The Cardinals have opened September with a 4-6 record and are clinging to a one game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wildcard postseason berth. In their six losses, the Cards have surrendered an average of more than six runs per game, while allowing nearly five runs per game in their four wins, which shows that their pitchers have struggled regardless of the outcome this month. Their defense has also hurt them in September, with the Cardinals committing 11 errors in their 10 games, including four committed by fill-in shortstop Daniel Descalso alone. According to fangraphs.com, the Cards have fallen to 23rd in baseball in Ultimate Zone Rating – a statistic that measures how many runs a team has saved on defense based on the outfielders’ arms, the number of double plays made by infielders, the players’ range, and the number of errors committed. Their weak pitching and fielding have prevented the Cardinals from taking advantage of inferior competition; of their 10 September games, the Cards played eight against the Mets, Brewers, and Padres, and were only 3-5 in those games. Especially with a four-game set in Los Angeles starting tomorrow, the Cardinals could have given themselves some breathing room by taking care of business and beating inferior teams. Instead, the Cards have put pressure on themselves to at least split the Dodgers series to ensure that they stay in the second wildcard spot.
Individually, certain players’ recent performances should concern Mike Matheny. Carlos Beltran has continued his second half swoon, hitting just .148 with one run scored and two RBIs in September, while setup man Mitchell Boggs has given up four runs on five hits in just 3 1/3 innings pitched this month after not yielding a single run in 10 straight appearances to end August. On a positive note, David Freese has been raking, hitting .345 with two homers this month, while Edward Mujica continues to sparkle in a Cardinals uniform to the tune of a 0.50 ERA and 11 holds in 19 appearances since coming over from Miami, including just one run allowed in six appearances in September.
September has gotten off to an unfavorable start for the Cardinals, and it didn’t get any easier when Lance Berkman had season-ending surgery on his knee yesterday. While the Cardinals’ offense is stacked and Allen Craig has produced at first base, Berkman is still a significant loss. The Big Puma hit .374 with a .457 OBP last year in September during the Cards’ surge to the postseason, and his extensive experience in the playoffs cannot be ignored. Berkman had only played in 31 games this season due to injuries, but his leadership, clutch hitting, and presence in the lineup all could have helped the Cardinals in September and beyond.
The positive to take from the Cardinals’ lackluster September is that they still maintain a lead for the second wildcard spot, meaning that they control their own destiny as opposed to the Dodgers or Pirates who will need the Cards to falter to even have a chance at the playoffs. If the Cardinals can keep their lead through their series with L.A., their remaining schedule is as favorable as they could ask for with nine straight games against the lowly Cubs and Astros followed by six games against the Nats and Reds who will have most likely clinched their divisions by that time. At this point for the Cards, a postseason berth is all about keeping their heads above water and surviving September.