The St. Louis Cardinals completed a three-game sweep of the Pirates on Sunday to keep pace with the surging Milwaukee Brewers and resilient Rockies.
On opening week for the NFL, Major League Baseball looked to stay relevant in the minds of fans with a good weekend. Boy, MLB, and the St. Louis Cardinals, did not disappoint. Some of the major story lines heading into the weekend were the Cleveland Indians’ epic win streak, the collapse of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the NL playoff race for the Wild Card and Central Division.
By the time Sunday turn into Monday, the Indians reached eighteen wins in a row, the Dodgers lost fifteen of their last sixteen games, and finally, the Rockies, Brewers and Cardinals all swept their series as only nineteen games remain on the schedule.
Seriously, could you ask for better drama in the MLB right now?
Outside of the Indians’ win streak, the NL playoff race is the most compelling story in baseball. With the Washington Nationals locking up the East Division this weekend, all that remains is the West and Central champs, and the final two Wild Card spots. Incredibly enough, the West has not been determined, and as we have seen, the Wild Card and Central division is there for the taking.
Entering this weekend, the Rockies had four games against the Dodgers. The Brewers were set for three games at Wrigley. Our St. Louis Cardinals finally came home from a long West Coast trip to face the Pirates for three games. All contenders for playoffs spots, in one weekend, facing each other.
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In what felt like a must-win series, the Cardinals did one even better by sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates in convincing fashion. The entire series had everything you could want in a team pushing for the playoffs.
Weaver continues to shine bright in the second half since assuming a role in the rotation. Carlos Martinez pitched well enough to keep the Cardinals in the game, while notching his 200th strike out this season in the process.
Michael Wacha capped the sweep off with a brilliant performance, reminiscent of his complete game shutout in July.
It was a complete performance by the rotation, who has continued their success from the road trip thus far. As the Cardinals welcome the offense-heavy Reds to town on Tuesday, it will be important for the rotation to keep the games close if they are unable to pitch effectively. However, it wasn’t just the starting pitching performing well this weekend.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ bullpen also matched the starting rotation. The bullpen pitched effectively through the weekend. Newly acquired, Juan Nicasio, made his presence felt in the first two games of the series with two recorded saves. Tyler Lyons continued his brilliant second half of the season as well.
Finally, the rest of the team, offensively and defensively, did enough to win ball games. While the Cardinals’ offense did not score heaps of runs, they received timely hitting across the board.
Jose Martinez, the most underrated St. Louis Cardinals’ player, continued to show why he should play more often. Randal Grichuk provided the game-winning hit on Saturday. Yadier Molina provided an offensive spark for Sunday’s thrashing of Pittsburgh.
It was a great weekend of baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. They needed to be great as week because of what the Rockies and Brewers were also able to do this weekend. While both the Brewers and the Cardinals remain three games back of the Rockies for the second Wild Card spot.
You’d think both the Brewers and Cardinals would gain some kind of ground on the Rockies this weekend, but they remained resilient in L.A. The Dodgers were unable to help the Central teams, but that didn’t mean the Cardinals didn’t make up ground elsewhere.
Because the Brewers man-handled the Cubs this weekend, the Central Division standings are now closer than the last Wild Card spot. Both the Brewers and Cardinals now just sit a mere two games back of the Cubs with nineteen games remaining. The Brewers were able to find the strength to hold off the Cubs this weekend, even with the loss of starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson for the rest of the season.
As we turn our attention to a new week of baseball, the series against the Chicago Cubs looms large at the end of this week.
In the next sixteen days, the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs will face off seven times. The first three will be this weekend at Wrigley, while the following four will be in St. Louis. Because of the standings, the team who should be playing relaxed is the Cubs. Even though they have lost three in a row, and six of their last ten, they are still two games up on the Cardinals. The worst that could happen to them is a sweep and still be a game out.
While the Cubs should be the most relaxed, the Cardinals must play with the urgency they showed this weekend. They cannot settle for anything less than a series win. Would I count the Cardinals out of the race if they didn’t in at least two games? No, but the hill becomes that much steeper, even with the four games in St. Louis a week later.
The thought of being tied or one game above the Cubs by the end of this weekend needs to be a motivator for this team.
Why am I still smiling? The Cubs and Brewers have to play each other four more times after this weekend series, while the Cardinals feast off the Pirates and Reds again. Oh, and not to mention the Rockies play the Diamondbacks, the hottest team in the NL, the next four days. How crazy would it be if the Cardinals found themselves in a playoff spot by the end of this weekend?
As I said last week, the Cardinals just need to continue to take care of business against the weaker teams in the division. If they continue to do that, their momentum will carry over into the series against the Cubs and eventually the Brewers. Can they afford a few slip ups along the way? Yes, but not many. Ideally, the Cardinals come into Chicago with a six-game win streak in their pocket.
Last, week I said the Cardinals would need to go 15-7 in their final twenty-two games to make the playoffs. They were able to take care of the Pirates this weekend. They must continue to play with urgency against the Reds as well. If they get help along the way from the Mets and Diamondbacks this week, the Cardinals still have high hopes for post-season play.