Oscar Taveras is struggling. Matt Adams is hurt. Carlos Martinez can't hit the corners. Kolten Wong's shoulder is hurting to the point of ineffectiveness. It mattered little on Tuesday night however, as the Cardinal's veteran core of Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, and Matt Holliday propelled the Birds to a 1-0 victory over the reeling Tampa Bay Rays, who now have the worst record in baseball.
Wainwright (9-2) pitched seven shutout innings en route to becoming the National leagues first nine-game-winner. Holliday ripped his fourth homer of the season, and Molina returned from a weekend hiatus behind the plate to call his major league leading tenth shutout of the season.
Are they back? Is this the team we've been waiting to see? With the goose egg, the Cardinals became the first team since the 2004 Astros to throw three consecutive inter league shutouts, and have now won three consecutive games for the first time since May 15th-17th. They're doing the opposite of what they've done all season, which was find a way to lose, any way possible. Now these guys are coming together and showing the league what they're capable of when they play as a cohesive unit.
Now I know what you're thinking, that the Rays were just a base hit here or there from winning this game, and thats true. The Rays left the bases loaded twice and left two on twice. But the bottom line is that the Cardinals were able to grind and do what they needed to get a win. Some nights the bats won't show up, some nights they'll look like the 1927 Yankees. Some nights the starter doesn't have it and goes out and coughs up six runs and only gets through a couple of frames. These things happen to every team. Not everyone is going to get the job done every single time the team takes the field, but when one guy (or almost an entire lineup, like last night) can't get going, the guys on the other side of the ball will, like we saw from Wainwright, Sam Freeman, Pat Neshek, and Trevor Rosenthal in Tampa yesterday. That's the mark of a champion.
The Cardinals are lucky to be drawing the worst team in baseball during inter league play right now. The Rays have lost, I'm not kidding, 14 out of 15 games and are in a tailspinning free-fall into the cellar of the AL East. The Cardinals have caught them at a time when they aren't playing with any confidence or motivation and also won't have David Price going in the short two game set. Couple that with the fact that the Cardinals get to march Wainwright and Michael Wacha out to the bump, and you would think this should be an easy two W's for the Birds.
After the quick set in Tampa, the team then plays three of the next four series against sub-.500 clubs, which could be a pivotal stretch for the Cards, as the division leading Milwaukee Brewers are playing doing the same with series against the D-Backs, Reds, Nationals and Rockies in the coming weeks.
Hopefully this is the start of the Cardinals finally rising to their mean and taking over the division like they should have done a long time ago. If not, the Home Run Derby is in like a month!
Side note: That throw Cespedes made last night is the fourth best throw I've ever seen. Rick Ankiel has #2 and #3, but Jose Guillen's throw from the warning track in Colorado in 1998 was still hands down the most ridiculous I've ever seen.
Stephen Nations is an aspiring sports and Cardinals columnist. He will be contributing his commentary to KSDK.com during the 2014 season. You can follow him on twitter at @Nayshface.