Just when pretty much everyone was ready to write off the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals, they wake up Tuesday morning to find themselves 3.5 games out of the NL Central.
No, it’s not first place. Or even second place. Sure, the wins were against pretty weak teams that have plenty of their own issues.
But it IS too close to write off this team that has managed to scrap and claw it’s way back in the mix.
Sometimes just the taste of a win or two, even against a punching bag like the Cincinnati Reds, is enough to get a team back on track.
All season long, this team has struggled to find the big hit, they’ve had some defensive struggles and even stumbled through some of the basic fundamentals. All the while the front office has insisted this is a better team than their record shows. When the trade deadline came, Chicago and Milwaukee both made upgrades, but the Cardinals stood pat.
Frankly, there is some truth to the front office’s opinion. Through Monday, the Cardinals Pythagorean record shows them as a 60-52 team. The Cubs show 60-51 and the Brewers 60-54.
With such comparable teams, the fundamentals are more important than ever. So, losing games to booted balls and poor base running are extra costly.
The last week has been a touch different.
Instead of making those types of errors, they’re capitalizing on the mistakes of others.
It remains to be seen if that will continue as they head down the stretch, but the NL Central is still up for grabs. On multiple occasions, it’s looked like the Cubs were going to pull away, but they’re starting to stumble a bit since stellar run post-All Star break.
Over the last week we’ve seen some glimmers of hope out of the Cardinals, especially this weekend in Cincinnati.
The Cardinals seem to be showing more patience at the plate over the last week, drawing a combined 21 walks over the past four games. During that same stint, they have strung together 39 hits — a number that not so long ago would have made for a decent week in St. Louis.
After a four game hitless streak, first baseman Matt Carpenter has driven in five runs over the last two games. Since July 25, Carpenter is batting .262/.404/.500 with five doubles, a triple, a homer and nine walks.
While production from the core is vital to the success of this team, it’s pleasant surprise has been the big league offense provided by the young guys — Tommy Pham (.310/.398/.500), Paul DeJong (.283/.306/.556) and Jose Martinez (.289/.357/.507). These three have as much, frankly more, to do with the Cardinals ability to stay in the mix than anything else.
Do I think they’re a world championship team? No. But, I didn’t think the 2011 team was either.
Corey Noles has covered the Cardinals for a variety of publications and outlets since 2011. Find him on Twitter @coreynoles, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.