It took a while, but finally September gave the Cardinals
the moment they had been waiting for, a clinching celebration as they punched their tickets into the postseason as NL Central
champs. What happened between September 1 and September 26 to get to that point alternatively thrilled and concerned St. Louis fans as they try to forecast just what October might hold for this team.
The beginning of the month picked up where August left off, a torrid winning pace that seemed to add room to their divisional lead over Chicago on a daily basis. In fact, they went more than a month without losing ground in the Central, a new record. The Cardinals went 7-2 against Milwaukee (both home and away) and Pittsburgh in the first portion of the month. They put up runs, they won close games where the offense sputtered, they looked like a full and well-rounded team.
Things changed when they started running into better teams, however. A stretch against Atlanta, Florida and Chicago at home saw the Cardinals win only three of the nine games, two against the Cubbies. A brief respite in Houston provided two more wins before they dropped two of three in Colorado as the Rockies
attempted to lock up the NL wild card.
St. Louis did hit .286 for the month, somewhat skewed by a couple of poundings they administered to Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. They scored 108 runs, which averaged 4.7 per game. The problem tended to be a lack of consistency and a lack of getting the big hit when needed. They were shut out twice in the month and lost two other games when they scored just one run. They weren’t getting blown out in these games–the average margin in their September losses was two runs, and that included a seven-run blowout by the Braves
–but they weren’t able to get the hit that would put them over the top.
For example, the day after their clinching, the Cardinals loaded the bases three times in the first five innings against the Rockies. The first time, Albert Pujols cleared them with a double. The next two times, St. Louis was not able to get a run in, even though they were loaded with less than two outs. A solid hit or even a sac fly in that situation could have been the difference between a win and the loss that they eventually suffered.
Image by Getty Images via Daylife
For the most part, you won’t hear much complaining about the pitching staff in September. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright helped cement their Cy Young candidacies, though both of them had at least one game that was uncharacteristically bad for them. They were also occasionally undone by an offensive attack that took the night off. Wainwright especially lost two chances to advance his win total to 19 before attaining that mark in the clinching game on September 26. Notably, it took 130 pitches and eight innings before he turned things over to the bullpen.
The fly in the ointment, though, from the mound has been Ryan Franklin. In September, soon after signing a two-year extension, he posted a 2-2 record with three blown saves and an ERA at 7.56, an ERA that was lowered by his inning in the clinching game, even though he put two runners on, including one that reached third base. His erratic nature is at odds with his automatic lockdowns earlier in the season.
Cardinal fans are still excited about October baseball and still feel that this team is constructed in a way that could win the whole thing. However, those feelings were a lot stronger before September than after it.