Last night was one of just 13 remaining games in the 2016 regular season for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals picked up a 5-3 win over the Colorado Rockies, extending their winning streak to three games, and putting them in a tie with the San Francisco Giants in the second wild card position and moving them one game behind the New York Mets for the top wild card spot. Will those 13 remaining games be lucky or unlucky for the home town team as they look to secure their sixth consecutive trip to the MLB Playoffs?
It seems as though no one in the National League wants to take control this season. Looking across the league today there is no team with a better record than 6-4 in their last 10 games and in fact the Cardinals have the longest active winning streak at three games. The league’s dominant team this summer, the Chicago Cubs, are just 5-5 in their last 10 and are just 10-8 in the month of September. The Cubs however do not have to worry about the push for the playoffs as they secured their spot last week thanks in large part to a fast start and a strong August. And while the Cubs have enjoyed a resurgence this year, don’t go handing them the World Series trophy just yet. Since the current wild card format has been installed just four times, out of 21 years, has the team with the best record in baseball has gone on to win it all; the last coming in 2013 when the Boston Red Sox accomplished the feat.
But let’s get back to the question in hand, the final 13 games of the regular season for the Cardinals and their fight against the Giants and Mets for the final two spots into the playoffs. People in St. Louis who have followed the Cardinals this summer may be surprised to find the Cardinals in position to once again play in October. Between the implosion of their closer (Trevor Rosenthal), to the injuries to Matt Holiday and Jhonny Peralta, and the lack of consistency from the team; it has been a roller coaster season. Their weekend series against the Giants sums up the 2016 season for the Cardinals. They looked horrible in the series’ first two games (losing 6-2 and 8-2) before winning the final two games 3-2 and 3-0.
But the local fans are simply to close to the picture to see everything. The fans in San Francisco and New York are thinking the same thing about their teams. The reason these three teams are in the position they are, battling for a wild card spot, is because of inconsistency. It’s not a matter of the teams not having the talent or experience, it’s a matter of being consistent. The Giants are just 22-37 in the second-half of the season; the Mets continue to run their once expected dominant rotation as Jacob DeGroom was just lost for the season this week meaning three-fifths of their rotation is different from the start of the season.
So what are the Cardinals chances at a lucky 13? First their schedule; the Cardinals have two more in Colorado before facing the Cubs for three, Cincinnati for four games, and Pittsburgh for three. Unfortunately for the Cardinals the series’ against the Reds and Pirates are in Busch, where the Cardinals have mysteriously struggled in 2016. The Cardinals have played the Cubs even this season (8-8) but have managed just a one game edge over the Reds (8-7) despite the Reds being one of the worst teams in baseball this season; and have a losing record against the Pirates (7-9) this year. The Cardinals are just 22-22 since the start of August and have won just one series in September. So judging on the Cardinals schedule it does not look promising for a trip to a Red October.
The Mets meanwhile continue to lose pitchers from their rotation. However they have benefited and will continue to face an easier schedule than the Cardinals. Despite their injuries the Mets have been able to climb into the top wild card position by facing just one team with a winning record since the start of the month; and they close out their season against the Braves, Marlins, and Phillies. So I think you can pencil them in one of the spots.
So it comes down between the Giants and Cardinals. At the mid-summer break the Giants appeared to be headed toward their typical even year World Series trip. But in the second-half the Giants offense has gone as cold as a San Francisco night in October. They have won just three series since July 15 and their bullpen showed its weakness once again against the Cardinals last weekend. Their offense has just a .709 OPS in the second-half and they have the worst record in baseball in the second-half.
Unlike the Mets the Cardinals are starting to get healthy. Peralta and Aledmys Diaz recently returned and Matt Holliday is aiming for a return in the final week. While the return of these players does not necessarily fix the team’s inconsistency problem, having more talented players to choose from can only help. And unlike the Giants the Cardinals offense, despite going through some slumps, has shown that it can be explosive (leading MLB in double-digit run games).
But it isn’t the big bats for the Cardinals that I think will propel the Cardinals into October. Rather I think the biggest plus down the stretch for the Cardinals will be Alex Reyes move to the starting rotation. Reyes has shown no signs of struggles in his first season, putting up some of the best numbers in baseball since joining the Cardinals. Teaming him with a fellow electric pitcher Carlos Martinez will give the Cardinals two above average pitchers going a combined four times in the final two weeks; and more importantly removes the wildly frustrating and inconsistent Jaime Garcia from the rotation. In addition Mike Leake has gone six straights without allowing more than three earned runs. And don’t forget about the Cardinals veteran ace Adam Wainwright, who despite his struggles, has still registered 17 quality starts this season; just one behind team leader Martinez.
Coming off a 100 win season the Cardinals never managed to put it together this year. Some fans may be disappointed by the lack of a summer long battle with the Cubs for Central Division supremacy. And the inconsistencies of the Cardinals this year may have some fans focused on their negatives rather than positives. But this team is right where they should be given their play this year; battling for a wild card spot. We have seen a 149 game roller coaster of a season, will the final 13 games send Cardinal Nation to the peak or will it be a corkscrew dive into the off-season?