There is something that seems familiar about this 2016 team, possibly even a hint of deja vu. St. Louis Cardinals fans surely have been spoiled in this current century, but this group has the makings of squads of yesteryear. And that is a good thing.
The slow, plodding trek through the early St. Louis Cardinals months has been incredibly difficult to watch for sure. For starters, the rotation early on was not living up to the hype. The bullpen has seen the closer uninstalled from duty. And the lineup is harder to guess each night than the powerball combo. These are just some of the first-four-month head scratchers. Sound familiar?
But here we are, closing-in on the dog days of summer. The final 60 St. Louis Cardinals games feel like they could be some sort of wild roller coaster ride with who knows what around each death-defying turn. If it is anything like the last segment of games, the Tums factory downtown will have lines around the corner. But we have seen this before.
In 2006, although a different type path, we had to hold on for dear life those final few days in September. After a sprint to a nice cushy lead in the division, injuries took down the MV-3, the closer and part of the rotation. But once October started, a full healthy squad lined up on a sun splashed day in San Diego, and that team went on to win championship number 10 for the St. Louis Cardinals.
In 2011, the Birds on the Bat team had a similar start to this 2016 squad. And it took until late August for the guys in red to make a charge. These changes came thanks to a rebuilt bullpen created through trades and a change in who finished those games in the 9th; big names having big at bats from September to Halloween; and a bench that included Memphis Mafia rookies Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso.
So what can we expect down the stretch for the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals club? A few intriguing questions…
The bullpen is question number 1. Will Seung-hwan Oh play the 2006 role of Adam Wainwright or 2011 part Jason Motte aptly filled after the incumbent closers could not finish off those championship seasons?
Who, in 2016, will be remembered as the Jeff Weaver, the Ronnie Belliard, the Octavio Dotel or the Rafael Furcal; key trades and pickups down the stretch that bolstered talented St. Louis Cardinals clubs in 2006 and 2011 to championship glory? That question still remains.
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Will the building of a bench in the offseason pay big dividends down the stretch as it has already in 2016? Jedd Gyorko and Brandon Moss have shown they are more than just the defensive replacements or the one-off pinch hitter. Maybe they play the roles of a Scott Spiezio or Aaron Miles from 2006 or the ones starring Craig, Descalso and Jay enjoyed from 2011, sparks to a club that needed big moments from the full 25 man roster.
And what about the hopefully valuable downtime big bats Matt Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta are receiving right now on the disabled list? In 2015, the dog days and fight-to-a-100-win-finish seemingly wore down a St. Louis Cardinals team that gave it’s last breath in September.
In 2006, Jim Edmonds and David Eckstein spent time away from the lineup, but by October 1, they were at full strength and played very important roles on the way to the World Series win. And in 2011, David Freese emerged after a broken hand to almost single-handedly carry the club from the end of September to champagne in October.
The end of July has given St. Louis Cardinals fans hope that this is the team John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny expected to see in April. If those parallels to the 2006 and 2011 teams are real, maybe instead of the Giants having a hold of the championship every other year, the Cardinals are beginning a trend of their own, a five year pattern that continues this season.