Did any of us really believe that the St. Louis Cardinals were just going to stroll the rest of the way through the season to the National League Central Division championship?
If so, the boys cleared that up quickly.
The Cardinals lost another game of cushion in the most spectacular fashion possible Sunday, giving up a go-ahead grand slam in the top of the ninth inning with a rookie on the mound and their closer, Carlos Martinez, in the hospital with a “respiratory” problem. Just one more good pitch and things could have been completely different. The Cardinals could have defended their lead against the Chicago Cubs, all but ended the playoff aspirations of the Milwaukee Brewers and scratched one more game off the schedule.
Now it looks like they’re going to have to show their fans — and the Cubs — what they’re made of if they’re going to hang on to a narrowing lead through the last two weeks of the season.
Let’s not hear any excuses. Because Milwaukee sure wasn’t making any when the Brewers walked into town with Christian Yelich out for the season — the Brewers won two of three games at Busch Stadium.
Meanwhile, the Cubs completed a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates despite the fact that they lost Anthony Rizzo to a sprained ankle. When the Cardinals needed to rise up, they instead saw their first four hitters in the lineup go a combined 0-for-13 in the rubber game of the weekend series. This after the St. Louis hitters were tamed by an absolutely awful Colorado Rockies starting rotation in the previous three-game series.
In losing four of their last six games, the Cardinals have been terrible at hitting with runners in scoring position. They could have been 4-2 or even 5-1 over the same stretch if they just would have come through with a couple more hits — or even productive outs — with runners in scoring position.
The Milwaukee series loss was more than a simple case of bad luck. The Cardinals have misplaced their bats again, collecting only four hits in the game before a little too little, little too late rally in the bottom of the ninth inning that cut the margin of loss to one run. While every game counts the same amount in the end, these are definitely playoff games the offense couldn’t afford to phone in. The competition isn’t going to get any easier. Next on the schedule are the Washington Nationals, who are fighting for a wild card berth. They don’t have any games they can afford to lose and they have the benefit of having one of the top pitchers in the majors, Max Scherzer, going in game one.
If there is one thing the Cardinals can’t afford to get conservative. They got hot by taking chances at the plate and on the bases. When they do that, it puts pressure on the other team to execute and eliminates their ability to concentrate on getting the hitter out. So, keep pushing it Cardinals. I’d rather lose boldly, knowing I gave it my all, then let the other team take advantage of my inaction and beat me at my own game.
St. Louis still has the lead, it still has the best pitching in the NL Central and, while the Cardinals have been inconsistent offensively, they have the ability to score runs with power, with speed and by playing small ball. On paper, they’re the most dynamic team in the division. They just have to play like it in real life.