By: Jim Tsapelas
In what must be identified as the “High Water” mark thus far of the 2016 season, the St. Louis Cardinals swept the MLB leading Chicago Cubs in a three game set at historic Wrigley Field. The Cardinals traveled to Chicago reeling on the heels of a five game home stand loss to the AL West’s Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. With a travel day on Thursday, the Redbirds fly to Seattle to continue their AL Western Division Inter-League play by meeting the Mariners in a three game set at Safeco Field.
At the end of play on Wednesday, St. Louis (38-33) are five games over the .500 mark; nine and one half games behind the NL Central Division leading Chicago Cubs. The Cards are five games ahead of the third place Pittsburgh Pirates; and are third in the NL Wild Card race-one-half game behind the New York Mets for the coveted second Wild Card spot.
In the recent five game home stand the Houston Astros outscored the Cardinals nine to three; in a two game set. In a three game series, the Texas Rangers outscored the Redbirds ten to seven. Texas defeated St. Louis by just one run, in each of the three contests.
In the three game series with the Cubs, the Cardinals outscored the Cubs fourteen to seven. The first two games, similar to the games at home against the Rangers, were won by the Redbirds by one run. The Birds on the Bat came alive to beat the Cubs seven to two in Game Three.
In Game Three the Birds sent ten batters to the plate and scored five runs in the sixth inning. The positives gleamed from the last three series against the Astros, Rangers and Cubs showed a marked improvement in the quality of the starting rotation, and a re-invigoration of offensive production,
Arguably, the Cardinals entered the three game series with the Cubs in Chicago as underdogs. The evidence squarely pointed in the Cubs favor: Best record in MLB, best starting rotation in MLB, as well as home field advantage.
The Cardinals, with the sweep, now have the best away record (23-12) in MLB. Coming into the Chicago series, the Cubs had the best road record at (22-12). Unfortunately for Cardinal Nation, the Birds on the Bat are just (15-21) at Busch.
This series was the first time the Cubs have been swept in the 2016 season. It is also the first time the Cubs have lost three straight at home in 2016. The Cubs still have a remarkable home record this season (25-11).
It was the first time the Cards have swept the Cubs at Wrigley since May 17-19, 1988. To put this into historical perspective, Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States.
The positives which were evident during the Texas series and came to fruition against the Cubs are found in the salient fact that the Cardinals are competitive in the NL Central Division. I am not ready to claim the Cardinals will win the Central Title in 2016; but they most certainly shall be a factor in the NL Wild Card race.
The starting rotation, once a roller coaster of concern has appeared to settle down. Carlos Martinez leads the team in wins (7) and ERA (3.17). Michael Wacha claims the team lead in strikeouts (75). Seung Hwan Oh leads the team in holds (13). As a team, the Cardinals have a 3.98 ERA; which includes a personal ERA of 18.00 attributed to the former Cardinal Ruben Tejada who was pressed into a mismatched relief effort. The team WHIP is 1.25.
The offense, which has been often in feast or famine mode, is showing signs of renewed life. As a team the Cardinals have a .264 BA, a .336 OPB, .444 SLG, and .784 OPS. The Redbirds opponents have a slash line of .247/.308/.383/.691. The offensive team leaders are Aledmys Diaz with a .310 batting average. Brandon Moss has gone yard eighteen times, Matt Carpenter with forty-five RBI’s and an OBP of .416. Stephen Piscotty leads the hit parade with seventy-six.
Over the past three series we have also witnessed an improving defense. It is no secret the Cardinals are second in MLB with fifty-three errors. In the immediate past eight games the Cards have committed just three errors.
An apparent concern has surfaced in the Birds’ bullpen over the past eight games. The starting pitching claimed all three wins against the Cubs. In the first two games against the Cubs, the bullpen was successful-but not efficient, in their individual and collective execution. Of the five games lost to the Astros and the Rangers three were lost by members of the bullpen; Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, and Matt Bowman-denying wins to Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, and Mike Leake.
The baseball season is a long and protracted one. Anyone who believes the season is already over doesn’t know the nuances, mysteries, and surprises of the game of baseball. Baseball has a rich history. I share the following personal note to reinforce my belief there are too many games left for anyone to lay claim to a Divisional victory. I was twelve years old in 1964 (yes I am really that old)! With 12 games left to play in the season, the Philadelphia Phillies were running away with the National League pennant. They had a 6 1/2 game lead, and World Series tickets were being printed. The Phillies had an epic fail. On the last day of the 1964 season, the St. Louis Cardinals played the New Your Mets. Remember this was the era of the “Sweet Sixteen”. Eight teams in the Senior Circuit (NL) and eight teams in the Junior Circuit (AL). This twelve year old boy witnessed the most remarkable moment of a young boy’s life-October 4, 1964. The Mets led the Cards, 3 to 2, in the top of the fifth. The Cardinals rallied to score three times in the fifth and sixth innings, Bob Gibson pitched four innings of relief on a day’s rest, and the Cards won the game and the NL Pennant! The Phillies and Cincinnati Reds tie for second, one game back. To put this into historical perspective, Lyndon Baines Johnson was President.
Here’s to the rest of the 2016 season!
Thanks for reading!
Jim Tsapelas is a featured author at Around the Horn Talk, an official affiliate of MLB.com. Around the Horn Talk is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.