Will the Rally Cat launch the Cardinals into October?

The St. Louis Cardinals have had a reverse in fortune over the past week. Most of the year they have been floating around .500, and it didn’t seem apparent that they would be able to catch the Brewers or the Cubs. This especially seemed to be the case after they lost a pivotal series in Milwaukee and have scuffled prior to this week.

Since a loss to Cincinnati last Friday, the Cardinals have won every game they have played. In that five day span, they have scored a staggering 54 runs and find themselves just a game back of the Chicago Cubs. Now, it is important to stay close to Earth in these kind of situations. It would be crazy to say that the Cardinals have found themselves and are going to steamroll their way to the postseason. However, it isn’t so crazy when there is a rally cat involved.

The rally cat strikes

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of NBC Sports

On Wednesday night, the Cardinals found themselves down to the Royals 5-4 in the sixth inning. Yadier Molina, who has had a very hot bat since the All-Star break, was at the plate with the bases loaded with Peter Moylan pitching.

After a first pitch ball, Molina pointed his bat to the outfield to let everyone know that there was a stray cat running around. After a groundskeeper wrangled the cat and everyone had gotten their laughs in, there was a very important at-bat that still needed to happen.

The very next pitch that Moylan tossed was sent for a ride by Yadier Molina. Everyone in the park knew the moment it came off the bat that it was a goner. That moment was without a doubt the most exciting moment in an otherwise mediocre Cardinals season.

The rally squirrel

Surprisingly enough this story deserves a bit of backstory. One might ask,”what possible backstory could there be for a cat running on the field?” Well, for the Cardinals, it is a pretty good one.

On Oct. 5, 2011, the Cardinals were playing the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLDS. Philadelphia was up 2-1 in the series and had won 102 games that season which was best in the majors. The Cardinals, on the other hand, barely snuck into the postseason thanks to a very good September for them and the demise of the Atlanta Braves.

It was the fifth inning of the game and the Cardinals were up 3-2. With Skip Schumaker at the plate, a squirrel ran across home plate and Roy Oswalt threw a ball. Oswalt went on to contest the call saying that the pitch should have been called off since he was distracted.

However, that was not what happened. The Cardinals went on to win the game, followed by a stellar Game 5 win that pushed them to the NLCS. The Cardinals were not stopped as they kept on going and won the World Series in dramatic fashion.

Many fans in St. Louis like to point to the rally squirrel as the unofficial mascot of the Cardinals. It was a season full of twists and turns, and every time the Cardinals seemed out of it, they would fight right back into it. This is why the rally cat from Wednesday may have jolted some excitement into St. Louis.

Yadi and the Cardinals’ offense is rolling

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of STL Today

We can’t give all the credit for the Cardinals’ success to the rally cat. Credit needs to be given where credit is due, and Yadier Molina has been excellent since the All-Star Break.

Since the break, Molina has a slash line of .325/.364/.554 with five home runs. It is hard to believe that with the mileage on Yadi and the fact he turned 35 during the break, that he has been able to keep up these numbers.

Don’t tell him you doubt him though. He will fire back which is evident with his manager, Mike Matheny. Matheny called Yadi tired in late July, and since then he has been firing on all cylinders.

Yadi was not the only one that got called out though for his play. The team has been starting to feel pressure as a whole. Tommy Pham, the Cardinals best offensive performer this season, called out the team for its lackluster offense last weekend. Since that happened, the Cardinals have won five in a row and the offense is playing as well as any team in the league.

Were the comments made by Pham and Matheny the kick start the Cardinals needed? Well, it certainly may be a big part of it. The team has needed a jolt for the past few months and it finally seems to be here for St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs are slipping

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

All season, experts have been saying that the Cubs are just a step away from separating themselves from the rest of the pack in the Central. The Cubs have yet to take that step though. In fact, they have been backsliding the past week and a half.

Chicago has lost six of its last eight games and are now only one game in front of the Cardinals and  two in front of the Brewers. Worst of all, they may have lost their star catcher for an extended period of time.

