The St. Louis Cardinals began their World Series title defense in impressive fashion, going 14-8 in April and leading the NL Central division by three games over the Cincinnati Reds. But then the season quickly took a turn for the worse as several key players got hurt and the Cardinals lost the division lead.
However, the Cardinals looked a lot more like the team of April this week than the depleted roster that struggled to keep up through much of May and June.
Sure, they are just 3-2 in their last five games heading into play Sunday, but the team has played much more solid games devoid of the mental lapses and poor fundamental play that plagued the team for more than a month.
Lance Lynn started last week’s series against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers unimpressively. He gave up five runs in five innings, but since then the Cardinals pitching staff has been dynamite. Jake Westbrook threw a complete-game shutout Wednesday, and Kyle Lohse certainly pitched well enough to win Thursday afternoon’s game the Cardinals lost 2-1 in 10 innings.
But the real wake-up call came when the team showed up Friday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City to begin a beatdown of their cross-state rival, the Royals. The Cardinals plastered 10 runs on the board in the first two innings of Friday’s game started by Joe Kelly. They went on to win 11-4 and then pounded out eight more runs Saturday to help Adam Wainwright get the 8-2 win.
Perhaps how the Cardinals won those games is more impressive than the fact that they won them. The offense jumped out to early leads in both games and put the Royals in a position where they had to try and make a comeback if they were going to win.
That’s what the Cardinals did so well at the beginning of the season. Fans who were late to their seats would miss most of the scoring because the Cardinals often had a multiple-run lead before the stadium lights would begin to take effect.
Not coincidently, the Cardinals recent performances happened the same weekend as centerfielder Jon Jay and utility man Matt Carpenter returns from the disabled list. Both players returned to the lineup for Friday’s game.
Now let’s not oversell those two players return as the saviors to the season. Injuries have certainly played a major role in the Cardinals’ struggles this year, but there have also been defensive lapses and bullpen problems that have nothing to do with injuries.
Still, the return of Jay and Carpenter are a boost to the club and should be the beginning of a stretch of better baseball.
Plus, the Cardinals will begin a series Monday in Miami to face the Marlins, who are in the middle of a rough stretch where they’ve lost nine of their last 10 games. The Cardinals started the season in Miami with a 4-1 behind a masterful performance by Lohse and maintained that momentum for the rest of the month.
Westbrook is scheduled to start Monday’s game, but his complete game last week in Detroit might have been the spark for a similar run into the second half of the season.