September starts on Monday folks. From that point on, there will be four weeks left in the season. FOUR WEEKS. I believe it’s time for the St. Louis Cardinals to start playing good baseball or show the fans their true colors. What will the start of October look like? It is only a month away. One month. Remember April? Me neither. This season has flown by and the Cards sit at ten games over .500 as a four game series with the Chicago Cubs opens up. The Cubs have called up a few of their premium prospects and it takes no genius to look back in recent history and see a few Cubs teams swinging a wrecking ball at playoff hopeful Cardinals teams. When the Cubs clear town, the Pirates are in for three games. Afterwards, the Cards travel to Milwaukee for a HUGE four game set. Those four games could set the trajectory for the rest of the 2014 season. So when I say it’s time to play great, ladies and gents, I mean it.
It’s time for the offense to stop teasing us. That ten game stretch of 4 games or more was nice but what followed was depressing. The Cards rode up to 12 games above .500 but decided to turn the Phillies into the 2011 team for one weekend. Then, Jeff Locke outpitched Adam Wainwright on Wednesday and the Cards had suddenly lost back to back series’. If there were false starts in baseball, the Cards would lead the league in that category. Every time they walk off dramatically or string wins together, the collective addictive agency thinks the special time is brewing. With a thud, the streak stops.
The Cards have lost a series to the Cubs already this season. They can’t afford to do it again. I don’t care if the Cubs called up a fleet of young guns. The Birds must be the stoppers. If they are unable to beat the Cubs yet salvage a few games between the Bucs and the Brew Crew, what does that tell you about this team outside of playing down to someone’s level? It tells you that this team isn’t dominant enough to take care of business and lacks a identity heading into the final few weeks. All season long, the team has struggled to figure out what kind of team they are on offense. The pitching hasn’t been marvelous lately but overall in 2014, it has done its fair share.
Mike Matheny has to close this season well. Look at your team and see what the strengths are. Make your lineup accordingly. If Jon Jay is hitting .420 the past month, leave him in the #2 hole. Matt Carpenter has gotten on base all year, so leave him in the leadoff spot. Holliday doesn’t seem to change his streaky ways no matter where he bats. Matt Adams and Jhonny Peralta are good middle lineup guys. Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos have speed but don’t have the on base percentage so keep them down in the bottom three spots. Oscar Taveras has heated it up the past week so don’t feel hesitant to leave him in the 6th spot. Confidence is everything to a rookie so keep it there.
The return of Yadi Molina can’ t be celebrated enough in St. Louis. His effect can’t be directed at only one or two players. His effect is clubhouse wide. I won’t call any player the heart and soul because a team is more than just one guy but it’s easy to say Molina is a leg on this team. When he went down, one of the legs was broken and since then, the catcher position has lacked the steady hitting and the lurking doom behind home plate for opposing baserunners. With Yadi behind the plate, the game plan for the other team changes and shifts.
Matheny has to unleash his speed on the bases. Use the speed of Wong and Bourjos wisely. If they reach, give them the green light. Wong is very efficient this season, stealing 18 of 20 bases. Bourjos has the speed but seems tentative. Matheny has to pull the take sign(if there is one) from these two players. Get aggressive on the base paths. If you can’t hit home runs consistently, play small ball on opposing teams. Stop holding back. If someone gets thrown out on occasion being overly aggressive, I will take that over a lapse in alertness.
Matheny doesn’t get to play but he can move the cards in any direction he wants. His game management and late game tactics will separate him from his critics.
Michael Wacha may return in a couple of weeks if his start on Sunday goes well. His boost to the rotation will be much needed. He carries the swagger of a veteran due to his 2013 heroics. He gives the rotation that lethal foursome with Waino(even at 80 percent), Lynn, and Lackey.
September call ups will help as well. The likes of Stephen Piscotty, Tommy Pham, Xavier Scruggs, Greg Garcia, Tim Cooney, and others will layer the bench and bullpen with an army of hungry young talent. The cross country jog is over. The drag race has just begun.
The next 11 games are big, but the Cards still have games against the Brewers and Reds after that. It would be typical for this team to play very well on the next stretch and then hit the dumps again. Let’s avoid that. September is where winners thrive and losers are revealed. A month where a Braves team can tumble out of the wild card spot and a streaking underdog Cards team can ride in at the last moment. Anything can happen in September.
The Cards keep getting lives from the Brewers. While they lost to the Pirates this week, Milwaukee gave two of three away to the San Diego Padres. That can be looked at as a chance lost, but also as a door staying wide open.
The scenarios are wide open—
The Cards play great, overtake the Brewers and win the division.
The Cards could regress, collapse and fall out of the race all together.
The Cards could maintain their spot and win one of the Wild card spots and enter a one game playoff.
I wish I could tell you which ending will occur but with this team it is impossible to plot a course. Predicting this team’s finish would be like Matheny and Mabry putting together a lineup. Wearing a blindfold and throwing darts at a board.
It won’t be easy and it never is. Baseball is a six month trek of hardships. Daily headlines. Expectations mounting. Fear always lurking around the corner. Pressurized conditions. It only gets worse for a playoff hopeful team sitting on the brink.
Nobody will remember a season of repeated teases if the Cards make the playoffs(and I mean into a series and not just a wildcard game). This city has a right to be greedy. The team and front office expect nothing less than A World Series so why shouldn’t the fans? There are teams that rebuild and there are teams like the Cards, built to compete every year.
How will 2014 end? I have NO idea. I will tell you this. Pack the meds. Plan a lot of late night walks. Be ready for anything. Up, down and all around. A little good, a lot of bad and some ugly. Baseball is a slow and deliberate test of the human soul. One thing it is not is boring in September.
This will be fun.
Thanks for reading and follow me on twitter for more instant Cards takes, @buffa82.