Wilson Contreras has been the Cubs’ best player since the break and went down with a hamstring injury against the Giants on the 9th. The Cubs have not released a timetable yet for when Contreras may be back, but it may be an extended period of time per multiple reports.

The Cubs will need to pick it up without Contreras in the meantime. They traded for Alex Avila at the deadline so he may be a serviceable replacement during Contreras’ absence. There have also been rumors floating around of Kyle Schwarber taking the helm behind the plate. Either way, the Cubs will miss Contreras and his absence will have an impact on the division race.

Will the Cardinals be able to keep it up?

St. Louis is in the middle of a hot streak. They will not be able to keep up the offensive production that they have had over the past week. However, this stretch may be signs of the team coming together as a whole. The Cardinals have had stellar starting pitching success, so it may all be coming together now.

The team has realized that they were not playing to their full potential and the motivation from their outfielder and manager may have sparked a new hope in the team.

Heck, maybe a cat is what this team needed to reach its potential.

 

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How the St. Louis Cardinals will win the NL Central

In one of my previous articles, I mentioned that the weeks leading up to the trade deadline will determine the Cardinals’ future. Thus far, they have seemed to turn things around a bit. They have won eight of their last 12 games which includes a couple of tough matchups against the Diamondbacks and Nationals. Because of those two series, they may just have shown what it takes to win an underwhelming division.

In 2006, the Cardinals won the Central with only 83 wins. It looks like someone may win just by nudging over a .500 record this year as well. The year they only won 83 games the Cardinals made a run to win the World Series despite going into the postseason slow. It can be done, so it is important not to discount any of the teams in this division. Here are some ways the Cardinals will make it to the postseason once again.

Move Dexter Fowler to right field

The Cardinals signed Fowler to a hefty five-year, $82.5 million contract this past offseason. While he had a rough go of things in the first month of the season, he began to pick it up before landing on the DL in late June. He has also had one of his best power hitting years so far with 13 homers, while his career-best is 17 in a season. Fowler has performed better than the Cardinals would have hoped so far. Now that he is off the DL, St. Louis should consider moving him to right field.

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Pham has been one of the best hitters on the Cardinals this year (MLB.com)

Why move a guy out of center field that has been playing there for a decade and is having a great year? Well, frankly he has never been that great of a center fielder. Bernie Miklasz of 101.1 ESPN in St. Louis noted that Fowler has always had his fair share of struggles commanding the outfield.

While he has not committed any errors so far his year, he is sitting at -9 defensive runs saved. This means that his fielding has cost the Cardinals nine runs so far. It does not look any better in the past either. In his career he has actually cost his team 64 runs.

It is apparent that he is not doing many favors for the Cardinals in center field, so who could replace the $82 million man? The answer is actually already manning center for the Cardinals in Tommy Pham. It is difficult to keep his bat out of the lineup as it is, so being in the National League, the Cardinals have to find a place for him in the field. He currently has a slash line of .289/.377/.492 which is one of the best on the Cardinals.

Pham also has shown that he can be more productive in center field. He has started 18 games at the position and has a total of six defensive runs saved. Knowing Fowler’s defensive performance in the field over the past decade, it is hard to argue why Fowler should keep his spot in center.

Some people may argue that because of his contract. he should be able to play where he is comfortable. In order for the Cardinals to maximize their chances of winning though, they will need to move Fowler over to right field and keep Pham in center.

Stephen Piscotty has also been having a rough go of things as of late. His hitting numbers are down, and someone is going to have to make room for Fowler. Randal Grichuk has been much better since returning from the minors, however he has still been very streaky. He should be given the chance to display his skills.

The one downside to this move is putting Piscotty aside. However, he will need to show signs of turning around in order to stay in the lineup during this critical time for the Cardinals’ season.

Don’t make any big moves at the trade deadline

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Matheny and Mozeliak have some tough decisions to make to get the Cardinals to the postseason (101 Sports)

The Cardinals are coming pretty close to being a healthy ball club. Kolten Wong will be returning to the field after the All-Star break along with veteran reliever Zach Duke.

