The Cardinals are playing better, but they're not 'back' just yet

While the Cardinals' recent stretch of play is encouraging, there are still a few hurdles to clear
Boston Red Sox v St. Louis Cardinals
Boston Red Sox v St. Louis Cardinals / Dilip Vishwanat/GettyImages
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Since falling to nine games below the .500 mark, the Cardinals have started to play quite a bit better, going 6-2 in their last eight games and seemingly being sparked by an ejection of both Oli Marmol and Daniel Descalso in Milwaukee.

This stretch of play is certainly very encouraging. The bats seem to have woken up and are performing the way we all expected. The bullpen has also still performed quite well. The rotation needs to improve a bit, but things seem to be humming along just fine for the Redbirds as of now.

However, while this stretch of play is encouraging, it's too soon to say the Cardinals are officially back.

Cardinals aren't 'back' yet despite encouraging stretch

I would love nothing more than for the Cardinals to get back into contention. In fact, they're only 2.5 games back in the Wild Card race, so they're not in the worst of spots.

But we need to pump the brakes on saying that they're back. Yes, they've won two series in a row, but they came against mediocre teams. Their win Monday against the Orioles is a massive step in the right direction though.

The Cardinals took two out of three against the Angels, and that's when the bats appeared to wake up. But they had to fight back to win the first two games, and they were games the Cardinals easily could have lost. In the first game, it took an eight-spot in the seventh inning to overcome a late 4-0 deficit. In the second game, they squandered a 5-0 lead and barely held on to win 7-6.

The finale was business as usual for the Cardinals. The bats fell silent again and they lost 7-2. Next up were the Red Sox.

Granted, the Red Sox pitching has performed quite well this season, so scoring 17 runs off of them in the first two games was an impressive feat. But Sunday they produced another dud. They lost 11-3 and once again failed to complete a sweep. The rotation also didn't perform great.

Kyle Gibson may have gone six innings, but he was touched for five runs on Friday night. Miles Mikolas pitched great on Saturday, allowing just one run over five innings, but Matthew Liberatore barely made it into the fourth in the finale, allowing three runs on a day when the bullpen was taxed.

Also, keep in mind that the Red Sox are a game under the .500 mark and their bats have been quiet. Yet the Cardinals allowed 11 runs to them on Sunday. At the end of the series, the Cardinals are still six games under .500 and seven games out of first, though they have moved out of last place in the NL Central.

So yes, this stretch of play is very encouraging, but these wins came against mediocre teams, save for the series finale victory against the Brewers. Now, the real test comes. The Orioles are in town this week and then the Cubs come to Busch Stadium for a weekend series. If the Cardinals are truly back, then they need to win both of these series.

If they fail to capitalize, major changes need to be made. And even with them playing better, that statement still rings true. This still doesn't seem like a playoff team to me, and I still believe that they're going to need to sell again at the trade deadline.

I hope I'm wrong, but unless the Cardinals win both of these upcoming home series, I'm afraid that this is still a very flawed team.

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