How pitching is fueling the St. Louis Cardinals’ playoff push

The St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching staff is fueling their playoff push, stepping up when the team needed them most.

The St. Louis Cardinals are 0.5 games back of the second National League wild card spot. Their playoff odds, which now sit at 18 percent, are the highest they’ve been in months after a 7-0 victory against the New York Mets on Monday night.

And a primary reason for that has been their pitching.

After losing Jack Flaherty, the expectation was that the Cardinals’ rotation would crater. How could you expect any different? He was their unquestioned ace, with the rest of the rotation either 1) aging or 2) also on the injured list, with Miles Mikolas, Kwang Hyun Kim, Wade LeBlanc and Carlos Martinez all missing significant time with various ailments.

Despite that, the Cardinals have not allowed a run in their last 24 innings. Wainwright, who threw six shutout innings against the Mets, has nine wins in his last 11 starts while posting a 1.72 ERA. And in the first inning, with the bases loaded, Wainwright struck out Jeff McNeil on his signature curveball, telling reporters after the game that, “I like nostalgia, and I felt Mets fans in a bases-loaded situation wanted to see me throw two curveballs and a changeup … I gave the people what they wanted.”

Boy, did he ever. And it’s that pitching staff, led by Wainwright, that has positioned the Cardinals for a potential playoff berth. Jon Lester has been brilliant since a midseason trade. J.A. Happ has flashed. Jake Woodford has allowed only one run in his last 9.1 innings. Giovanny Gallegos secured the ninth inning after replacing the struggling Alex Reyes.

It’s a brilliant job by pitching coach Mike Maddux and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak for 1) maximizing this group and 2) for targeting Lester and Happ at the deadline when no one else did. No one could have seen performances like this coming, of course, but Mozeliak was confident that Lester’s past playoff performance could aid the team in either eating innings or pitching meaningful innings down the stretch.

Here we are, less than 20 games left in the regular season, and the Cardinals are making their playoff push. And a lot of it has to do with Wainwright and the pitching staff stepping up when the team needed them most.