On July 24th, 1964...the St. Louis Cardinals stood 10 game back of the league leading Philadelphia Phillies at a record of 47-47.
The Cardinals, in a race for second place with Chicago, San Fransisco and Cincy didn't particularly factor into the postseason talk.
Bing Devine was going to be fired soon. He had brought over a lighthitting LF who had struggled while in Chicago but apparently caught fire after being acquired on June 15th.
The Cardinals cleanup hitter went into the All-Star break with just 12 HRs and 54 RBIs, while batting .288. Their power hitting 1st basemen entered the break with just 7 HRs and 30 RBIs, sporting a .263 average.
What lay before them was an almost meaningless 13 game stretch against the Phillies, Cubs and Reds.
What happened, with the help of the Phillies is the stuff of legend.
The Cardinals took 3 of 4 from the Phils, followed by a sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley. They sputtered a bit against the Reds, losing 2 of 3 before breaking back even by taking 2 of 3 from the Cubs. The Cardinals had ripped off a 9-4 record over that 13 game stretch. They had improved their standing in the National League by 3 games, while pulling themselves ahead of the Cubs by 6 games.
After sitting 1 game below .500 at 47-48 before this stretch, the Cardinals went 46-21 to close out the season.
The struggling 1st basemen followed his anemic 1st half production with a sizzling 2nd half: 14 HR, 72 RBI, .338 BA, .938 OPS. The clean-up hitter, their eventual MVP 3rd basemen raised his batting average in the 2nd half to .301, knocking another 12 balls over the wall and driving in 65.
That lighthitting LF the Cardinals gave up the top-line pitcher for? He came over to the Cardinals and after the ASG put up an astonishing: 11 HRs, 37 RBIs, .350 BA and a .932 OPS, some ~.240 points higher.
What the '64 Cardinals had was pitching. The Cardinals lost a pitcher who was an 18 game winner the year before in the trade to the Cubs. They still had quality arms in Ace in the making Bob Gibson, aging yet effective veteran Curt Simmons and a young pitcher who caught ligthing in a bottle in Ray Sadecki.
The 2007 Cardinals have the room to improve offensively to match the production of that '64 team. They have a better standing than the '64 club with less teams to jump for position. Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds all underwhelmed offensively in the 1st half, but if healthy could put up much better numbers in the 2nd half. We've already seen Pujols catch fire.
What the 2007 Cardinals DON'T have is pitching. They COULD get it, but probably nowhere near what the '64 team had. Wainwright and Thompson continue to impress. If Anthony Reyes can FINALLY get over that hump and pitch like the prospect he is supposed to be and if Kip Wells of last week is the Kip Wells we see the rest of the way out, the Cardinals rotation may just be able to hold on long enough for a potential boost for lefty Mark Mulder.
The Brewers have TOO much pitching to replicate the tired arm fall apart the Phillies staged. However, I don't know that the Cardinals need the Brewers to collapse. They just need them to play the way they have been. With their terrible road record and 36 more games on the road, the Cardinals could feasibly sweep the rest of the season series with the Cubs and Brewers and 'hang with them' the other opponents.
Either way, I just thought it would be a fun look back on this off-day before the make or break week of the 2007 Cardinals season. The faced a similiar week that 1964 season and rose to the challenge.