Cardinals primed for wild card control
Written by Alexi Bollwerk
Photos by Getty Images and Tony Capobianco
The St. Louis Cardinals have won four straight games and took a one game lead in the race for the second and final wild card spot after sweeping a two game series with the Houston Astros on Wednesday.
The Cardinals are well positioned by their upcoming schedule to create comfortable separation. Four of the next five series will be against teams below .500 (Philadelphia, NY Mets, Oakland, Milwaukee, Cincinnati). The New York Mets are not playing the best baseball but will be the Cardinals’ toughest opponent in this stretch.
For the Cardinals to continue this streak, they will need centerfielder Randal Grichuk to get more consistent playing time. Grichuk has recorded an extra base hit in six straight games and has been a huge factor in the Cardinals’ recent success. They’ll need him to keep producing because they haven’t had consistent play from a centerfielder all year.
The Cardinals should receive some much needed reinforcements in the form of starting pitcher Lance Lynn, who made a minor league rehab appearance in Single-A Palm Beach. Lynn is recovering from Tommy John Surgery and if all goes well in his rehab appearances, it’s possible he can help the bullpen in September and possibly October.
The bullpen could also get stronger if Jordan Walden also comes out of his rehab assignments in good shape. The results of relievers coming back from Tommy John Surgery are usually random but they can provide help after losing RHP Seth Manes to Tommy John surgery and possibly LHP Kevin Siegrist because of arm fatigue.
The bullpen has looked strong over the past couple series and that might be because of Alex Reyes. Reyes has impressed the team with his 100 mph fastballs and nasty breaking ball. He could turn into that eighth inning guy to set up closer Seung-Hwan Oh.
2016 has been the year of home runs for the Cardinals. It was projected to be a powerless team yet eight hitters have reached double digit home runs. If they can continue to hit the long ball, the starters can provide quality starts and the bullpen can be solid, watch out come October.
However the Cardinals are not the only wild card contender on a hot streak. The Pittsburgh Pirates are creeping in behind after completing a sweep against the San Francisco Giants.
The Pirates remain one game behind the Cardinals after winning seven of their last 10 games including four straight and are playing its best baseball of the year. They will need Andrew McCutchen to get hot and join the party. McCutchen is hitting .248 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs this season. Their franchise player needs to step up and help carry his team to October.
The Pirates have a big weekend series with the Miami Marlins coming up. The Marlins are beginning to fade, as many expected after the team announced Giancarlo Stanton would miss the remainder of the season with a groin injury.
The Marlins are currently 2.5 games back from the second wild card and have gone 3-7 in their last ten games. The Marlins showed promise and made a couple of deals at the trade deadline to shore up the pitching staff.
Stanton’s injury proves to be a bigger blow by the day. With one of their top hitters out of the picture, Ichiro Suzuki has been exposed. He was hitting .335 before the All-Star Break but .258 since.
Yet hope is all not lost for the Marlins. Derek Dietrich busted out of his month long slump in July by hitting .345 throughout the month of August. Dee Gordon has returned from his 80-game suspension and has been batting .324 ever since.
The Marlins’ starting pitching remains a weakness but if it can hold up, they will still be in it until the end.
With a little over a month to play, the wild card race will be close as always. It might take 162 games to decide a winner, but typically those are the most dangerous teams that go to the playoffs.