The story of the first two months of the Cardinals’ season was simple: they would beat up on the bad teams, but they couldn’t beat teams with above .500 records. However, recently, the Cardinals have been hot in June with big series wins against the Giants and the Pirates. Is this trend here to stay?
When June 1st rolled around, the Cardinals were 28-25. Their record was decent, but everybody knew that this team was capable of being more than a 3-games-over-.500 team. However, it seems as if every time the team would get to 3 games above ,500, they would lose the subsequent game and stay in that we’re not bad/we’re not good purgatory.
What was more concerning was the fact that in the first two months of the season, the Cardinals lost every single series against a team with an above .500 record. Every single one. The Cubs. The Pirates. The Nationals. The Dodgers. When the Cardinals had the opportunity to beat a good team and to prove to the league that they are legitimate playoff contenders, they not only relinquished the opportunities, but they lost badly against those good teams. All was not good in Cardinals Nation on May 31st.
Then, June 1st rolled around.
The month didn’t start off well initially, with the team losing to the Brewers and the Giants in back-to-back games. However, since then, the Cardinals have won 7 out of 8 games. Not only have they been the hottest team in baseball in the last two weeks, the Redbirds made a statement that they are serious playoff contenders.
Everything might have started with one swing of the bat. On June 4th, the Cardinals were coming off a loss against the Giants the night before and they were down 4-1 in the bottom of the 6th. With runners on first and second, Aledmys Diaz stepped up and clanked a 3-run home run off the left foul pole. Tie game. It seems as if that was the shot of adrenaline the team needed to get going. From then on, in the rest of that game, the Cardinals scored 3 more unanswered runs and won decidedly 7-4.
The next day, Carlos Martinez, who has looked dominant recently winning each of his last 3 starts and going 30.1 innings in those games, took over the game and the Redbirds won again 6-3.
Suddenly, the Cardinals had done something they hadn’t all year: they beat a team with a winning record. The monkey was finally off their shoulders about how they were a mediocre team that only padded their record by beating bad teams. From that series on, the Cardinals have played with flare and energy and have flexed their muscles in their road trips to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
The improved starting pitching helps but it's the offensive performance against good teams that's highlighted the turnaround. #STLCards
— Dan Buffa (@buffa82) June 12, 2016
In the Reds series, the Cardinals lost the first game on a walk-off home run, but the team won the next two to win the series. With that momentum, they went into Pittsburgh and laid a beating on their divisional rivals. Not only did they win all three games against the Pirates, they won by a combined score of 22-7. More impressively, arguably the team’s best hitter, Matt Carpenter didn’t play in two of the three games. Jedd Gyorko and Jeremy Hazelbaker batted leadoff against a playoff contending team and the Cardinals still won each game decidedly. Those were statement wins.
Suddenly, the Cardinals went from a team who couldn’t beat a team with a winning record to 35-28 and a half-a-game up for first in the NL Wild Card race. Amazing how quickly things can change with two good weeks.
However, the schedule only get harder from here. To close out June, the Cardinals will play against the Astros (30-35), the Rangers (39-24), the Cubs (43-18), the Mariners (34-29), and the Royals (32-30). Every team is a legitimate playoff contender except for the Astros. This stretch could potentially make or break the Cardinals’ season.
So far, June has been fantastic for the Cardinals. They have simply looked like the best team in baseball with the way the starting pitchers have been pitching and the way the lineup has been hitting. One day, we might look back on these two week as the stretch that ignited the Redbirds playoff run. If that happens, let’s not forget about Diaz’s home run that clank off the foul pole. That might have been a season-changing moment.
For now, we will have to see how the rest of June plays out. There is only one thing for sure: the Cardinals are making baseball fun.
Photo captured by Charles LeClaire- USA Today Sports