Watching the Cardinals at times can be a maddening experience. The managerial decisions that induce cursing and nightmares, the haphazard bullpen, the poor defense and base running, the reliance on home runs, the inability to win at home and the struggles against poor teams can all provide the feeling that this just isn’t the Cardinals’ year. The Cardinals have been winning consistently for two decades and haven’t missed the postseason for a half-dozen seasons, and this team might not look like most of those Cardinals teams, but this team isn’t yet done.
Over at Sports On Earth, Will Leitch succumbed to the temptation that most Cardinals fans have been dealing with all season long to write off the Cardinals. First, he fans the flames of hope just a little bit:
Look, the Cardinals could still get hot these last three weeks and take over the Wild Card lead and end up facing the Cubs in the NLDS again. (And the Cardinals are absolutely the team the Cubs want to play least -- St. Louis has a winning record against Chicago this season, though we'll see how this next week goes -- which is the exact opposite situation the teams were in last season.)
Then, he stamps that fire out.
But I've been watching this team every day this season, waiting for them to turn on the jets like we all know they have the talent to do. It hasn't happened. It's not going to start happening now.
He’s not wrong, not completely wrong anyway. Read the rest of his piece. The same issues we have been harping on all season long provide plenty of reasons to believe the Cardinals are not a great team, that they are barely a good team, and that they are hardly destined for greatness. He cites my piece requesting the Cardinals dismiss Mike Matheny. There are a lot of reasons to believe that this Cardinals team isn’t very good. Those reasons might not matter.
The Cardinals have an incredibly talented offensive team, and their 106 wRC+ leads the National League. The team might be home run dependent, but their .327 on-base percentage still ranks fifth in the NL. The Cardinals have 11 players with at least 200 plate appearances and a wRC+ over 100 this season. Seven of those players are 27 and under, three are 25 and under, and that does not even include 25-year-old Kolten Wong, who has a 106 wRC+ since his demotion in June.
Stripping out sequencing, mostly a function of luck, and using BaseRuns, the Cardinals have played like an 82-win team. That’s not 82 wins at the end of the season, that’s 80 wins now, fourth best in baseball and better than the Dodgers, Giants, and Mets.
Perhaps the Cubs being so far ahead adds to the sense of doom, but the Cubs are ahead of everyone this year. All the Cardinals have to do is make the playoffs and get a shot. Inconsistent hitting and pitching can cost you quite a few games over the course of the season, and while a nice run to end the season doesn’t seem likely given the way the season has gone, the talent is still there.
Using rest of the season projections, a decent measure of the talent on hand, the Cardinals are behind the Cubs, Nationals, Dodgers and barely behind the Giants, but ahead of Mets. Playoff odds have the Cardinals behind the Mets, mostly due to the Mets’ easy schedule, not because the Mets are a better team.
Inconsistency has ruled the pitching side, but 24-year-old Carlos Martinez continues to show ace stuff on the mound and has been getting ace results as well with a 2.88 FIP and 1.85 ERA since he last faced the Cubs one month ago. Adam Wainwright has been solid for the last four months, putting up a 3.64 ERA and 3.39 FIP during that time. Mike Leake has been inconsistent, but has posted solid peripheral numbers. Jaime Garcia has not looked good of late, but is capable of putting together some good starts.
Luke Weaver has held his own in the rotation (3.48 ERA, 3.50 FIP) and Alex Reyes has been dominant (2.42 FIP, 1.52 ERA), showing that the farm system is far from bare. The potential return of Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal along with dominant closer Seung Hwan Oh and the pair of rookies could turn the Cardinals bullpen into a strength.
The Mets have an easy schedule, but have been just as inconsistent as the Cardinals. The Giants gave away the NL West and might easily do the same with the wild card. A game or two games over .500 the rest of the way might be enough to get into the playoffs. A one-game playoff with Carlos Martinez on the mound could earn the Cardinals a rematch with the Cubs.
With roles reversed from last year, a slugging Cardinals team might do to the Cubs what the Cubs did to the Cardinals last season—what the Mets did to the Cubs last season. Are the Cardinals’ odds good? No. Right now, the playoff odds give the Cardinals an 8.4% chance of winning the NLDS, likely over the Cubs. However, those odds are better than the chances of Mark McGwire hitting a home run when he came to the plate during his career. There are only 19 games left and the Cardinals still have a real shot at the playoffs. The record and the inconsistent play have been frustrating to watch, but the talent is still there. Should be fun.