St. Louis has a lot of good pieces still on the team from last year, a club that won 86 games. Eighty-six games may be just enough to win the division this year as well. What is important for them to remember, which they have done in the past, is to trust the players in the system and not jeopardize the future.

One glaring hole the team has is in the closing role. Both Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal have the potential to be reliable closers. However, Rosenthal has been wild recently and Oh fails to remain reliable.

If the Cardinals do anything, it should be to find a decent reliever that they can get on the cheap. It does not have to be any eye-popping names, but it needs to be someone who is consistent. If all else fails, the Cardinals could potentially give Brett Cecil a couple of opportunities to prove himself in the closing role as he has picked it up from his slow start this season.

Some small changes made by the Cardinals can fix problems they have been facing. John Mozeliak evaluated the talent in his system well.

However, many of their issues come from the lack of ability to execute simple plays on the field. The Cardinals are among the worst in fielding in the league, and make silly outs on the basepaths that can end up costing them games. The answers to some of these problems are within the organization and decent coaching should be able to remedy some of these issues.

remove Adam wainwright from the rotation

St. Louis Cardinals win NL Central

Wainwright has had one of the most difficult years of his career (MLB.com)

It is one of the hardest things to watch in baseball, but it happens often. Adam Wainwright used to be one of the premier starting pitchers in the major leagues. Despite finishing in the top three of the Cy Young voting four times, the prestigious award eluded him.

Wainwright has severely regressed over the last two years. Last season, he finished with a 4.62 ERA which was the highest of his career. This year he has not shown many signs of improvement.

Wainwright currently has a 5.48 ERA this year and he is not showing signs of getting better. He had an excellent month of May in which he looked like his old self with a 3-0 record and 2.64 ERA.

Since then, he has given up 30 runs in 34 innings. His nine wins can be credited to his large run support this season, getting 6.1 runs a game which ranks 10th in all of baseball.

It isn’t easy to watch some of the league’s best players regress, especially when it is such an important leader and personality in the clubhouse. However, Mike Matheny and the Cardinals have to keep in mind what is best for the team. It is obvious that Wainwright is not getting the job done at the level he needs to.

Matheny is a player’s manager though and has a rough time making these kinds of decisions when he needs to. What would be best is to potentially move Wainwright to the bullpen and then move young prospect Luke Weaver to the rotation.

It may be a different story if one of the league’s best prospects, Alex Reyes, was not hurt. Because he is most likely out for the season, the Cardinals are faced with the dilemma of having to replace their most notable pitcher of the past decade with one of their new arms.

Final thoughts

The theme of the NL Central this year has been underperforming. Many of the clubs in the division have players that are better than they have been playing. Even the Reds have one of the more daunting offenses in the league, yet they are in last place in the division.

Theo Epstein and the Cubs have come out and said that the answer to their problems are in house. This may be true with all the teams in the division. The Brewers are starting to roll and may be a tough team to catch. They stuck with their guns though and it has been paying off.

The NL Central has the potential to be a much more powerful division with its given pieces. It has just yet to show up this late in the season.

St. Louis has begun to show signs of life this summer. Their rotation is still proving to be one of their strengths, led by All-Star Carlos Martinez. Michael Wacha has also started to get back on track which means a lot for the team.

If Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak can find the right formula of where each of their pieces fits into the lineup, they can compete and make it a fun race for October.

 

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The Lackluster National League Central

Just a short two years ago the National League Central was the cream of the crop in baseball.  The Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs all finished with 97 or more wins.  This gave them the top three records in baseball, which had never been done before.  The only other division to have three teams with more than 95 wins was the 1977 AL East.  So it would be easy to say the 2015 National League Central may be the best division in baseball history.

Two years can make a big difference in sports, which is evident in this division alone.  As of June 26th the Brewers sit in first place at an underwhelming 41-37.  Even the defending World Champion Cubs are a mediocre one game above .500.  On top of that, the Cardinals who always seem to be at the top of the league are struggling with a 34-40 record.

