The Cardinals had a good weekend, rallying from Friday night’s 7-2 clunker of a loss to win two tight games in a row and take the series from the San Francisco Giants.
After losing 19 of 26 games during a hideous stretch that ended June 27, the Cards are 9-6 in their last 15. The upswing includes two series triumphs over the Giants, a talented, deep and balanced team that owns the top winning percentage (.630) in the majors.
The progress hasn’t been dramatic, but it is encouraging. And the way back needs a starting point. In that context the Cardinals are making headway in liberating themselves from their losing ways
And really, that’s all that matters. Nothing else. Seriously. Nothing else. Just win. Win games, win a bunch of series, win at home, win on the road, win by rallying from being down, win by hanging on tight when a trailing opponent comes back at you.
Win with offense on some days. Win with homers, or win by getting on base at a higher rate and by pressing for runs when the homers aren’t flying. Win with defense, and with base running. Win with starting pitching and by pitching above expectations until Jack Flaherty returns. Win with the relievers preserving leads. Win with the manager maximizing the available talent. Win with a combination of all of the above.
There is winning and there is misery.
Enough already with the wishcasting about Milwaukee’s starting pitchers tiring and breaking down, or the fantasies of rolling like tanks over bad teams on the section of soft schedule that begins July 30.
Enough already with the “We’re A Second Half Team” pronouncements; that’s something that must be proven on the field — again and again. And for heaven’s sake stop looking ahead to the late-season appointments that include 13 games against the Brewers from Aug. 17 through the end of the schedule. Because if you can’t start stringing together a lot of wins, ASAP, the late-season schedule means nothing.
And please, filter out the babbling about scratching and clawing and fighting tails off and leaving hearts on the field every single day.
Manager Mike Shildt still seems to think the commissioner will be visiting Busch Stadium any day now to hand out little trophies to the Cardinals for trying hard.
Shildt gave his best Little League Dad testimonials of the season Friday night after his boys were thumped by the Giants.
“Every single guy that walks in our clubhouse every single day is a fighter,” he said. “Every single day. They’re fighters. You know, guys are gonna play their tail off. Staff, players, I mean, everybody’s showing up to compete … we’ll show up tomorrow and get after it.
“There is a comfort level knowing you have your leadership that’s gonna to show up and be good stewards of what it looks like to compete regardless of circumstance. It’s a group that’s work ethic and competitive spirit is very high.”
But I’ll go with Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, who said: “You don’t get any medal for trying something, you get medals for results.”
Parcells wasn’t into Happy Talk.
“There is winning,” Parcells said, “and there is misery.”
About the effort level: I’m unaware of any reasonable person out there that’s accusing the manager, coaches and players of giving a half-hearted effort. And remember, it’s all about winning.
That’s the thing about sports: we keep score. We count up the wins and the losses. And in professional sports, that’s pretty much everything. Did you compete hard? Great, good for you.
OK, but what about the result?
Hey, did you win?
In a sport that is a business, that’s how you’re judged. If you compete hard and win more than you lose, the media reactions are positive and the fans stay happy.
But if you lose more than you win — and the losses stack up into an ugly pile over time — well, nobody cares about how hard you competed. Lose too much and you will feel the heat. You will have fewer people lining up to tell you how great you are. It’s always been this way. It will always be this way.
As Tony La Russa frequently said about managers and players getting stung by criticism: “If you don’t like it, go find something else to do for a living.”
And yes, there are times when we find, and praise, honor in defeat. We should never hate teams or competitors just because they lose — but it’s perfectly OK to hate losing.
And there is nothing wrong with maintaining an optimistic view; a team probably can’t win unless it believes it can win.
But without converting optimism to the desired results, the hooray-team stuff doesn’t change the National League standings. Talk of the Cards’ 2011 whirlwind comeback does absolutely nothing to hoist the 2021 team into first place. Among other things, the 2011 team made a massive Jully trade that altered the season.
And 2021 is about 2021. And no one is going to change the Cardinals’ record to reflect extra wins and fewer losses because the team has injuries and expects understanding and empathy.
Every baseball team has injuries, especially this year. Because of injuries, the first-place Milwaukee Brewers have used more players (53) than any MLB team this season.
The Brewers just keep plugging in players. They just keep playing. They’re seven games ahead of the second-place Reds and nine games ahead of the third-place Cubs and Cardinals. The Cubs and Cardinals are 7.5 games out in the chase for the NL’s second Wild Card.
That’s why it’s so critical for the Cardinals to get moving. Moving forward, moving upward. The Redbirds open a four-game home series against the Cubs on Monday night, then will jet to Cincinnati for a three-game weekend set. By Sunday night, the Cardinals will be down to 62 regular-season games.
So forget about the Brewers and the potential for sore arms, and forget about the Brewers and their below-average offense.
The Cardinals have more problems than Milwaukee. Don’t be pointing at Milwaukee’s rotation concerns when you, the Cardinals, have only three starting pitchers that can lead you to wins. And don’t listen to media nonsense about the Milwaukee offense when the St. Louis offense is averaging fewer runs per game than the Brewers.
Forget about the Reds’ problematic bullpen, or the Cubs trading players away. Forget about any other flaw that you see within teams you’re stalking in the NL Central or the Wild Card. The only time to recognize such flaws is when it’s time to play the team that has them.
I appreciated something Adam Wainwright said after giving up four runs in six innings as the starting pitcher in Friday’s loss to the Giants. He was clearly perturbed by the loss and his own role in it. He respects his teammates and will stand up for them. But that’s about as far as it goes.
“There’s winners in that clubhouse,” Wainwright said. “They know what it takes to win. We just got to do it. It’s enough talking about it, we just need to go out and do it.”
The Cardinals had a successful weekend. Congratulations. And the fans enjoyed their Saturday and Sunday at the ballpark. But the good vibes will turn to nothing unless the Cards can take their modest two-game winning streak and make it grow into something special.
Thanks for reading …
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.