The St. Louis Cardinals have missed the playoffs each of the last two years and that’s just not something that happens very often. In fact, only once in the 21st century, have the Cardinals finished out of the money in two straight years (2007-08) and never in the new millennium have they missed October baseball three straight years. That track record of consistency is what’s on the line this year and in a packed National League landscape, we’ll take a look at the Cardinals chances of returning to the postseason.
St. Louis is currently 28-23, five games back of Milwaukee in the NL Central, and are currently in the midst of a three-games series up in Miller Park. This weekend, the Cards visit the Pirates, one of several teams—including the Cubs—that are bunched up in the overall wild-card race.
Starting pitching has carried St. Louis to a winning record so far and it’s the reason they will at least remain in the conversation for the rest of the year. The Cards are second in the National League in starters’ ERA and that’s even with staff ace Carlos Martinez missing a couple turns due to a strained lat. Martinez, aka, “Baby Pedro”, is expected back this week and in his eight starts, he’s posted a 1.62 ERA.
Baby Pedro has gotten plenty of help, with Miles Mikolas sitting on a 6-0 record and 2.58 ERA. Michael Wacha is at 2.88 and 22-year-old Jack Flaherty has gotten five starts and put up a riveting 2.15 ERA. This organization seems to have the ability to just bring up young arms and watch them immediately step in. Flaherty fits that mold.
And the starters have to be good, because if St. Louis doesn’t make the playoffs, it will be the bullpen that is the cause. Even in the Cardinals’ best years of recent memory, they often dealt with a leaky pen through the season and managed to use a combination of trade deadline moves, managerial savvy and good old-fashioned luck to put everything together in October. They’ll have to do more of the same this year, because the relievers are 13th in the NL in ERA and have only the possibility of Greg Holland returning from the disabled list to really look forward to.
Overall though, St. Louis can feel reasonably good about where they’re at. They’ve been hit with nagging injuries—you can add Paul DeJong and Dexter Fowler to the list of those already mentioned. They aren’t scoring runs, tied for 10th in the National League. That’s due mainly to a lack of players consistently driving the ball for average and into the alleys. I think it’s safe to say though, that Matt Carpenter’s batting average won’t be .221 at the end of the year and Fowler won’t finish with a stat line of .276 on-base percentage/.288 slugging percentage.
The Cardinals have the look of a team that can fight to the very end as a playoff contender, but is probably not good enough to win a World Series. Funny thing is though, that’s the same thing one might have said in 2006 and 2011. And there are championship banners flying in Busch Stadium because they simply got in the dance and put it together at the right time.