As Kolten Wong made the throw from second base, the bench already knew what was about to happen. After four days, five games, a double-header, a threat of a second double-header to break a tie, endless scoreboard watching and a frenetic last day of the regular season, the Cardinals got what they wanted. A playoff berth.
The Cardinals lineup awoke just enough to put the finishing touch on an NL Central second place finish. As plenty of reporters have detailed, the path to the playoffs was not easy for the Cardinals. At one point the club faced a behemoth schedule, playing 53 games in 44 days without a second to retreat. Starting pitchers got hurt and questions about offensive consistency became a calling card for St. Louis. Through it all, the team managed to persevere, take three out of five games against the Milwaukee Brewers, and remind Cardinal Nation that this team won’t lie down.
They’ll give it their best shot, even when no one expects them to.
Bader and Carlson Lead Outfield Bats
Though the Cardinal outfield has been a major disappointment for the better part of 2020, a tandem of young hitters certainly played a key role toward the season’s end. Harrison Bader put on a spectacular performance on Sunday, going 2-for-3 with a home run, triple, and two runs scored. The production by itself may have been surprising to St. Louis fans, as Bader’s career average in September had never surpassed .233 before this season. In the last week Bader hit .357 with five hits including Sunday’s home run, something Cardinal fans should be excited to see more of in the coming years.
Mac Land Moonshot! pic.twitter.com/MqLeuBdPlO
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) September 27, 2020
Meanwhile rookie Dylan Carlson proved what kind of phenom he is on pace to become in the season’s sunset. The outfielder hit .318 in his last seven games, adding seven RBIs and a home run to his truncated 2020 campaign. Carlson also proved himself as a defensive asset, recording four defensive runs saved over his 33 games and improving St. Louis’ outfield range and athleticism. Mike Schildt is likely to mix and match with his playoff scorecards. Though, if Carlson does not play a substantial role in the upcoming series, it will come as a surprise to many. The Cardinals playoff berth comes in no small part because of the versatility of their roster. Carlson, Bader, Dexter Fowler, Lane Thomas, Austin Dean and others gave every last ounce of productivity to the club. Expect that dedication to continue in the Wild Card round.
A Rotation That Bends, but Never Breaks
The schedule for the Cardinals was no friend here, but the pitching staff expertly navigated numerous difficulties. And that damage control helped them clinch a playoff berth. For the season, the staff finished with a 3.94 ERA which was fifth-best in the National League. Players like Adam Wainwright, Kwang Hyun Kim and Tyler Webb all contributed on a pitching staff that was too often disappointed by its offense.
With only two off days before the start of the Wild Card round, the rotation can’t be completely shuffled, though some minor adjustments are expected. Jack Flaherty (4-3, 4.91) could pitch Tuesday on normal rest to open the Cardinals’ series. That might still be a gamble, however, seeing that the right-hander has struggled at points this season. Wainwright will likely get the call in game two, as he’s been the most effective St. Louis starter this season. As for a game three, if the team should get there, anyone and everyone is on the table. The Cardinals relied on bullpen games at several points this season, something that could be Mike Schildt’s repertoire if needed. The playoffs do crazy things to managers’ minds.
Martinez Unlikely to Make Playoff Roster
One starter who will not pitch in the upcoming series is Carlos Martinez, who went on the 10-day injured list earlier this week. Comments from Mike Schildt expressed doubt that Martinez would return to play after his oblique strain.
“I’ll never say never… We’re not anticipating he’ll be able to do a lot of anything,” Schildt said. “So you look at the schedule, and it’s very unfavorable to think about a return.”
Although Martinez did struggle in five starts this season (0-3, 9.90 ERA in 20.0 innings), he has historically been consistent for the Cardinals. He’s especially made a name for himself in the bullpen, where he’s pitched the better part of his last two seasons. Martinez repeatedly expressed interest in starting St. Louis, which prompted the move this season. The Cardinals still expect to have lots of arms in contention for a starting spot next season. Put together, it’s not insane to believe that Martinez could have pitched for the last time in a Cardinal uniform.
He took to Instagram earlier in the week to express his gratitude toward fans supporting him during this rough stretch. The Cardinals have an available option on Martinez after next season.
View this post on Instagram
I thank God for giving me the opportunity to be alive, here came the end of my season but not of my career, this year I have struggled a lot with my health and it has not been easy, thanks to those who have supported me and those who They have believed in me, now I have to work hard to come better next year, blessings to each one, see you next season with God in front … #usssss go @cardinals @stlcardenales #gocards⚾️ Le doy gracias a Dios por darme la oportunidad de estar vivo, aqui llegó el fin de mi temporada pero no de mi carrera, este año he luchado mucho con mi salud y no ha sido facil, gracias a los que me han apoyado y a los que han creido en mi, ahora me toca trabajar fuerte para venir mejor el proximo año, bendiciones a cada uno, nos vemos la proxima temporada con Dios delante…. #usssss
Defense Wins Championships?
For a second straight season, St. Louis finished near the top of Major League Baseball in several defensivie categories. The club topped all teams in fielding efficiency percentage and defensive runs saved, key categories to staying relevant in the postseason race. Should St. Louis manage to keep their defensive strength behind plays from Bader, Wong and the ageless Yadier Molina, games will continue to be tightly contested. In the playoffs, that means even more.
What does disappoint, however, is how such a trade-off for the above average defense comes with an effective offense. Maybe it’s a moot point. After all, the Cardinals did survive the most stressful 58 games of anyone in baseball. It just feels like the team’s offensive woes might catch up with general manager Michael Girsch and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. Fans are tired of hoping the offense will break out; they couldn’t care less about the defense prowess of fielders who can’t hit.
Yes, that was a dig at Harrison Bader.
The Cardinals, by way of their Sunday win against Milwaukee, are locked into the fifth seed in the National League and will play the San Diego Padres (37-23) beginning on Wednesday. Because of the altered playoff structure, St. Louis will play just a three-game series in San Diego, needing to win two out of three in the Wild Card round.
Should the Cardinals win in the upcoming series, they would move to the divisional round, played at Globe Life Field in Arlington. That series would proceed as normal, with the winner needing to take three out of five games to advance.
Stay on the lookout for the Cardinals’ Wild Card series preview, being posted on The Game Haus tomorrow.
Featured Image Courtesy of Yahoo! Sports
“From Our Haus to Yours”