No one ever said the wins would be pretty.
The St. Louis Cardinals remain in second place in the National League Central after nearly two weeks of sometimes ugly, but always surprising baseball. The Cardinals are in a prime position for a playoff spot after MLB’s altered postseason format was announced earlier this season. Up and down the roster, the club seems to find a different role player each night to deliver the coveted win. Though each victory looks extraordinarily different from night to night, St. Louis is playing as a team. And they finally seem to have found some consistency.
The club is 6-4 in their last 10 games, and the Cardinals may just find consistency in their strategy as they approach this year’s playoffs. St. Louis lost two out of three to the Cleveland Indians before rattling off three straight wins against Cleveland and Cincinnati. The Cardinals have also won three of the first four against the Cubs, with a fifth game on tap for Monday.
How did St. Louis get here? The answer for the Cardinals is nothing if not consistent this week.
Brad Miller is a Bad, Bad Man
Now the crowning achievement of a mundane offseason in St. Louis, Brad Miller has become the full-time designated hitter for the Cardinals. Miller’s career to this point has been eventful, to say the least, and that was before he had even played one game for the club. After a three-team, 79-game stint in the major and minor leagues last season, Miller began the year on the 10-day IL with ankle bursitis. After being one of the Cardinals involved in the notorious COVID-19 setback, Miller’s first game came on August 15 and has since gone on a tear.
We are running out of captions for Brad Miller home runs. pic.twitter.com/OvRShczopW
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) September 2, 2020
The utilityman is batting .307/.436/.600 with five home runs and 20 RBIs. A couple of errors in the field seemed to hurt Miller early on, but in the DH spot, no one seems to care about his glove skills. The man seems to have a knack for coming up in clutch situations and St. Louis has been better for it. It will be interesting to see just how long the Cardinals can ride Miller’s success, but already he has proven his functionality.
The Rotation Keeps on Trucking
The likes of Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and Kwang-Hyun Kim have never looked as enticing as they do right now. Indeed, the Cardinals’ starting rotation has been a high point among some of the lopsided contests and painful walk-offs of late.
Adam Wainwright nearly became the first Cardinals pitcher to record back-to-back complete games since 2010 when (surprise) he also accomplished the feat. Wainwright’s nine-inning, two-run performance against the Indians last Sunday proved masterful and reminiscent of vintage Wainwright as the Cards recorded their only win against the Tribe. He continued that success in Saturday afternoon’s opener to a double-header against the Cubs, going 6 1/3 in a shortened seven-inning matchup.
Kim, meanwhile, threw five very clean innings against the Reds on Tuesday, and he has not given up a run in his last three starts. Yet following that Tuesday outing, Kim was put on the 10-day IL with a kidney ailment. He has since been cleared by doctors and plans to miss only his next turn through the rotation. Kim’s season ERA sits at 0.83.
Consistent Outfield Struggles
This far into the season, many fans expected the Cardinal outfield to figure itself out. Between Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Austin Dean and the heralded Dylan Carlson, the cream would rise to the top and the rest would prove valuable assets off the bench. No such situation has materialized.
The conundrum grew only more complex after Fowler moved to the injured list out of concern for an ongoing stomach issue. O’Neill had gone hitless in his last 10 at-bats before Mike Schildt gave him two off days to reset his focus. The offensive questions about Harrison Bader have existed since time immemorial. Serious questions from fans still remain around every Cardinal outfielder on the roster.
In the four games prior to Saturday’s doubleheader against the Cubs, the Cardinals’ outfield hit just .208 collectively. Among people not named Tommy Edman, who shouldn’t be playing the outfield with that kind of bench depth, outfielders hit just .135.
Wait, that’s a horrific number; is it really .135? Five hits in 37 at-bats? Is the outfield struggling that much?
Yes, friends. If St. Louis has any chance of making noise in an expanded postseason, this figure will have to change. Good teams do not have an outfield that collectively hits .135. Period.
Other Club News & Notes
The Cardinals will face Chicago ace Kyle Hendricks (4-4, 3.78) on Monday afternoon before traveling onto St. Louis for a Tuesday doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins. Right-hander Carlos Martínez is expected to take the mound in place of the injured Kwang-Hyun Kim in the early start.
Andrew Miller, Matt Wieters, Ryan Helsley and Rangel Ravelo all returned from the injured list in the past week, supplementing a Cardinal bullpen and bench in need of fresh bodies. Mike Schildt expects to ease the quartet into games this week, with hopes of building strength for a playoff push. St. Louis made no transactions at the August 31 trade deadline and can only use players on their 40-man roster for the rest of the season.
The team also learned on Sunday evening that Hall of Fame Cardinal Lou Brock died at the age of 81. Brock led a Cardinal infield in the 1970s known for its speed, personally stealing 118 bases in 1974, a career-high. Brock is second all-time in baseball history in stolen bases with 938, behind only Oakland-great Rickey Henderson.
Featured Image Courtesy of Dan Buffa & Cardsonclave.com
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