What could have possibly led to this steep decline?  Well when it comes down to it, the key players in the Central just aren’t performing up to expectations.  Other than Joey Votto and Zach Cozart, not a single qualifying hitter has above a .300 batting average in the division.  This is surprising considering the talent in the Central such as Kris Bryant, Andrew McCutchen and Matt Carpenter.

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

Chicago Cubs

Kyle Schwarber, one of the heroes for the Cubs last October, got sent down to Triple-A Iowa on Thursday.  He is supposed to be part of the core for the Cubs but he was not pulling his weight with his splits showing .171/.295/.378.  He is in a sense the poster boy for the failure of many players in the division this year.  If things don’t start to turn around soon, jobs will be on the line.

The Cubs are 14th in the National League in hitting at the moment, but that will turn around.  Jason Heyward is currently on the DL, but he showed signs of improvement from last year at the plate and is doing a decent job of filling the hole in outfield production left by Fowler.

Once the trade deadline comes, Theo and company could be going after Sonny Gray or Ervin Santana to bolster their struggling rotation.  At that point they could go steam-rolling like they were just one year ago.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are at a critical spot for their organization.  The next four weeks will determine what will happen in the coming years for them.  Whether that be sell some of their key players, or maybe even decide to push Mike Matheny out the door.  The bottom line is that John Mozeliak may have over-valued some of his pieces and put stock in the wrong players for the future.

(Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

 

Over the course of the year the Cardinals have been streaky. It is a common struggle for a lot of teams when they can’t get their pitching and hitting to go on hot streaks at the same time, but it has been a glaring issue for them this year.  At this point, Carlos Martinez is the only starter that can be relied on and the middle of their lineup has been missing that spark to get them going.

The National League West has already pretty much determined the wild card race.  So the only thing giving the Cardinals hope is how lackluster the division has been.  If they don’t string together some wins in the coming weeks then we will possibly start to see some pieces moving elsewhere and the Cardinals will be planning for the coming years.

Milwaukee Brewers

There have been several instances where it appeared that the Cubs would take over the Brewers.  However, that day has yet to come.  Eric Thames has been a great surprise for Milwaukee thus far–powering the club with 20 home runs. Travis Shaw is also proving himself to be a legitimate threat in the lineup.  They don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, however, the question for Milwaukee is whether or not their pitching is going to hold up.

So far the Milwaukee has been serviceable but nothing special.  They do not have a bonafide ace but have been relying on Chase Anderson who has been pulling the rotation so far this season.  If he is able to keep this pace along with Jimmy Nelson then the Brewers may have a chance to hang in there come the race for October.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have the best hitter in the division in Joey Votto.  On top of that, Scott Schebler and Zach Cozart have been pushing the offense to be perhaps the best in the division.  The problem has been their lack of pitching.  They are just now getting some of their top pitchers back in Homer Bailey and Brandon Finnegan.  However, their 30th ranked pitching also doesn’t bode well despite their return.  So look to see the Reds possibly moving some pieces at the deadline.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh has been getting back into the mix of things thanks to the improvement of Andrew McCutchen.  Despite the rough start, he has comeback with a line of .380/.462/.671 in the month of June.  The suspension of Starling Marte has not helped however, as they have sorely missed his bat in the lineup.  The Pirates have showed some signs of life but they will also need some help from their pitching staff.  Their -33 run differential will not translate to any improvements.

Taking two of three games in St. Louis this past weekend could possibly give the Pirates a spark they needed.  Marte is also nearing the end of his suspension.  His bat being back in the lineup could also give them a boost in morale and keep them tight with the Brewers and Cubs.

What to look for in the coming months?

It is hard to see the Cubs not making any big moves at the deadline as they still have a lot of their pieces from their championship team.  So look for them to be aggressive.  Schwarber’s demotion should also serve as a notice to the rest of the team that they are under-performing.  It is doubtful to see the Cubs trailing the Brewers for much longer with all the talent they have.  If the Cubs do not start pulling away soon though, then the division is up for grabs for any of these teams.

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