St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Marcell Ozuna (23) leans into the ivy after catching a fly ball hit by Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant to end the seventh inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
With the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals, you can acknowledge the accomplishment of making the playoffs, while also being wary about their warts — not just heading into the postseason, but even heading into the final series of the regular season.
There is categorical Cardinals optimism — they are in the playoffs. They've made it. That was the goal. It would've been embarrassing if this franchise missed the postseason for the fourth-straight season … something the Cards hadn't experienced since the two-division days on the old AstroTurf from 1992-1995.
But the way this week has unraveled — along with Milwaukee's ravenous run, gobbling up poor opponents — makes any optimism cautious. Shoot, it's still possible the Cardinals won't ever get that Busch Stadium champagne celebration. After the four-game sweep of Chicago, the division title seemed to be the destiny. Depending on how this weekend unspools, the Cards might have to host a Monday game just to win the division (and to avoid the Wild Card Game the next night).
In regards to St. Louis losing the past two games at Arizona, it's not just that it happened – but how it happened. First the futile, fatiguing 19-inning, 3-2 loss – in which they only mustered 13 hits. And then the disappointing Wednesday loss. I was fine with resting the regulars after the previous evening's marathon, but why couldn't some starter have pinch-hit for Edmundo Sosa with two on in the eighth?
Overall, the Cardinals are not a good hitting team (11th in the National League in OPS). But during the four-game sweep at Wrigley, they were a timely hitting team. It temporarily masked the issues. There were Marcell Ozuna and Yadier Molina and Dexter Fowler and so many other Cards contributing with big hits. Well, they play the Cubs again for three at Busch. The Cardinals are gripping onto first place. Yet here are the September slash lines of five of the eight regular starters:
Paul DeJong: .182/.255/.386 (.641 OPS)
Marcell Ozuna: .138/.255/.345 (.610 OPS)
Dexter Fowler: .183/.313/.293 (.606 OPS)
Yadier Molina: .253/.290/.379 (.669 OPS)
Harrison Bader: .205/.272/.373 (.645 OPS)
This all leads to an interesting question. If Kolten Wong (hamstring) is available to play against the Cubs, what does Mike Shildt do with the lineup? Obviously, Tommy Edman has been drilling baseballs, but Matt Carpenter's redemption September features an .806 OPS. It's TBD who the eliminated Cubs will start in the three games. But depending on matchups, Shildt should consider benching either the outfielder Bader or Fowler. Put Edman in right, Carp at third, Wong at second.
This weekend will be wild. Historic. A spectacle that could end spectacularly … or spectacularly bad. Depending on the outcome of the Brewers' Thursday game (and their weekend in Colorado) the Cardinals might need to sweep the Cubs to avoid a Game 163.