If the season ended today, the St. Louis Cardinals would be in the playoffs. Who saw that coming?
The St. Louis Cardinals have surged. The rest of the teams contending for the second National League wild card spot have plummeted. And here we are, with 18 games left in the regular season, and they have a half game lead for that second wild card spot.
Who could have seen this coming?
Few fans saw the Cardinals being legitimate contenders as the offense scuffled and the pitching staff struggled for most of the season. Then Jack Flaherty was placed on the injured list for the second time this season and All-Star closer Alex Reyes was removed from the ninth inning. The team responded with Nolan Arenado breaking out and Tyler O’Neill hitting his 26th home run of the season while the rotation went 24 straight innings without allowing a run.
On Tuesday, in a game against the New York Mets, the Cardinals improbably forced the game to extra innings. In the 11th inning, Edmundo Sosa hit a hanging slider to left field to score Yadier Molina. Two batters later, Andrew Knizner singled up the middle to score Jose Rondon and Sosa, increasing their lead to 7-4, with the Cardinals hanging on for a 7-6 victory while the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies and Mets – all teams they are competing with in the NL wild card race – each losing on Tuesday night.
“We’ve been waiting to bust out all year,” outfielder Tyler O’Neill said, via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “This is crunch time. We’re the Cardinals. September baseball. Stuff’s important. Here to win. That’s what we do.”
Indeed, this is what they do, and the Cardinals Devil Magic I have heard so much about since starting to write about the team. Their playoff odds have significantly increased in recent days, climbing from 12.5 to 30.4 percent. They have their work cut out for them, of course, as they play seven more games against the Brewers to close out the season, with four of them coming in Milwaukee.
But the Cardinals have saved their best baseball for when it matters most. With Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, as well as O’Neill, leading the offense and the pitching staff performing well, they are among the most dangerous teams in the NL.
It took 144 games, but the Cardinals finally look like a legitimate playoff team. 18 games to go. Chaos looms.