Cheap Seats

Cardinals impress by dusting themselves off in the desert

It sure gave me a queasy feeling to see the St. Louis Cardinals go flat in San Diego, losing two of three games to a mediocre Padres club.

But as soon as people start writing this club’s eulogy -- and that happened both on the local and national level this week with pundits proclaiming that the Pittsburgh Pirates are actually better built for a post season run than the Redbirds and that the remaining schedule favors the Bucs -- the Redbirds show what their made of.

In the end, it may turn out that the St. Louis four-game sweep in Arizona was the key to staying afloat until the disabled list can be cleaned out.

The Diamondbacks won four in a row and five games out of seven before St. Louis arrived in town, breaking over the .500 mark. But the Cardinals, apparently miffed by their sloppy showing in southern California, were relentless in the desert.

The exclamation point at the end of the series was Seth Maness’ huge effort to bail the Birds out of a bases loaded with no outs jam in the bottom of the eighth as they held on with their fingernails to a two-run lead.

Maness, who is a ground ball specialist but not a guy who gets a lot of strikeouts, whiffed the first two batters he faced and then coaxed a harmless ground out to crush the Diamondbacks’ best chance to salvage a game.

The Birds held Arizona, one of baseball’s most prolific offensive teams, to a total of eight runs in the four-game set. Meanwhile the Cardinals, who couldn’t score to save their lives in San Diego, popped off with 22 runs against the D-Backs.

These late season road trips to the West Coast can ruin seasons. But the Redbirds can return to St. Louis in solid shape with a good showing this weekend against the scuffling San Francisco Giants.

Including losing two of three to the Birds in St. Louis, the Giants are 4-6 over their last 10. But they’re plenty motivated, trailing the struggling Los Angeles Dodgers by 2 1/2 games in the NL West race. So they can’t be taken lightly.

If they can win two of three over the weekend, the Cardinals will have a defendable lead as they come home to face the Washington Nationals for three before taking on the Pirates and Chicago Cubs in pivotal division contests.

This race is a long way from over, despite the fact that the Cardinals have had the best record in baseball for much of the season. But the Cardinals are supposed to get slugging first baseman Matt Adams and high batting average outfielder Jon Jay back next week. Then they get Randal Grichuk, Matt Holliday and possibly some pitching help from the disabled list in time to make a final push.

But things wouldn’t look quite so rosey without the big four-game sweep in Arizona.