After the Cardinals fended off the Pirates in the ninth inning Thursday to clench their 7-6 win and clinch a three-game series sweep, they jetted out of Pittsburgh with a 58-56 record.
They could feel good about themselves after getting past an irritating barrier. After failing to pull themselves up to two games over .500 in five opportunities to do so, the Cardinals made it back to plus-two for the first time in 58 days.
This is a trifling step, of course. But when you’re slogging through a frustrating season with more drag than traction, the minor progress is preferable to another relapse.
“It’s nice to get on the plus side of the ledger and now it’s time to not look back and move forward,” manager Mike Shildt said via Zoom conference after Thursday’s busy win, which required participation from 20 Cardinals.
The only STL players that didn’t appear were catcher Yadier Molina, starting pitchers Adam Wainwright, J.A. Happ and Jon Lester, and relievers Ryan Helsley, Justin Miller and Daniel Ponce DeLeon.
The Cardinals deployed six relievers to lasso 21 outs. Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes got into trouble and worked out of trouble in just the nick of time. The bench came up big with a two-run homer by pinch-hitter Lars Nootbar.
The win, the sweep and Thursday’s extensive team effort soothed some of the burn from two new injury concerns. Starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc withdrew after two innings because of elbow pain. Outfielder Dylan Carlson (wrist soreness) exited after striking out in the fourth.
I’m not here to write a game story. But Thursday’s victory requires a little more attention, even 24 hours later. I rehashed the all-hands-on-deck element — and the new injury concerns — because the Cardinals competed with desperation.
After scoring three runs in the top of the fourth inning to go up 5-3, the Cardinals never relinquished the lead — and scrambled like mad to keep it that way.
You know what? This really was a “scratch and claw” game. Shildt frequently wastes the phrase on gratuitous, laughably inaccurate compliments of his team. Thursday at PNC Park, the praise was justified.
The Pirates have lost eight games in a row, 18 out of 23, and have won only 18 times in 58 games since June 6. From the Cards standpoint, it really doesn’t matter. Mediocre teams have no reason to be snobby.
A win is a win … is a win … is a win.
For what it’s worth, the Cardinals are making a move. A methodical move; not a rush. But they’ve won three straight and five of their last six games.
— The Cardinals are 6-2-2 in their last 10 series. They’re 17-12 in their last 29 games (.586) and 14-10 (.583) since the All-Star break.
— That 17-12 mark is the fourth-best in the NL since July 5th, with only Milwaukee, San Francisco and Philadelphia doing better over that time.
— After dropping a series at Colorado during the 4th of July weekend, the Cardinals have won a higher share of games than the LA Dodgers, San Diego, Cincinnati, the NY Mets, and Atlanta.
— The Cardinals haven’t come close to entering Milwaukee’s first-place air space (11 games out) but have sidled to within 6.5 games of the Padres for the NL’s second wild-card spot.
— There are other teams between the Padres and the Cardinals in the wild-card derby, but at least the Redbirds are getting closer: a half-game behind the Braves, a game away from the Mets, and three games short of the Reds.
— The Cardinals have scored at least four runs in their last eight games. And in nine of their last 10. This doesn’t make them the 1927 Yankees — or even the 2013 Cardinals. But the Cards were last in the NL and 29th overall for runs scored in their 50 games in June and July.
— In their 10 August games the Cardinals are averaging 4.5 runs, batting .269, getting on base 35 percent of the time, and slugging .432 for a .782 OPS. That OPS ranks ninth in the majors so far this month.
The St. Louis schedule began to soften in late July — with series against Cleveland, Minnesota, Atlanta, Kansas City and Pittsburgh — but that’s no reason to reject an encouraging (if inconclusive) upturn on offense.
Jeff Albert’s boys have been shut down by losing teams before. Example: averaging a puny 2.1 runs and batting .175 with a horrid .557 OPS in losing six of seven to Atlanta, Detroit and Pittsburgh in late June.
The modest gains made in their record, the standings, and their offense will be wiped away if the Cardinals get jostled and smacked down over the next 11 games: three at Kansas City, followed by an eight-game homestand against Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Detroit.
The Cardinals have won five of six, but I wouldn’t call it momentum. Six games is just a flash. Six games doesn’t represent a large-scale reversal, a reinvention, or make them an overpowering force.
The 5-1 record is oxygen that eased their gasping caused by Atlanta’s three-game sweep at Busch Stadium last week. The Cardinals are back on their feet. They stood up and did the job by winning all three games in Pittsburgh.
It leads to an obvious question: Well, now what?
It’s Friday the 13th.
But at least Jack Flaherty returns from the IL this evening in Kansas City, making his first start for the Cards since May 31.
No pressure or anything, Jack. But you’ve got to set the tone and keep the Cardinals rolling forward in a tricky series against the Royals.
Thanks for reading …
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
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.