The Cardinals are still searching for a consistent identity, so a home series against the struggling Cubs offers an environment that resembles October.
The MLB regular season is long. 162 games requires a very unique toughness, showcasing players’ mental and physical strengths. Even so, every team (fanbase included) faces the midseason lull in intensity. After riding the wave of Opening Day until fully exhausted, it becomes difficult to give every game the individual attention it deserves. Series and match ups can blend together, as the game loses some of the glamour that makes the beginning and ends of each season so magical.
Throughout the middle of the season, it becomes nearly impossible to replicate playoff intensity as games simply don’t carry the same weight towards a team’s legacy. To replicate such an electric atmosphere in May, June, or August, there must be a perfect storm in terms of rivalry, standings, and match-ups.
Currently, the Cardinals are benefitting from such a situation, as they face the Cubs in St. Louis. With the Cubs slumping, Carlos Martinez facing Jake Arrieta, and a chance to make up serious ground in the NL Central, the stage was set for a premier episode of the storied rivalry. As far as atmospheres go, this series is as close to an October feel as the Cards have gotten thus far in the 2016 season. With the lights bright, the club had (and still has) a wonderful opportunity to prove they are true contenders.
Monday night’s series premier surely did not disappoint. The two clubs played each other toe to toe, as the game came down to individual, clutch at-bats. In front of a sold-out, electric Busch Stadium, it felt like the playoffs. Under the brightest lights of the 2016, it was time for the Cardinals to make a statement. In my opinion, they did just that.
Playoff caliber teams get clutch performances from not only stars, but role players as well. Monday night served as a perfect example; The Cards stayed composed after struggling mightily against a sharp John Lackey, riding their bullpen to a late inning victory. Specifically, Matt Adams, with a pinch-hit 2-run-shot, and Randal Grichuk, with the opposite-field walk off home run, clutched out the win offensively for the Cardinals.
That Matt Adams home run was the ninth by a #Cardinals pinch hitter this year. Sixteen teams have zero PH home runs
— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) May 24, 2016
On a night where the Cardinals big names struggled, it is encouraging to see surprise clutch performances from the likes of pinch hitters or Grichuk. Such clutch efforts usually make the difference between wins and losses down the road moving into division races and the postseason. Furthermore, the bullpen’s ability to completely shut down the Cubs high-powered offense for three innings is a solid sign moving forward. Overall, in an environment overflowing with intensity and excitement, the Cardinals should be encouraged by their performance, proving they can win not only with their stars, but with the entirety of their active roster.
Moving forward in the series, the Cardinals have an opportunity to foreshadow things that may come should the club make the playoffs. Already showing a knack for clutch hitting and shut down bullpen performance, it will be intriguing to see if the club can ride this wave of momentum, proving they are here to stay in the race for the NL Central.
Playoff atmospheres such as this don’t come around often in the regular season. As such, it will be intriguing to follow both team and individual performances, as both clubs make their case for why they should be looked at as true threats in the quest for October success.
Photo captured by Jeff Curry- USA Today Sports