Fasten your seatbelts, Cardinals’ fans. The Red Birds are 60 games from the finish line and are sure to be bumping fenders with anywhere from one to three division rivals as they race down the home stretch. The Cardinals find them self in a virtual three-way tie for first in the NL Central with the Reds not lagging far behind the leaders. It reminds me of the 3-horse race in the division back in 2008… only that year it was the Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs vying for not only the division crown, but the wildcard as well. Unfortunately, this edition of the race reminds me of 2008 in another way – the Cardinals were historically bad holding leads late in games.
A quick history lesson for you: with 60 games to go in the 2008 season, the Cardinals were 2 games out first place in the central, and a game behind the Brewers for the top spot in the wild card race. Does anyone remember how the team finished?
– 11.5 games behind the Cubs for the division title
– 4 games behind the Brewers for the wild card spot… and for good measure…
– ½ game behind the Astros for 3rd place, a team who was 10 games behind the Cardinals with 60 games to go in the season.
In other words, yikes.
So what happened? The team carried a lead into the 8th inning that year 105 times… tops in all of baseball. But the Cardinals failed to seal the deal in 19 of those games, settling for a record of 86-76 when they could’ve been 105-57 (or perhaps more realistically, 95-67, which would’ve still be good enough to clinch a postseason berth).
And that brings us to today. As of now, the Cardinals have already lost 11 games in which they held the lead entering the 8th inning. What stings even more is that 4 times they held the lead with 2 outs in the 9th and failed to get the victory. Making just those four game wins instead of losses would have the Cardinals sitting in the drivers’ seat of the division at 58-44 and a 4 game lead on the Pirates (and just a game behind Atlanta for the wildcard as extra insurance).
Instead, the Cardinals are 54-48, tied with the Pirates, a ½ game ahead of the Brewers, and the Reds are still within shouting distance. But unlike 2008, the blame can’t solely be directed on the bullpen. This season, the defense has let the team down just as often.
The defense has already cost St. Louis three wins since the All-Star Break. Yes, really.
– July 15th in Cincinnati, a throwing error in the 7th by David Freese sets up a 2 run inning, the Cardinals lose by a run on a walk-off home run by Brandon Phillips.
– July 20th in New York, an 8th inning throwing error by Daniel Descalso sets up the tying run in an extra inning loss.
– July 24th in Pittsburgh, a 10th inning throwing set up the winning run.
– April 8th in San Francisco, Albert Pujols’ 12th inning error (the team’s 3rd of the game) sets up the winning run.
– April 9th in San Francisco, Colby Rasmus drops a fly ball that would’ve been the final out of the game, allowing the tying and winning runs to score.
– April 26th in Houston, a 9th inning passed ball and throwing error set up the tying and winning runs.
– May 1st in Atlanta, a dropped 9th inning pop-up (yes, I said pop-up) allows the eventual winning run to reach base and score.
As much as those losses hurt, they’re in the past. The errors and blown saves will continue to stack up just like they did in 2008. That’s unless GM John Mozeliak makes some improvements before the trade deadline. Three years ago, the Cardinals scooped up Mark DeRosa from the Indians in exchange for budding reliever, Chris Perez (ouch).
Can the Cardinals continue to hang around in the playoff race without making a big splash? I actually believe they can and will. But I also think the Brewers are the favorites to come away with the division crown if St. Louis doesn’t do something.
Maybe it’s a big trade for a reliever. Perhaps it’s a move that shores up the defense.
Or maybe, they figure out ways to finish games.