Tailspin, Part II
Hey, remember how jubilant we were on August 26th?
After a month of trailing the Pirates in the standings, the Cardinals had crawled to a tie as they prepared for a critical two-week stretch of games exclusively against the Reds and the Pirates. On that Monday evening, the Reds came to town riding a hot streak. Tension filled Busch Stadium. A blossoming pennant race was about to morph into a brutal, three-way cage match.
After six innings, the Reds led the Cardinals 5-3. Tyler Lyons valiantly kept the Cardinals in the game, but an error by Daniel Descalso in the second allowed four unearned runs to score. To this point, the 2013 Cardinals had never managed a comeback when trailing after so many innings, so history was seemingly against them.
And then, out of nowhere, Allen Craig stroked an opposite-field grand slam. Suddenly, the late-inning curse was lifted. Carlos Martinez earned his first major league win. The fans and the team suddenly believed. With that dramatic win, the Cardinals took a half-step into sole possession of first place for the first time in a month.
What have the Cardinals done with the momentum of that season-altering win? They’ve bellyflopped, going 2-6 in eight subsequent games. They’ve been shutout three times in that span, and they’re averaging two runs per game. The opposition is averaging just over 4 runs per game. The starting pitching ERA over those eight games is 7.65. Remove the two starts by Joe Kelly and last night’s terrific start from rookie Michael Wacha, and the ERA from our primary starters is a grotesque 15.09.
This is a team ready for PLAYOFF action? They seemingly can’t even get up enough attitude and motivation to win important late-season games against hungry rivals!
It’s eerily reminiscent of the tailspin against the Braves, Pirates, and Reds in late July that originally knocked the Cardinals out of first place. During that eleven-game stretch, the Cardinals went 3-8 and were shutout twice. Like the current schedule, that was a moment when the Cardinals had to face good teams positioning themselves for playoff action, and they utterly failed to compete.
The question needs to be asked: can the 2013 Cardinals beat winning teams? Judging by what they’ve accomplished so far this season, the answer is a resounding NO. They have feasted on bad teams like Milwaukee, Houston, and New York, building up their winning percentage on the fat of the National League. However, when facing good teams, the Cardinals have a winning record against only one: Cincinnati (10-7 record so far).
I hate to point this out, but the Cardinals won’t be facing the Astros in the playoffs.
Bernie Miklasz received a lot of criticism from some bloggers for suggesting that the 2013 Cardinals are not mentally or emotionally tough enough to win this division. Stat heads don’t like to consider such elements of the game, as they cannot be easily plugged into a formula. But, time and time again, we see it: hungry teams banding together to overcome insurmountable odds due to nothing more than the will to win and their faith in each other. Go watch a 2011 highlight film for a wealth of evidence on that subject.
It’s not always the most talented, statistically-superior team that wins the World Series. With the creation of two wild card slots in the playoffs, I would suggest that the chances of that happening are even more remote. No, the team that is the hungriest and most desperate will survive the postseason gauntlet of good teams and win it all.
The 2013 Cardinals have shown little desire to fight these good teams now. If they make it into the postseason, will they find that desire then?
Perhaps the 2013 Cardinals need their backs to the wall, their feet in the fire. Maybe they simply can’t be bothered to fight for something until they find themselves backed desperately into a corner. It is a trait that has helped define this team for multiple seasons now.
I just hope that the team realizes that it is backed into a corner right now by two very hungry, talented teams who want the postseason more than the Cardinals apparently do. It’s September, and the schedule is running out. It’s time to fight, or go home.