The Cardinals are back in the hunt for the postseason thanks to a red hot August. They are right in the mix for the Wild Card and trail the Cubs for the division by just four games, as of Monday. There’s a lot of optimism surrounding St. Louis and new interim manager Mike Shildt.
The recent stretch of success has fans and media thinking this team could get back to the postseason after having to sit out the past two seasons. They have plenty of reasons to think that way. However, there are also reasons to worry that this could be the third year in a row without October baseball in St. Louis.
Reasons They Will Make the Postseason
For those who think this is the year the Redbirds make their return to the postseason, these are some reasons to be confident.
The Starting Rotation
The Cardinals starting rotation is second in the National League in ERA. Even with the losses of Michael Wacha, who was pitching well this year, Alex Reyes and Carlos Martinez, the young guys have stepped up and held down the fort.
Miles Mikolas is having a career year and has been the ace of the staff all season. His 13 wins are tied for third best in the NL and his 2.80 ERA is good for fifth. He can only start every five days though. The Cards’ youth has shined in the other four days.
Jack Flaherty has pitched very well at 7-6 with a 3.05 ERA over 20 starts in his rookie year. John Gant is another guy who has been solid for the Redbirds putting up a 3.76 ERA. Luke Weaver had been the weak link, but he will now join Martinez in the bullpen and Daniel Poncedeleon will take his rotation spot. The other spot has been a bit of revolving door since Martinez went down. Another rookie, Austin Gomber, has gotten the majority of those starts and has excelled. He’s posted a 2.53 ERA as a starter this season.
The young guns on the pitching staff have certainly been a strength during the last month and a half. All of their success should have some Cardinals fans excited for the future and the remainder of the season.
With the exception of Marcell Ozuna, although he’s had a decent August, the Cardinals outfield is another reason they’ll make the postseason. Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Niell and Jose Martinez have been fun to watch lately and have given this team a little spark on offense.
Harrison Bader has put together a Rookie of the Year type season. His offense has been very serviceable and his defense has been Gold Glove caliber. Bader is slashing .282/.351/.448 with 12 doubles, nine home runs, two triples and 12 stolen bases. His speed creates all kinds of problems for the defense and makes him one of the best outfielders in the game. His 22 defensive runs saved rank best in the all of the MLB for outfielders.
Tyler O’Niell is another rookie who has come up and played a very good outfield. He’s been mainly in right after Dexter Fowler’s injury and should have him worried about his job security. O’Niell has less games than Bader this season, but he’s already got five defensive runs saved. He’s also got a .288 average with three home runs and 10 RBI in his limited time.
Everyone knows Jose Martinez can hit, which means he has to be in the lineup somewhere. Lately he’s been in the outfield, sharing time in right with O’Niell. His defense still isn’t great, but the guy is slashing .308/.369/.468 with 22 doubles, 14 home runs and 69 RBI.
This seems odd, seeing as how the Cardinals bullpen was one of the worst in baseball for the first half. it seemed impossible that the pen could become a strength and one that could lead them to the postseason. John Mozeliak finally decided it was time for an overhaul though, and since then, they’ve been lights out.
Over the past 30 days, the Redbirds relievers have posted the third best ERA in the National League, behind only the Cubs and Padres. This, like much of the turnaround, has been in large part due to the young guys. Gomber, Poncedeleon, Dakota Hudson and Jordan Hicks have all done well out of the pen.
They’ve also gotten some help from the older guys. Chasen Shreve has proven to be a good pick up so far and Bud Norris is holding up in the ninth inning. The balance of youth and experience has been a big part of the bullpen’s turnaround.
A postseason run is always benefited by the presence of an MVP candidate. The Cardinals have one of those and his name is Matt Carpenter.
After an abysmal start to the season, Carpenter has been one of the best hitters in all of baseball. His hit a bit of a cold snap recently, but despite that, he’s still a frontrunner for the NL MVP award. Carp has 33 home runs, 33 doubles, 68 RBI, a .269/.385/.572 slash line, wOBA of .397 and a wRC+ of 152 out of the leadoff spot. He’s posted a 4.7 WAR this year according to Fangraphs. He’s been the type of player that can carry a team to the postseason.
Reasons They Won’t Make the Postseason
There have been a lot of positives lately, but it’s hard to forget about the beginning of the season and the last two years. Unfortunately, the Cardinals still have obstacles that could keep them out of the playoffs again this season.
The Cardinals aren’t the only team fighting for a postseason birth. In fact, the Wild Card is a seven team race, if you include the division leading Diamondbacks and Braves, with a couple dark horses mixed in.
Ahead of the Cards right now are the Brewers, Phillies and Rockies. All three teams have enough talent to go on a big run and leave St. Louis behind. Another team with that potential is right on the Cards heels and could pass them this week. The Los Angeles Dodgers are competing for their own division title, but could fall into the Wild Card spot.
It’s likely that one of the Wild Card teams will come out of the NL West, with the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Dodgers all being so close to each other. Which ever team comes in second in that division will likely get one of the Wild Card spots. The other could also come from the West, but the Central and East both have teams right there too. The Phillies or Braves are battling for first in their division, as are the Brewers and Cubs. Any of those four teams could beat the Cards out for the second spot if they finish second in their division.
Although it’s been a positive of late, the youth of the Cards team could come up and bite them. It’s a dangerous thing to rely on a group of rookies to lead you to the postseason, which is exactly what the Redbirds are doing, aside from Carpenter and Mikolas.
Anyone who has watched baseball for even a short period of time knows about rookie mistakes. Young guys also often fail under pressure. The lack of experience in big situations can haunt them and cause them to underperform. The Cardinals will be under a lot of pressure down the stretch if they stay in the race and they are going to really find out what their young core is made of. Hopefully they shine, but there’s at least a decent possibility that they could fold and cost the team a postseason birth.
Before his foot injury, Dexter Fowler was one of the worst players in the major leagues, by the numbers. He hit poorly with a slash line of .180/.278/.298, a wRC+ of 61, 100 is league average, and an Off of -13.4. His defense was just as bad. He has a .969 fielding percentage, in the outfield that’s really bad, -5 DRS, a -5.3 UZR and a -11.1 UZR/150.
Despite his poor play, Mike Shildt had him in the lineup every day before he hit the shelf, even in favor of Bader, O’Niell and Martinez. This should be a cause for concern. If Shildt insists that he play every day when he comes back and he continues to play like he has, it could cost the team dearly. He already has a -1.4 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. Cardinals fans should know as well as anyone how important one game can be in a playoff race. Hopefully he hasn’t already cost them a chance at the postseason.
The Last Two Seasons
In case you’ve forgotten, the Cardinals were close to the postseason in the last two seasons, but couldn’t get over the hump. In 2016, it was just one game that made the difference, last season they missed out by four games.
Both years they had similar runs to the one they’re on now, everyone remembers the 8-game rally cat winning streak last season. They eventually fell short though. That should be in the back of the minds of Cardinals fans as they battle for a playoff spot this year. Hopefully this season will be different and they won’t fall back into old habits, but it is a possibility.
Featured image by TheAthletic.com
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