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Peralta key to St. Louis Cardinals resurgence

Is it any coincidence the St. Louis Cardinals finally found themselves in a hot streak at the same time slugging infielder Jhonny Peralta returned to the lineup?

In his six games back in the big leagues, Peralta is hitting .333 with a homer, two doubles and seven runs batted in. In that span, the Redbirds are 5-1.

It’s the best this team has played all year. By a long shot.

It’s not just Peralta’s bat that has sparked the Cardinals. His veteran presence and his defensive ability have been a big plus, too.

Peralta has lost some range at shortstop over the past few seasons. But his glove remains as steady as ever. So it makes a lot of sense that the Cardinals slid him over to third base and left emerging young shortstop Aledmys Diaz in place.

Matt Carpenter has had to move around a lot in recent seasons to keep his bat in the lineup. And I think third has proven -- by far -- to be his weakest position.

Carpenter played very well at first base in the absence of Lance Berkman in 2012. But he played his best at second base before he had to move to make room before Kolten Wong.

Perhaps the relief of the pressure of playing third base has freed Carpenter’s mind up at the plate. He’s a .279 hitter as a third sacker. Carpenter hits .333 as a second baseman.

Peralta also gives the offense balance.

When he’s in the middle of the order, guys like Yadier Molina, Randal Grichuk and Brandon Moss are pushed lower into the order. Instead of being relied on to be the pillars of the offense, their production is a bonus in the lower ranks.

I hope the relief of some of the pressure allows Grichuk to get on track with his bat. He hasn’t performed up to expectations this season. But the Birds need him in St. Louis, despite the clamor of some to ship him to Class AAA Memphis, because there is no one else on the roster who can play centerfield half as well.

So, the offense is better, the defense is better and that’s stabilized the starting pitching. The Cardinals have given up more than three runs twice in their last seven games. And both of those games were in the launching pad in Cincinnati. It’s difficult to defend against home runs, not matter who is stationed on the infield.

The result is that St. Louis has climbed to seven games over .500 and has inserted itself back into the playoff picture.

The Cardinals remain nine games out in the National League Central Division race. But they’ve managed to chip a couple games off the deficit in the last few days -- and there is still plenty of season left if they can stay hot.

The Chicago Cubs play three games at Washington then three with the Pittsburgh Pirates before they host the Cardinals. A lot could happen in this race over the next week and a half.