The Pittsburgh Pirates are in town for a long weekend at Busch Stadium, providing competition for the home-team Cardinals.
Once upon a time, I would have snarked up. I would have been blatantly disrespectful to the Bucs. I would have declared, “Lawdy, the punching bags have arrived on time.” I would have gone into the maximum-jerk mode by tossing around words such as chump, victim, pushover, pigeon, galoot, oaf and schlemiel.
I would have clicked Wikipedia for a quick search to learn more about the history of the “Jolly Roger” pirate flag. I would have told Bartholomew Roberts and Francis Spriggs to come pick up the remnants of their shredded banner after the Cardinals committed unspeakable acts of violence on the Skull and Bones symbol.
But I can’t do that. After their many bountiful captures of vulnerable seafaring vessels, Bartholomew Roberts and Francis Spriggs passed away in the 1720s. I can’t tell them anything, you see.
And I can’t make fun of the Pirates. That’s because the Pirates have a better record (6-15) than the Cardinals (6-16) since May 30. And since May 14, there isn’t much difference between the teams that reside in fourth and fifth place in the five-team NL Central. The Cardinals are 13-23; the Pirates are 11-24.
Remember when the Cardinals swept a three-game series at Pittsburgh? And then knocked the Pirates out again in a two-game sweep here in St. Louis? Yes. These events happened. I do remember those times. The good times … but barely.
Yes I realize the Pirates are 26-46 overall, and 14-35 since April 28. But there is no justification for Cardinal-related overconfidence. The Redbirds are 18-26 in their last 44 games, 5-14 since June 2.
Mike Shildt’s zombie-like ballclub just got slapped around on a 1-5 roadie to Atlanta and Detroit, getting socked by a combined 28-5 score in the five losses.
The Arizona Diamondbacks come to town next week for a three-game set-to, and it’s best to be quiet about the Snakes’ 21-55 record on the campaign — including a 6-42 mark in their last 48 attempts at playing our national pastime. All I know is this: since June 17, the Cardinals and D-backs have won the same number of games: one.
In theory, the Cardinals (36-38) have a chance to get straight by flogging the Pirates and Diamondbacks over the next seven days. Sure. You bet. But the Cardinals are 4-5 in their last nine games against teams that currently have a losing record.
And even if the Cardinals crank out five wins in their seven matches against these weary travelers — what will it mean, exactly?
Sure, the Cardinals need to win as many games as possible against bad teams, mediocre teams, etc. Maximize those opportunities to shape a healthier record.
But at some point the Cardinals must show more vigor than a dead skunk in the middle of the road when they encounter the finer teams on their schedule.
When the Cardinals have played teams that are .500 or higher based on current record, they’re 13-24 with a minus 74 run differential.
Against opponents that are over .500 as of Thursday morning, the Cards are 9-18 with a minus 63 run differential.
Heck, the Cardinals also have a losing record (4-6) and a minus 11 run differential against foes that are sitting exactly at .500 on this day.
But this seven-game homestand gives the Cardinals a chance to reboot. Instead of getting their butts kicked again, it’s time for the home team to show us who they are, and what they have planned for a season-turning pivot.
Before we start worrying about how the Cardinals can beat the good teams, they have to get back to whacking the lesser teams. You can only win the games that are right in front of you, and it’s crucial for the Cardinals to handle Pittsburgh and Arizona without blundering.
When your team is under .500, it’s poor form to take losing teams for granted. There’s no point in looking down at the less fortunate members of MLB society when you’re perched at No. 19 among the 30 teams with a .486 winning percentage.
After the Cardinals lost 6-2 Wednesday to complete the ignominious two-loss performance in Detroit, manager Shildt finally struck an urgent tone in his postgame comments. Overdue, but important.
There should be no feelings of comfort. Not when you’re the Cardinals. Not when Nolan Arenado’s old team has a better record (11-10) this month than his current team (6-14.) Not when you’re suddenly 5.5 games out of first place in the NL Central. Not when you’re drifting in the same boat with the Pirates and other losing crews.
If the Cardinals don’t want to be lumped in with the Pirates and Diamondbacks, they have to put lumps on the Pirates and Diamondbacks. The Cardinals are a flawed team, but they’re capable of playing at a more respectable level.
That starts now. Ticket sales are sluggish, and the July 30 trade deadline is approaching. For the Cardinals, will it be buy or sell? Forget that. Right now, all that matters is raising hell by winning a bunch of games.
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.