St. Louis Cardinals: A must-win double-header

Sep 1, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta (27) is congratulated by manager Mike Matheny (26), bench coach David Bell (25) and hitting coach John Mabry (47) after scoring against the Washington Nationals during the third inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 1, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta (27) is congratulated by manager Mike Matheny (26), bench coach David Bell (25) and hitting coach John Mabry (47) after scoring against the Washington Nationals during the third inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals continue their homestand today against the Milwaukee Brewers starting with a double header at 1:15 PM CT and picking back up at 7:15PM CT for game two.

The St. Louis Cardinals find themselves in a very crucial moment of the season. Entering today, the Cardinals sit 2.5 games back of the first place Milwaukee Brewers. While we are all still marveling at the idea that the Brewers are in first place, they have played good baseball and deserve to be in this position.

If there were ever to be a turning point for the St. Louis Cardinals this season, this series might be the moment where we figure out what team the Cardinals truly are.

There are a lot of factors that go into how the Cardinals have handled their season thus far, but one thing remains true: no matter what the team has done before today’s games, the Cardinals must put it behind them and go out and sweep the double header.

Why is it so important?

My friend put it perfectly. The St. Louis Cardinals have the opportunity to either be 0.5 games back, 6.5 games back, or right where they started today once play concludes Tuesday night. Just think about that for a second. Wasn’t it just a week ago that Cardinal Nation and Cardinals Twitter were screaming S.O.S.?

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No one can blame them either. The St. Louis Cardinals were in the midst of a seven-game losing streak until they were able to sweep the Phillies. Not a great accomplishment, considering where the Phillies are, but nonetheless a step in the right direction. Is that enough to energize the team for this upcoming series?

The Cardinals should be able to win this series. The pitching match-ups sway in their favor. The offense seems to have received a lift from Matt Carpenter returning to the lead off spot (it’s like he has hit there before). To sweeten the deal further, the Brewers are in the middle of losing streak. Still feeling pessimistic about the team?

I know it’s easier said than done, but now is the time the Cardinals need to send a message. It needs to be a message to not only the Brewers and Cubs, but also Cardinal Nation. So, what would the message be if the Cardinals win both games, lose both games, or split both games today?

I’ll get the easy one out of the way first.

If the teams split, it means absolutely nothing. You’re right where you started with ground to make up. It won’t do the Cardinals any good to split these two games right off the bat. If I had to predict which game they win, it would be this afternoon’s game if only because the Brewers have a rookie pitching the night cap, and the Cardinals can’t hit anyone they haven’t faced yet.

On to what really matters…

Let’s say the St. Louis Cardinals sweep the double header and find themselves a half game back. I think the message is pretty clear to the Brewers and Cubs.

Many wrote off the Cardinals while in the middle of the seven game losing streak, yet the team has found a way to survive the plunge to the bottom of the pile. If the Cardinals sweep the two games today, it also has implications on what the Cardinals’ plans are for the trade deadline.

Sweeping the double header shifts the pendulum of buyer or seller ever so slightly in favor of those wanting the Cardinals to be buyers, like me. In a couple of podcasts we have been stuck on what the Cardinals should do, but I have no doubt that if the Cardinals find themselves in the division lead or within a half game, the team would be buyers.

You can debate who to go after, but it tells me that the Cardinals are contenders.

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That, coincidently, is also the message Cardinal Nation should take away. We were all so caught up in the seven-game losing streak that we didn’t take time to realize that no one in the Central division cared to play that much better. Sure the Cubs overtook the Cardinals for second place, but even after that horrible skid the Cardinals only find themselves back two games of the Cubs.

Again, no one has distanced themselves and Cardinals fans need to wake up and push the team to fight for this division. If the team takes these two games, it could spring the Cardinals to even greater success down the road, and won’t the fans be happy?

So what happens if they lose these two games? Unfortunately, that is also a harsh reality the Cardinals could find themselves in by the end of play tonight. It would be a crippling blow that could lead to worse circumstances like a Brewers sweep. The message at that point could be even worse.

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If the team goes on to lose both games tonight, does it signal the beginning of the end for some members on the team? The team had a management shake up last Friday, but even GM John Mozeliak said everyone’s job security is on the line. I don’t expect the Cardinals to fire Mike Matheny, but if the Cardinals don’t perform this series… sorry, John Mabry.

Outside of management, you also have to think of the implications to the trade deadline. Obviously since this is the opposite of the first scenario above, the Cardinals would be even more inclined to become sellers. Now being 6.5 games back isn’t the end of the world, but what if at the end of the series it becomes 8.5 games back? Don’t panic, right?

This is an easy pit to fall into. I don’t want to imagine the Cardinals selling off the likes of Lance Lynn, Matt Carpenter, etc., but it could happen. If the Cardinals find themselves at a point of no return, then start thinking about the long term business of the team. Unfortunately, there are Cardinals fans who don’t/won’t/can’t accept such a fate. That’s baseball for you.

So that’s why this double-header is a must-win for the St. Louis Cardinals. This is an opportunity to send the right message to your division rivals and your fan base. The Cardinals must come prepared to swing the bats today and limit mistakes on the diamond. Do that, and you’ll find yourself in a better spot than you were on Wednesday.

Next: Can Mike Matheny Succeed?

There’s no question on what the Cardinals and their fans wants today– a chance to be within a half game of the division lead. After the June start they had this outcome was inconceivable at one point. Today they have the opportunity to rectify June, but it starts with Lance Lynn today and ends with Marcos Gonzales tonight.