The St. Louis Cardinals are locked in a tight race for one of the two NL Wild Card spots. While it may not seem like they have what it takes to hang with high-caliber playoff teams like the Cubs or Nationals, that might not actually be the case come October.
Ask any Cardinals fan you know, and they’ll be sure to tell you what a huge disappointment of a season this has been. Between an unfathomable number of injuries, unexpected underperformance from many positions, and Mike Matheny’s nightly shenanigans, it’s easy to say they’re lucky to still be within striking distance of a playoff spot with just 13 games to go in the season. Lucky they may be, but don’t for a second think that these 2016 St. Louis Cardinals don’t have what it takes to run straight through the playoff field en route to a championship.
Sure, welcoming the Cards for some random 3 game series over the next couple weeks might not strike fear into the hearts of most opponents, but once the calendar flips to October, if the Redbirds are still alive, they should be seen as a force to be reckoned with. It might not be the most conventional way of thinking, given their shoddy rotation and streaky offense, but this is still a team that can be very dangerous in a playoff baseball setting.
Playoff Experience (not to mention excellence)
Teams around the league are probably growing tired of seeing the Cards consistently playing deep into the season year in and year out. Qualifying for the postseason with that sort of regularity has obvious short-term benefits as well as some long-term ones. Each generation of Cardinal players has already experienced their “trial by fire” in the form of playoff baseball. Performing when the lights are their brightest, affords players the opportunity for growth and maturity, and we’ve become accustomed to seeing some fantastic postseason performances from these guys.
The most exciting thing about being a baseball fan is that every time you go to the ballpark, you have a chance to witness something magical. You could watch your St. Louis Cardinals smack a pinch-hit home run, then do it again, then do it again.
Stephen Piscotty acclimated himself to October posting a .375/.444/.1000 line against the Cubs last fall, while Carlos Martinez holds a 3.24 ERA in 16 postseason games pitched. Of course, Adam Wainwright has pitched some of his best games in the playoffs, holding the Dodgers to 1 run over 8 innings in the 2009 NLDS and throwing a complete game to clinch the 2013 NLDS against the Pirates.
Playoff baseball is a whole different animal, and with the majority of the roster already having experienced that sort of play, the Cards surely won’t be caught off guard by anything come crunch time. On the other hand, the Chicago Cubs, their likely NLDS opponent, made their first playoff run in 7 years in 2015. As a reminder, despite their cakewalk of a regular season, the Cubs were played tough by St. Louis, so far splitting the season series 7-7 with 3 to play this weekend.
Over the course of an 162 game season, the value of organizational depth cannot be understated. But in the playoffs, a world of 2 inning saves, starting on 3 days rest, and routine travel days off, managers more often have the ability to put their best out there when it counts.
For Mike Matheny, that means no more Jaime Garcia, no more Sam Tuivailala, and a lot less Jonathan Broxton in tight, high-leverage spots. The Cards can trot out Martinez, Wainwright, Reyes, and Oh among a select few trusted guys on a semi-regular basis because they will never have to play more than a couple games without a day off in between.
Through all of the ups and downs that have comprised the Cards 2016 season, it’s wild to think that there still remains an opportunity for this team to do something special this season. This year more than any other, it definitely won’t be easy. But don’t let this lackluster regular season fool you, these Cardinals have what it takes win in the playoffs, if they can just find their way in over the next two weeks.
Photo by Scott Rovak – USA TODAY Sports