter when he was healthy and he was the sort of positive and relentless personalities that every team can use in its locker room.
While I liked Duncan as a player, I really came to appreciate him in the broadcast booth. In an era where fans are bored to tears with an endless barrage of complicated statistics, Duncan talked about the human side of the game.
I thought about him just a few days ago when I mentioned to a coach in Duncanese that a youth baseball player had ability to play ball — but he got “the tight cheeks” when the ball came to him at an important moment of a game.
Duncan never held back or ducked a question. It was refreshing that he was so honest and transparent that he could interview his father, Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan without a second thought about whether he would be biased. He didn’t hide his relationship, nor did he take advantage of it. But he certainly embraced it.
I never met Chris Duncan in person, but he seems like the sort of guy I would have enjoyed talking baseball with over a couple of man sodas.
Godspeed Little Dunc. Your time was too brief, but we’ll never forget you.