I attended the final game of the Mike Matheny era, and it was one of the most defeating games I’ve ever attended. Granted, there were rain delays and it was against the Reds and blaming Mike Matheny directly for the loss would be more than a bit unfair, but there was absolutely no energy. And it was on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of July–it should have been near-peak levels of excitement. And it just…wasn’t.
I attended three games on the last Cardinals home stand–Wednesday night against the Nationals and Friday and Saturday night against the Brewers, and it was the most electric I can ever remember Busch Stadium. I attended all three games in the final series of 2016, as high leverage as a series can be, and even that series didn’t have the sheer energy of these games.
Obviously, the Mike Shildt-era Cardinals have been awesome, and that’s a big part of this renaissance of St. Louis baseball. But there’s something else going on. There’s a sense that not only are things great, but they’re on their way up. I never attended a game in 2015 with the level of energy (important caveat: I didn’t go to any playoff games) of Saturday night, and I’ve long suspected that 2015 wasn’t as fun as it should have been because it felt like the end of an era–Jason Heyward was a rental, the team’s best starter (John Lackey) was as good as gone at the end of the year, and franchise icons Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright, and Yadier Molina (who, as it turns out, is indestructible) were getting older.
But St. Louis now has a new generation of players who seem to have star potential. The most obvious example is newly annointed fan favorite Harrison Bader, but Tyler O’Neill would be the toast of the town if he were the toast of his own outfield. Paul DeJong looks like he’s for real-ish. Kolten Wong (he’s been around so long that he seems older than 27) has seemingly turned a corner after initial offensive struggles. Jack Flaherty is fulfilling the expectations most fans had applied to Alex Reyes or Luke Weaver (and I haven’t given up on either of them). Relatively unacclaimed prospects like Daniel Poncedeleon, Austin Gomber, and Dakota Hudson keep chugging along. Everything is fun.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, despite currently being on the outside looking in on a playoff spot, are perhaps the most dangerous team in the National League despite this. The Dodgers lead the NL in run differential, and this was achieved mostly with an obvious hole at shortstop, as Corey Seager went down for the season in April. Chris Taylor was a stopgap, but since acquiring Manny Machado last month, the Dodgers are back to having an elite player at the position. Logan Forsythe was having a terrible season, so they traded him for the superior Brian Dozier (like Machado, a rental). They’ve had some regression–Cody Bellinger is merely a good player and not the superstar he was last season–but they’re well-rounded and not a team I’m excited to play.
On the bright side, the Cardinals are dodging some bullets pitcher-wise. Clayton Kershaw pitched yesterday, so for the second time in three sets, the Cardinals will avoid one of the NL’s super-aces. Ross Stripling, the team’s best non-Kershaw pitcher, is on the Disabled List, as is shutdown closer Kenley Jansen. But still, this is a scary team.
Thankfully, the Cardinals have been so hot that they are no longer in “if they lose, you might as well give up on the season” mode. They don’t have to win every game, though it would be nice if they did! So here is my breakdown of what every possible win total means for the Cardinals.
- Three wins: Plan the parade now.
- Two wins: I am absolutely willing to accept this.
- One win: I’d rather this not be the case, but given that it’s on the road and the Cardinals don’t get to use their most effective starter, either, I will begrudgingly take this result.
- Zero wins: Does this mean season over? No. But, um, I’d rather avoid this fate.
Here’s how the pitching matchups will shake out. All games start at a reasonable time on the West Coast but you better put on some coffee if you want to make it through this series. 9:10 central tonight, 9 central on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sleep is for the weak.
Monday: Austin Gomber (3-0, 2.89 ERA) vs. Alex Wood (7-6, 3.51 ERA)
Tuesday: Daniel Poncedeleon (0-0, 2.04 ERA) vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu (3-0, 1.77 ERA)
Wednesday: Jack Flaherty (7-6, 3.05 ERA) vs. Walker Buehler (6-4, 3.19 ERA)