After being defeated by the Braves on Aug. 5, the Cardinals fell within 8.0 games of the second NL Wild Card and had a mere 1.5% chance of reaching the postseason, according to FanGraphs projections. Six weeks later, those same odds are up to 41.5% and the Red Birds are the favorites to win the second Old Circuit Wildcard.
With their three-game sweep against the Mets at Citi Field this week, the Cardinals have won five in a row and are 23-14 since Aug. 6.
Here are the most important reasons for the Cardinals’ rally:
1) Adam Wainwright is defying the passage of time
Jack Flaherty is the Cardinals ace, but injuries have limited him to just three starts since late May. The one who has filled that void has been Wainwright, who turned 40 on August 30 and is in his 16th major league season.
Flaherty entered the disabled list due to an oblique strain on June 1. Since then, Wainwright is 13-3 with a 2.27 ERA in 130.2 innings spread over 19 starts, including two complete games. The Cardinals are 15-4 in those starts.
Wainwright has looked especially impressive in his last 11 appearances, with a 1.72 ERA and a seven innings pitched per game. St. Louis has lost just one of those 11 games.
This is not strange territory for Wainwright, who was one of the best pitchers in the majors between 2009 and 2014, a stretch in which he averaged 18 wins and 226 innings per year (excluding 2011, a season he lost after submitting Tommy John surgery), while achieving an ERA of 2.83 (ERA + of 135).
However, that does not make what it has done in recent months any less surprising. Even taking into account his 3.15 ERA during the short 2020 season, the veteran right-hander entered this year with a 4.43 (93 ERA +, or 7% worse than the Major League Baseball average) since the start of the season. campaign 2016, so it seemed like his ace days were in the past.
2) Paul Goldschmidt is hitting like an MVP
Wainwright’s solid stint on the mound has coincided with a similar resurgence from the Cardinals’ first baseman.
In his third season with the Cardinals, Goldschmidt hit .247 / .315 / .405 with 11 home runs in his first 78 games, but looking closely at his numbers, you can see that the gunner was unlucky.
As of June 29, Goldschmidt was tied with the Astros’ Kyle Tucker for the most heavy hitting outs (95+ exit velocity) in the majors at 68. The 104-point difference between his .405 slugging and his expected slugging of .509 – based on the quality of contact and strikeouts – was the biggest in the majors as well (minimum 200 times at bat).
As of June 30, Goldschmidt’s xSLG is .590. His real slugging? .596.
If we go back to Aug. 6, when the Cardinals actually began their postseason bid, Goldschmidt has hit .343 with nine homers, 12 doubles, 27 RBIs and a 1,070 OPS in 36 games.
Goldschmidt’s counterpart on the diamond, third baseman Nolan Arenado, has also done his part for the San Luis turnaround. While Arenado’s averages aren’t as impressive as Goldschmidt’s, the third baseman has hit 11 homers and pushed in 33 lines since August 6. Five of those homers have been to tie the game or put his team up.
3) Tyler O’Neill keeps shining
Discreetly, O’Neill has been one of the most complete players in the majors of the year. This is evidenced by its percentiles in these categories:
Hard hit rate: 96tp
Barrel rate: 95thxSLG: 95thSprint speed: 98th
Outs Above Average: 81st
The 26-year-old left patrolman has rebounded from the worst month of his season (.699 OPS in July) with two of his best, posting a .917 OPS in August and has started September with 1,054 in the first 15 games.
O’Neill has five home runs this month, including a pair of decisive boards – one in the fifth inning and one in the eighth – against the Dodgers on September 8 and 9, plus a home run to put his team ahead in the eighth. stretch against the Mets on Tuesday.
4) His defense has made the difference
We already know of the defensive prowess of Arenado and Puerto Rican receiver Yadier Molina, who have combined to win 17 Gold Gloves between the two, but they are not the only San Luis players who stand out in that regard.
St. Louis leads the majors with 41 outs above average (OAA), while Arenado, Goldschmidt, O’Neill, second baseman Tommy Edman and center fielder Harrison Bader are among the leaders of their respective positions at OAA. Panamanian Edmundo Sosa, who has served as San Luis’ starting shortstop in the absence of Paul DeJong, has also proven to be an above-average player on defense.
The San Luis monticular body is in 28th place in the Major Leagues in terms of its strikeout rate (20.2%), so defense is extremely important for this team.
5) Luis García and TJ McFarland have strengthened the bullpen
Garcia and McFarland were signed by the Cardinals after being released by the Yankees and Nationals, respectively. The two have become critical pieces of the St. Louis relief corps, bolstering a bullpen that had looked rather weak for much of the season.
Since Aug. 6, the Cardinals’ bullpen has the third-best ERA (3.06) in MLB. Before that, they were in 19th place with an ERA of 4.44.
6) the competition has faded
While the Cardinals have done a lot, they have also benefited from the stumbles of some of their main competitors.
Each of the four teams behind St. Louis in the NL Wild Cards has averaged below .500 since Aug. 6, which has allowed the Cardinals to gain a lot of ground in the past six weeks.
Record since August 6
San Luis is now in control of its own destiny, although the race is far from defined. The Cardinals will soon play a very important series at Busch Stadium against the Padres, who came to a St. Louis game on Friday in the fight for the Wild Cards. After that, seven of his last 14 games are against the Brewers, leaders of the NL Central, who have won three of four series from the Cardinals this season. The other seven games for St. Louis will be against the Cubs, who will surely try to be the “spoilers.”