St. Louis Cardinals: The plan for a strong first half finish
By Matt Graves
The St. Louis Cardinals have stumbled in June but can still finish the first half of the season strong with this plan the rest of the way.
While things have felt bad for the St. Louis Cardinals recently, a sweep of the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks has poked some sun through the thick stormy clouds over the Cardinals’ season.
While winning three games against the worst team in baseball doesn’t change how bad the Cardinals have been, it is the first step down the path to getting back above .500 on the season and to a strong finish to the first half of the season.
If you want to get technical, the final game against the Diamondbacks was the 81st game of the season, but in baseball-speak, the All-Star Break is usually referred to as the end of the first half of the season. While Nolan Arenado’s return to Coors Field in the All-Star Game likely to garner warranted national attention, the Cardinals’ record coming into the break will set up the start to the story of the team’s second half of the season.
After their sweep of the Diamondbacks, the Cardinals sit at 40-41 with 10 games left to play. All 10 games are on the road with four against the Rockies, then two three-game series against the Cubs and the Giants.
To set up the best possible realistic finish to the first half, the Cardinals need to aim to go 7-3 in this final stretch. If they just aim to win each series, they would hit the break 47-44. While this is a far cry from the eight games above .500 that they were at earlier this season, I think it would be a huge confidence boost to finish there and start the second half in that spot.
I don’t think it is unreasonable to hope the Cardinals start this stretch by taking three of four from the Rockies. At 33-47, they are 17.5 games out of first place and would be last in their division if it weren’t for the Diamondbacks. Assuming the team can take three of four there, all that is left is to win two of three from both the Cubs and Giants.
The Cubs, after surging past the Cardinals this month on the strength of no-names and a full IL, have plummeted back to Earth, losing five straight and falling to 6.0 games back of the Brewers. The Baby Bears were the only team in baseball with a worse batting average than the Cardinals in June and it’s not surprising that that and their injuries finally caught up to them. The Cubs are 3-7 in their last 10 games and theoretically shouldn’t be on a roll by the time the Cardinals face off against them at Wrigley.
If the Cardinals can take two games from the Cubs, the Giants will be their toughest test before the break. After starting the year hot, the Giants have not slowed down despite being in a division with the Dodgers and Padres. The Giants are the first NL team to 50 wins and could be scary to face off against.
For the Cardinals though, they aren’t in a position to be daunted by any opponent. They have done the majority of their damage this season against bad teams and have struggled against good teams. While that works for some time, eventually you’re going to have to beat the best teams if you want to make the playoffs (or win once you get there). For the Cardinals, there is no time like the present to make a statement against the Cubs and the Giants before the break.
It’s just two series, but winning against the Cubs and Giants would no doubt be a “signature moment” for the team this year. If the Cardinals can pull off this plan, there is no telling where they may enter the break as far as the division goes, but there is no reason for them not to begin their push now.
At the end of the day, the Cardinals lost the series to the Pirates and two straight to the Tigers right before sweeping the Diamondbacks, so maybe this plan isn’t feasible. However, this is the best realistic plan I could come up with for how the Cardinals can come into the second half with a little bit of confidence and in a good spot to try and make a run.