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Benjamin Hochman is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Miami Marlins vs St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals players St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter, left, jumps to high five Dexter Fowler after Fowler hit a three run homer in the eighth inning during a game between the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Monday, June 17, 2019. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

The Gateway Arch, temporarily overshadowed as the silver-colored symbol of St. Louis, returned to its rightful spot Monday, as the Stanley Cup vacationed in Vegas.

And the Cardinals returned from under the shadow of the Blues, to under the shadow of the Arch.

The Birds were back at Busch, after a 10-day road trip. They missed one hell of a parade.

“I was able to watch some of it, and to see the support,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said, “not that we need any motivation, but it doesn’t hurt to be inspired by somebody locally. And what a fantastic story. We want to have another parade for St. Louis and have a sea of red.”

Monday at Busch there were at least some reservoirs of red, speckled with blue, too. Spotted in the crowd were numerous Blues outfits – hats with the Stanley Cup logo, T-Shirts that screamed 2019 CHAMPIONS, jean jackets with the bluenote. Also spotted was a fellow in the jersey No. 1 with the nameplate DAD, presumably a gift from the day before.

The Cards, as the joke around town has gone, are perhaps the happiest for the Blues’ success, since it took the attention away from their average baseball. At Winter Warm-Up, there was some optimistic talk that the Cardinals didn’t have just one good starting rotation … but two. Now, three days after Flag Day, the third-place Cards are still trying to figure out the first rotation.

But the team did return home with some optimism, winners of five of their last seven games – and really, even in the loss in New York, the team did have equity in perseverance from the crazy comeback, something they can rely upon during deficits in the dog days. Right? But those wins were against the mediocre Mets and the Marlins, who don’t need an adjective to intensify their implied atrociousness. Of course, lose to those teams, and it’s – how did you lose to those teams?

The Cardinals did catch a break, sharing the spotlight with the Blues. Since the National Hockey League postseason began, they literally played .500 baseball, 29-29. Entering Monday’s game, the Cardinals’ slashline stats – batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage – ranked as followed in the National League: 10th/seventh/12th.

“We played good baseball for a while, we just haven’t been able to put runs on the board and bring some of these games home,” Shildt said. “Guys are fighting, getting better as the game goes, which is important for us – we were able to do that in Miami and three times in New York. It was a good week, and it’s just about swinging the bats.”

Yet on Monday, against the Marlins again, the Cardinals mustered eight hits, and two were Matt Carpenter infield hits, including the rare-bird sighting that was the Cardinals’ bunt double. But, as this team is wont to do, they exploded late. Dexter Fowler unleashed a three-run laser over the right field wall, giving St. Louis a 5-0 lead in the eighth. Now, the Cards aren’t among the top teams in many offensive categories, but they are second in the NL in batting average from the seventh inning on.

Heading into this summer of Blues celebration and Cardinals trepidation, the Cards’ résumés keep Shildt reassured. Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt are both All-Stars, and just last year, they both started off slow before exploding. Other players, such as Fowler and Kolten Wong, have tallied strong full seasons when they play full seasons.

“That’s why you’re patient with this group,” Shildt said. “You get guys going consistently, that’s a lot of damage.”

He’s not wrong. But when? The Brewers and the Cubs remain the Brewers and the Cubs. They’re not going to get worse, it seems; the Cards must start playing better.

For instance, Goldschmidt was asked to describe the virtues of the Cards’ slugging shortstop Paul DeJong. Afterward, a reporter deadpanned: “He’s even one of the team’s better Pauls,” to which Goldschmidt said: “Probably the best.”

Indeed, DeJong is having an All-Star worthy season – he entered the night fourth in the NL in Wins Above Replacement. Heck, like the Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly, DeJong could be St. Louis’ lone All-Star this season. But this team will remain average until Goldschmidt returns to the running for St. Louis’ best Paul, and he and Carp become above-average again.

Before Monday’s game, the Cardinals players, naturally, were complimentary of the Blues’ accomplishments. The Cards players supported their Clark Avenue brethren all spring, wearing jerseys, filming video segments and even pumping up the Enterprise Center crowd during games.

And especially the elder Cardinals have an appreciation for what the Blues did. They know how hard it is to win it all. They know the grind. They know the obstacles. They also know of the the magic that plays a part in the small sample size of a postseason series. Finally, they know they’ve got to get into the tournament first.

So while it was fun to hear Jose Martinez’s quote about a Cardinals’ 2019 parade – “I think we’re going to have not one, but two” – this team seems farther away from Market Street than a couple blocks. Sturdier starting pitching and stronger hitting could change that in the coming weeks and months.

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