Cardinals beginning to surgeBy Matt Verderame
The St. Louis Cardinals are always going to be in the middle of the pennant race, regardless of expectation or year. Coming into this season, the Cardinals were thought to be a legitimate contender after winning 100 games last campaign, only to stumble throughout much of the first half.
Now, suddenly but certainly not shockingly, the Cardinals have won four consecutive games and what once seemed like an impossible dream is a very real possibility. St. Louis could not only make the postseason in the National League, but perhaps win the Central.
Going into Friday, the once invincible Chicago Cubs only lead the second-place Cardinals by 6.5 games with more than two and a half months remaining in the season. St. Louis is surging behind a solid offense and a tremendous wealth of arms, something that the Cubs know about with Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and John Lackey on their staff.
Right now, the Cardinals would still be on the outside looking in for the playoffs. The Los Angeles Dodgers ahve the first wild card position and hold a two-game lead on St. Louis, while the Miami Marlins have the last spot and a one-game advantage on the Redbirds.
The offense is diverse with no fewer than eight hitters with double-digit home runs. While Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss are leading the way with 17 blasts each, Matt Carptener and Stephen Piscotty are contributing with 14 apiece. Carpenter continues to have a great start to his career, hitting .298 with a .420 on-base percentage and 25 doubles.
On the mound, St. Louis is starting to round into form. Longtime ace Adam Wainwright was terrible to begin the season but now is rolling, leading the team with nine wins and 99 strikeouts. While Wainwright still has a ways to go before being his old self, he’s giving hope of a dominant last few months. Michael Wacha is struggling with a 4.45 ERA, but Carlos Martinez is dealing. Martinez is having the best year of anybody in the rotation, notching a 2.83 ERA with a 9-6 record and 12 quality starts in 18 outings.
With the trade deadline looming on Aug. 1, the Cardinals could make a move to fortify their bullpen. Closer Trevor Rosenthal has a 5.45 ERA and could easily be upgraded, whether it be with Huston Street of the Los Angeles Angels or even Alex Colome of the Tampa Bay Rays, although the latter would be more pricey.
St. Louis would be a very dangerous out in October if Moss and Carpenter are healthy. The Cardinals know how to win and with a combination of starting pitching and veteran hitters, nobody will want to face them.