You can always be sure that when a division or league comes up mediocre, the St. Louis Cardinals will be there to just barely rise above the muck. It’s their oeuvre.
On a night when the Phillies lost to the Orioles, and in a month where the Reds haven’t been able to make hay against the likes of the Tigers, Pirates, and Cubs, and when the Padres are collapsing, here come the Cardinals with a nine-game winning streak. Like a Swiss fucking watch, if Swiss watches were made by hillrods.
The Cards have gotten here because Tyler O’Neil can’t stop hitting the ball incredibly hard (.901 OPS in the second half), and their pitchers stopped walking people and let their plus-defense just gobble up balls in play. In the first half of the season, the Cardinals’ pitchers had the worst walk-rate in the National League by open lengths. In the second half, they have the third lowest. St. Louis has the third-best defensive efficiency rating in all of MLB, meaning they turn the third-most balls in play into outs. Stop giving away free runners, and teams will stop getting many runners at all.
Last night they got a sixth-consecutive start from Jon Lester in which he gave up two earned runs or less, after being a Molotov cocktail upon arrival in Missouri. Looking at StatCast, Lester has basically abandoned his fastball, which can’t really break wind these days anyway, and gone exclusively to his sinker, change, and cutter off the plate to righties to set up the other two away. It’s just about as revolting a development as one can go through right now.
But this is how they work. They won two World Series with some of the most mediocre teams imaginable when no one else bothered to rise up and take it. They won the NL Central in 2019 when both the Brewers and Cubs were nursing nosebleeds all season. They even got to an NLCS because the Braves had their own version of “The Leftovers” in the first inning of Game 5. When everyone else falls down, the Cardinals always manage to just remain upright enough.
All we can hope for now is this sets up some sort of collapse. Sadly, the Reds, Phillies, and Padres have already got quite the headstart on them for that.