Okay, they ran out of gas today, falling 11-2 to the Brewers in Milwaukee. That leaves the Redbirds in second place by one game, with Cincinnati another half-game astern and Pittsburgh only 3 1/2 out.
Although they’ve played well since Yadier Molina went on the DL, he’s lost to them for 8-12 weeks, effectively the remainder of the season. That’s a major setback.
With 66 games to go, the Cardinals play the Brewers and the Reds 10 times apiece, and the Pirates 6 times. They also play the cellar-dwelling Cubs 10 times, but Chicago has been known to rise to the occasion and spoil the Cardinals’ run. That’s 36 of the 66 games. I’m guessing it will take 98 games to win the division; so the Cardinals have 46 of 66 to win, and they have to be winners of the series against the other four NL Central teams. Without Molina, and with a starting rotation riddled by injuries and which, once you get past Adam Wainwright, is, frankly, shaky, that’s a tall order. Not impossible, but that’s almost a .700 clip, and they have only managed a .540 win rate to date. So there’s very little margin for error.
It’s not like they haven’t been in this position before, but at this point in the season last year, they were a full seven games better than they are right now. The difference is not chump change.
Offense is still a big question mark, despite the great week just past. I mean, Kolten Wong, on whom I had given up, hit .333 with 5 home runs and 8 RBIs this week. Is that the start of a strong second half, or merely a good week in a season that could otherwise be charitably described as mediocre? Alan Craig is hitting .244 with next-to-no power, and he went 1 for 15 this past week, when the rest of the club was steaming. Matt Holliday is hitting .265. Matt Carpenter is hitting .283, 17 points below his career average.
Last year, the team set a major-league record for batting average with runners in scoring position, .330. So far this year, it’s .251.
So, I would characterize myself as hopeful, rather than optimistic. If the team starts hitting on all cylinders, or if the rest of the NL Central plays at only a moderate level, there’s a clear shot at the championship. We’re about to see.