Around this time four years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals were golden.
On this day, four years ago, the Cardinals were sitting pretty at 87-48; 6.5 games up on the Pittsburgh Pirates, and 9.5 games up on the Chicago Cubs. By the end of the season they would end up at 100-62, the ninth time in their franchise history they would win 100 or more games. They looked to be in a prime position to win their third World Series title over their past ten seasons.
Unfortunately, for the team that calls the “Gateway to the West” home, the postseason would end right when it started, as division rival and wild card winning Chicago Cubs would come out on top against them in the National League Division Series three games to one.
Over the past three seasons since, St. Louis has posted an 86-76, 83-79, and 88-74 record. Solid records overall, but not enough to garner a postseason spot. The last time St. Louis missed the postseason for three straight years was from 1997 through 1999. A true testament to the winning consistency of the franchise over the past two decades, but to Cardinals fans, what matters right now are postseason berths. Postseason wins. World Series appearances. And of course, hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy when it is all said and done.
The good news for Cardinals fans? They are golden again.
If you told me this at the start of June, July, or even August I would have disagreed. At the start of each month, they were 28-28, 41-41, and 57-50 respectively. Hardly the record of a team that is “back” to the glory it once saw.
But what this team has done over the past 50 games has been impressive.
Let’s start with the win-loss record. Over their past 50 games, they have gone 34-16, vaulting themselves from simply a wild-card contender to a team looking to win the division for the first time since 2015. For comparison’s sake, the Los Angeles Dodgers have gone 32-18, the New York Yankees have gone 33-17, and the Houston Astros have gone 34-16.
Do not look now, but the St. Louis Cardinals, over the past 50 games, have had a better winning percentage than two of the three top teams in all of baseball, and have tied with the other.
The hitting during this stretch has ironically been relatively pedestrian, with a team OPS slightly above .760, which is the MLB average. However, when compared to their offensive numbers in the first half, it is a remarkable improvement, as collectively the team OPS was .717 during that span. The jolt from the bats can be attributed to big-ticket offseason trade acquisition Paul Goldschmidt, who is slugging over .540 with 23 extra-base hits. Additionally, homegrown bats in Kolten Wong and Yadier Molina, have together, averaged an OPS over .970 during that stretch. Even Paul DeJong, who is batting under .230 during that stretch, is slugging nearly .500 and has 13 homeruns.
While hitting the ball has led to serviceable results, the starting pitching is what has pushed this team into prime position for playing October baseball again. The rotation has been led by 23- and 24-year-olds Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson, respectively. Flaherty, over the past 50 games, has pitched to a 0.85 ERA, struck out over 11 batters per nine innings, and has given up less than one home run per nine innings. Hudson, meanwhile, has also held his own, pitching to a sub-3.60 ERA in that span. Perhaps the most significant piece to the rotation was someone many did not expect to have as huge of an impact. Adam Wainwright, who was brought back on a one-year $2 million-dollar deal in the offseason, has pitched to a 4.28 ERA, has struck out over eight batters per nine innings, and has also given up less than one home run per nine. While not having eye-popping numbers like he did in his younger days, he has been the veteran presence the younger starters have needed to take the next step.
And of course, you have the bullpen. An area that was and has been seen as an Achilles’ heel in years past has bent, but not broken over the last 50 games. Giovanny Gallegos, the forgotten player in the Luke Voit trade with the New York Yankees, has pitched to a 1.71 ERA. Andrew Miller and John Gant have combined to pitch below a 4.00 ERA, improvements from stretches in the past for both. The total collection has been able to weather the storm without flame-throwing sinker-baller Jordan Hicks pitching to one batter since mid-June.
The Cardinals bread and butter to success has been good enough hitting and great pitching. Both in the past and the present.
And they are currently getting both, along with a unique blend of talented youth and experienced veterans.
How they will perform in the postseason, should they get there, remains to be seen.
But they are back. They are golden again. Watch out, National League. Better yet, watch out, everyone.
Photo via Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports