Admittedly, I wrote off the Cardinals‘ shot at October a couple weeks ago. Yet, with 19 games to play they sit three games out of a wild card spot and two games out of the division lead. Here come the Cardinals. I should have learned by now. With this franchise, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, regardless of how sloppy their day-to-day play seems to be. I am hopeful the Cardinals will reach the postseason because their opponents are waning and the right players are getting hot when the team needs it the most.
The primary reason their postseason odds remain around twenty percent is that the second wild card spot is up for grabs. The Rockies are clinging to it with their fingernails, after holding it handily over the first few months of the season. Pre-All Star Break, their record was 52-39. Since then, they are 26-26 with a starters’ ERA of 5.01 and their schedule does not get easier, with one series remaining against the Dodgers (who still hold the best record in the league despite getting swept by the Rockies and losing a ton of games before that) and the Diamondbacks who just set a franchise-leading win streak. Then they’ll run into Padres, Giants, and Marlins teams playing to be a spoiler.
Then there are the Cubs. They have just a two-game lead in the division, and the Cardinals can catch them because there are seven head-to-head matchups remaining between the two teams. It’s intra-division games for the Cardinals for the rest of the season, so if they can win five of seven against the Cubs and play above-.500 the rest of the way, they can take the division. And I need them to win the division so I can un-ironically wear my Pete Kozma jersey to the NLDS.
The offense this year has been ... not great. They’ve lost a lot of heartbreaking one-run games, and Lance Lynn’s last two starts have been lost after he gave up one run over six innings and none over eight.
"You're gonna have this offense for the rest of the year" - McCarver— Total Cardinals Move (@Total_CardsMove) June 3, 2017
However, there are some glimmers of hope in the lineup. In the past month, José Martínez has been red-hot! He is batting .370 with five home runs and a .424 OBP and has an active ten-game hitting streak. Additionally, he’s the best pinch hitter in baseball with a .440 average. Of everyone with more than fifteen pinch hit plate appearances, he is the best with eleven total pinch hits, including two homers.
I’m also happy to see a resurgent Stephen Piscotty over the past couple weeks. Before the season began, I advocated for him to bat cleanup because I thought he was a consistently high OBP sort of hitter. Obviously, the season hasn’t gone that way for him, but he seems to be regaining his form at the right time. Over the past fourteen days he’s batting .324, with a .402 OBP and a .235 ISO.
Then there’s Tommy Pham, who has been the lifeblood of the offense since getting the call-up this season. (Please excuse my heart eyes.) He is twelfth in the league in fWAR, tied for ninth in average (.310), and eighth in wOBA (.394). He has proven he can hit consistently and play above-average defense.
We finally got the Cardinals debut of Juan Nicasio! It was a humdinger.
Matheny on Nicasio's play to end Pirates' 8th: "I didn't know he had that in his bag. Nice athletic play." #STLCards— Cardinals Magazine (@CardsMagazine) September 9, 2017
Matheny on Nicasio: "That was a fun 9th inning". #STLCards— Jim Hayes (@TheCatOnFox) September 9, 2017
In 61.1 innings, Nicasio averages 8.95 strikeouts per nine and a 46.9 percent ground ball rate. His 2.79 ERA and 2.97 FIP are very good, and he was a great pickup for St. Louis. I think he’ll really fortify the back end after the loss of Trevor Rosenthal and hopefully alleviate some of the need to use Oh against lefties. (‘Cause that hasn’t been going so well as of late.)
Also, can we talk about Tyler Lyons? He’s pitched twenty innings in the second half of the season, and has been one of the best in baseball over that time period. His ERA is 0.44 (first in baseball) and batters are only hitting .109 against him (also best in baseball)! He has not been named the replacement closer, but of everyone in the pen he’s the guy you want on the mound at the end of a close game.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have pretty well locked up that first wild card spot, and they’ll probably start Zack Greinke in that win-or-go-home game. I, for one, would enjoy an NLDS Game 2 rematch between Greinke and Lance Lynn. He’s been great this year. The Cardinals could always count on him to win ten games and go six innings, but this year he leveled up.
In the second half, Lance has the second-best ERA in all of baseball (1.95). And it’s not because he’s skimping on the innings; at 69.1 innings pitched, he is fourth in the league over that time frame.
The Cardinals players are getting hot at the right time. Maybe. Or perhaps it’s just a fluke and they will fizzle because they keep running into outs on the basepaths, but over the past few years I’ve learned not to doubt this team. Enough of them have been to the postseason to know what it’s like, and they hunger to experience it again. They want to go further and I, as a fan, hope they can claw their way into it at the last moment as they are wont to do.
There is enough going right for the Cardinals as they head into this key stretch of games that they have a chance to play October baseball. I want to see them here in DC for what I imagine would be an electric Division Series. Hope is alive for the birds on the bat, and we all know that no one rallies quite like the Cardinals.
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Audrey Stark is a contributor at Viva El Birdos. You can follow her on Twitter @highstarksunday.