Since the Cardinals fired Mike Matheny and hired Mike Shildt as manager, I’ve figured 90 wins (a tall task, considering what Shildt took over), would be enough to get them into the playoffs. But as the season heads into September, the Cardinals would need to go 17-14 in their remaining 31 games, to get them to 90…and now I don’t think that’ll be enough.
There are five National League Wild Card contenders with at least 70 wins…led by the Cardinals and Brewers with 73. You have to believe that more than just those two will get to the 90-win mark. The Cards head into what would appear to be an easy portion of their schedule now…with series coming up against the Pirates, Reds, Nationals, Tigers and Pirates again before facing the Dodgers here in St. Louis in mid-September.
These next fifteen games would be a great time to pile up perhaps more than half of those twenty victories before facing the Dodgers, Braves, Brewers, Giants and Cubs to close out the season.
How do the Cardinals get to 92 or 93 wins? Well, if they play they way they have since Shildt took over, they’ll be fine. They’ve won nine consecutive series and are 26-12 under their new skipper. There are some reasons for the success that, if maintained, will get them to the playoffs…
- Keep hitting home runs. The Cardinals are third in the N.L. with 51 homers in 37 games since the All-Star Break, 1.37 per game. Before the break, they hit 118 in 96 games, an average of 1.22 per game. The big separation is in wins. The Cardinals average about a homer a game more in wins, 1.73…than losses, 0.72.
- Keep the bullpen going. Even with an eight-run explosion against the ‘pen in the eighth inning on Saturday night in Denver, the Cards still have the second-best bullpen ERA in the league since the break. The bullpen was the primary culprit in the team’s struggles in the first half, but the new guys (literally a new group) have been sensational. Of the group of Bud Norris, Jordan Hicks, Dakota Hudson, Dominic Leone, Carlos Martinez, Tyson Ross, Luke Weaver, Brett Cecil and Chasen Shreve, five of them didn’t start the season in the bullpen, and three weren’t even on the team. Add in the starting rotation of Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, John Gant and Austin Gomber, and five of the thirteen Cardinal pitchers weren’t with the club on Opening Day, and five are rookies.
- Keep that rotation going. For me, the most amazing part of this run is that it’s been done without Martinez, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright and Alex Reyes. Ordinarily, teams that go on extended winning runs (like going 19-5 in August) do so with experienced, quality starting pitching. The Cards starters are Inexperienced quality starters. Flaherty, Gant and Gomber are, of course, rookies…and Mikolas had made ten major league starts before 2018. There’s no reason to believe that group won’t continue their success. When you pitch as well as they did at Los Angeles and Colorado, you’ve got things going in the right direction.
- Continue the defensive excellence. Health for Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong, regular play for Harrison Bader and outstanding defense by Yadier Molina give the Cardinals one of the best up-the-middle defenses in the majors. In a piece last Friday in The Athletic, Mark Simon wrote that the Cardinal defense since the break is tied for THE BEST in the league with Arizona. Simon credits the guys up the middle for that success. Hopefully Wong’s hamstring injury will allow him to get back into action quickly. Divisions and pennants are won on pitching and great defense up the middle, and Wong is a key part of that for the Cardinals.
- Help Matt Carpenter. Carpenter has had one of the best three-month streaks in Cardinal history. He leads the N.L. in homers AND doubles, and his OPS is second in the league. When Carpenter went through a recent cool spell (0-18), the team won 4-of-5 and scored 6, 4, 4, 5 and 7 runs in the games. That’s the sort of team production that allows teams to win pennants.
Under the guidance of Shildt, the Cardinals are playing a style that will allow them to win close games. The athleticism and running speed of Bader has already played a major role, and more runs like Sunday’s mad dash home from second base on an infield hit give me confidence that the club can manufacture runs more effectively than they did under Matheny.
The Cardinals are 26-12 under Shildt. They probably need to go 20-11 the rest of the way to assure themselves a playoff spot. Can they do it? I see no reason why not.