After a rough start to the second half of the season that included five losses in six games to the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, the St. Louis Cardinals woke up and are back to looking like the team that led the NL Central through April.
The Cardinals have lost just twice since leaving Milwaukee on July 18, and the upcoming schedule suggests they could go on a bit of a run. The Cardinals play the Colorado Rockies and the Brewers after they finish up Sunday with the Chicago Cubs.
Both the Rockies and Brewers are well below .500 and both teams have recently traded significant parts of their team. The Rockies sent starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie to the Kansas City Royals and infielder Marco Scutaro to the San Francisco Giants. The Brewers sent starter Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
After those two series, the Cardinals could look back and see one heck of a nice stretch. Unfortunately, the Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates are playing just as well as the Cardinals. The Reds have won nine of their last 10 games, and the Pirates have won eight of their last 10.
Still, the Cardinals have shown progress of late. They took three of four games from the Los Angeles Dodgers last week in what could turn out to be a turning-point series for the club. Winning three out of four is a lot different than splitting the series.
The Dodgers are a good baseball team, and a split would have been an example of how the Cardinals have plodded through much of the summer, but winning the finale of the series Thursday showed they have a killer instinct and will play well enough to compete for a playoff spot.
Yes, the Cardinals have also fattened up on the 41-58 Cubs during this stretch by winning four of five heading into play Sunday, but the Cubs have won series against every other team they’ve played following the All-Star Break.
The Cardinals’ offense has kicked into gear of late, scoring three or more runs in all but one game against the Dodgers and Cubs, but as has been the case most of the year, the bullpen’s success has been a large factor in the team’s success. The bullpen has not given up a single run in any of the Cardinals’ last seven wins. It gave up two runs in the seventh inning Monday against the Dodgers, and that opened the game up enough so the Cardinals couldn’t come back.
The starting rotation has been good for the most part this season, and a consistent bullpen would make the Cardinals nearly a complete team. Those are the types of teams that make deep runs into the playoffs, and this team certainly has that potential.
Recently called-up reliever Brian Fuentes should provide a veteran presence in the bullpen, and that could make a big difference in the make-up of that group.
The Cardinals needed a veteran to take some of the pressure off of all the young guys in the bullpen, and Fuentes might be the right guy for that job. That could also allow General Manager John Mozaliak to look for a starting pitcher as insurance in case one of the current guys breaks down.
Regardless, a deadline deal is not nearly as necessary this year as it was last year. If the Cardinals can add somebody to the roster Tuesday, that’s great. If not, the Cardinals still have enough talent to make the playoffs.
The great unknown is whether or not that talent can play consistently enough to get the Cardinals into the postseason.