Despite year-long offensive woes and several key injuries depleting the team for stretches of the season, the St. Louis Cardinals found themselves in a tie for first place in the National League Central to start the month of September. With the Brewers slumping, the Reds perhaps too far back to make a late run, and the Pirates still with many question marks, the Cardinals appear to have the best shot at taking home the NL Central title for a second consecutive season.
1. Yadi is back
Yadier Molina is almost unanimously renowned as the best catcher in baseball, and for good reason. He effectively kills the opponents’ running game every time he’s behind the plate. He has thrown out 45 percent of potential base stealers over his career, and almost every team has decided to simply stop running against his cannon. He provides a huge bat to the middle of the Cards’ lineup, as he has hit .290+ in 6 of his last 7 seasons. His work with the Cardinals’ pitching staff is unparalleled, and the rotation has sunk pretty hard without, most notably Adam Wainwright, who has not been the dominant force he was in the first half. The offense has been improved recently, and adding Molina’s bat in the heart of the lineup will only help improve the scoring.
2. Michael Wacha should shore up the rotation
Since the injuries to Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, the Cards’ rotation has been mostly in flux. The team acquired John Lackey and Justin Masterson at the deadline, the latter since being moved to the bullpen due to poor performance. Shelby Miller has continued his sophomore slump, walking hitters at an alarming rate. Wainwright is still their ace, and should revert back to his dominating ways soon rather than later, and Lance Lynn is having a great season, establishing himself as a true number 2 starter. Help may soon be coming in the shape of Michael Wacha, and with no definite fifth starter with Masterson moving to the pen, it is needed. Wacha recently started a rehab assignment in AA Springfield, and should soon return to continue the fine season he was having before injury derailed it in June. Wacha was huge for the Cardinals in September and October last season, and his return could turn a good rotation into a great one.
3. The offense is exploding
After months of a stagnant, poor offense, the bats have showed up significantly more frequently in August. In the weekend’s 4-game series with the Cubs, the Cards put up 25 runs. An offense that has scored the 11th most runs this season put up the 3rd most in August while hitting .270, much better than their season average of .255. Matt Holliday has been on a tear recently, and Jon Jay has found his spot in the lineup almost every day, hitting over .300. Matt Adams has been great this season, and Matt Carpenter is still getting on base very often despite not putting up numbers on par with last year’s. These players, combined with Kolten Wong‘s shades of brilliance, the return of Yadier Molina, and the phenom Oscar Taveras make up a potentially deadly lineup.
4. The schedule is in their favor
It will get cozy within the NL central this month. The Cardinals will play all but 2 remaining series against their division rivals, with only the Diamondbacks and Rockies providing out-of-division matchups. The Brewers and Reds will each get 2 series to play the redbirds before the season concludes. The Cardinals have the most wins against the central this season, and have played especially well against their rivals all season. Finishing the season on the road is tough, but with series against the Cubs and Diamondbacks to close out the year, it may be tough for other teams to make ground should St. Louis be in first at that point.
5. They’ve been here before
Mike Matheny has brought his teams to the postseason in each of his seasons managing the team. A large portion of this year’s squad was on the pennant winning team last season, and they are fully aware how important games are in September. Veterans like Wainwright, Molina and Holliday have the leadership to guide the young players alongside Matheny. There is perhaps no team who has had more late season success recently than St Louis, so this team has plenty of experience in playing big games.