St. Louis Cardinals: Taking a peek into the NL-Central
The St. Louis Cardinals are only 2.5 games out of first place in the National League-Central heading into a double-header against the Milwaukee Brewers.
That is a much more flattering way to describe it than the sub-.500 hundred record the St. Louis Cardinals currently holds. Despite all the difficulties, they are in third place. At this point, lackluster may be a compliment when describing the National League-Central so far this year.
It is worth noting what is going on because it is a huge surprise to this point in the season. Anyone who says they saw this happening is lying. No one would predict the Brewers would be pacing the division with the defending champion Chicago Cubs boasting a .500 record. It is almost unthinkable.
So, let’s take a look at what is going on, from first to worst as of before games on Wednesday, June 14th.
Milwaukee Brewers (34-32)
This is one of the bigger surprises to this point in the year. The Brewers were picked by at least one person (me), if not more, to finish dead last in the division, and quite possibly the league. But here we are, so the question is how did they get there?
When looking at their season, it is impossible to ignore Eric Thames. He spent the last three years in Japan before coming back to MLB to hit home runs at an alarming pace in April. He has since cooled off, but that initial momentum carried them to a hot start. Currently, Thames sits at sixteen homers and is two shy of the National League lead.
The Brewers had a strong showing from their bullpen early in the season. Since then, their main guys started struggling and they have not been the same. They called up top prospect Josh Hader to add another usable bullpen arm. But overall, they are trending downward.
Chicago Cubs (32-32)
The defending champion Chicago Cubs are struggling this year. They have essentially the same team, the Cubs are just not the same team this year. They were all but a consensus lock to win the division this year.
One of the problems is the struggles from their starting pitching. Some of the dominance from last year has not shown up the same way this year. Namely, Jake Arrieta. One starter does not make or break a season, but when the ace is having a down year, it is noticeable.
It is hard to believe the team will not make a run to win the division. They have the potential to take over the lead at any time. With that, they have the talent to take a commanding lead. They are a toss up of if they will be able to put it together.
St. Louis Cardinals (30-33)
If you are reading this, you most likely know about all the frustrations that have gone along with this season. The St. Louis Cardinals were built to compete with the Cubs. But when they were assembled it was expected to be for first, not competing to see who will finish closest to .500.
After a seven-game skid, there was a lot of uncertainty with the organization and among the fans. Since then there is a better feeling about the season as they swept the Phillies to break out of the funk.
Pittsburgh Pirates (30-35)
The Pirates have had a year filled with speed bumps. They had young pitcher James Taillon just return from surgery to remove cancer, they lost Starling Marte to suspension, and Jung-ho Kang getting in legal trouble back in South Korea.
With all that going on, how are they supposed to compete? There are too many distractions. Their superstar who is meant to carry them through, Andrew McCutchen, has hit the proverbial brick wall of age. It is a tough year for the Bucs.
This will more than likely go down in the books as a lost season in Pittsburgh. They will get a small jumpstart when Marte comes back from suspension, but they are not in danger of making a run at winning the division. It is impressive they are not in dead last.
Cincinnati Reds (29-35)
Finally, a team placed where they make sense. I had them finishing in the bottom of the division, even though I thought them second to last just above the Brewers. They are a team that is struggling to rebuild, but has some of the pieces in place. They have a solid young outfield and top infield prospect Nick Senzel. Their young pitching is also nothing to scoff at.
They were however able to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals recently. One of the wins came off of an unreal hitting performance by second baseman Scooter Gennett. He hit four home runs to lift the Reds to victory on that day.
Overall, I can’t say there is a trend for them. They are focusing on getting prospects ready to compete and it shows. They did just draft high school prospect Hunter Greene who has a 102 MPH fastball at 17. There is some excitement for the organization.
Talent wise, the St. Louis Cardinals are right there. They just need something to put it all together. John Mozeliak needs to figure out what that spark is going to be.
Dr. Miles thinks he knows how to make the team play to potential and it starts with the coaching. You can read his potential candidates for a managerial change here.
While Dr. Miles is a very smart man, I have to respectfully disagree with him. I think the move is to pump young and hungry players into the lineup. Well, two of them. Carson Kelly and Magnueris Sierra need to see more time.
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Kelly is hitting the cover off of the ball in triple-A and Sierra will cause havoc on the base paths. While veteran leadership is important, a youth movement should be able to spark the lineup enough to get the St. Louis Cardinals off the ground.
There is one other way to get the lineup moving. Make a move for a middle of the order bat. But not just any bat. Make a move for J.D. Martinez. His bat can be exactly what the Redbirds need to get moving. He has been on fire all year and the Detroit Tigers are vocal about selling their talent.
For all the ridicule he gets, Mozeliak is a smart man. I have confidence that he will find the right move to make and execute it. Because of this, my prediction for the end of the season standings for the National League-Central is as follows: Cards, Cubs, Reds, Brewers, Pirates.
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I think the St. Louis Cardinals are going to make the jump when it matters most. I may be biased as a fan, but- put simply- the team is talented; they are so close to being a great team this year. And they will put it together. It is a tight knit race of close to .500 teams, so why can’t the Redbirds return to the post season?