Greeting fellow bird watchers! The end of the baseball regular season is upon us, but fear not! Your St. Louis Cardinals finished the season 90-72 overall, secured the 2nd wild card spot, and are bound for LA for a date with the Dodgers in a one-game playoff game today Wednesday, October 6th. Amazing to think the birds were 69-68 on September 7th. Did I believe we would make the playoffs? Yes, actually. But not in the journey of which they did. Winners of 21 of their last 25, including a franchise-record 17-game winning streak and a club that has smacked 45 home runs in their last 30 days (2nd most in the NL). Basically what I’m saying is they’re a different team than they were in the first half and truly, congratulations to them. They overcame injuries and erratic pitching for much of the summer to survive and make the playoffs. So let’s recap the last week of the season and get ready for the wild card round.
The Beat Goes On
September 28th: Final MIL 2 @ STL 6 (WC STL Clinched)
The birds came soaring home winners of sixteen games in a row and a chance to secure a spot in the playoffs, ready to show out in front of their home fans. Boy, did they. Adam Wainwright was on the mound going for his 17th win of the year and the team win 17 in a row for the Cardinals set the pace by pitching 6 innings striking out 4 and only allowing 2 earned runs. Waino has been this club’s leader and it was only fitting that on a day that allowed this magical ride and season to come to a swelling crescendo, he was on the mound. The only runs Waino allowed was in the 4th when Luis Urias hit a 2-run home run, his 22nd on the season, to put the Brewers up 2-0. That was it. Meanwhile, the Cardinals offense had to deal with Brandon Woodruff, who has put up a whale of a season era-wise (2.56), but a 9-10 record to show because he doesn’t get a lot of run support. Woodfords line on the day: 4 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, not his best day but the Brewers are trying to save their arms for the postseason. The Brewers landed the first punch but the birds answered right back in the bottom of the 4th with a solo HR by Dylan Carlson 2-1, and a squeeze bunt by Wainwright tied the game at 2-2. In the 5th Tyler O’Neill and Nolan Arenado helped pad the Cardinal’s lead by hitting a rbi single and sacrifice fly respectively to make it 4-2. Wainwright was spelled in the 6th by pinch hitter Jose Rondon who added on with a solo shot of his own to make it 5-2. The only other run added was Arenado and his 34th home run of the season to finish the scoring 6-2. McFarland, Garcia, and Gallegos all came in and shut the door for the birds securing their Seventeenth win in a row, and a trip to the postseason for their 30th overall as a franchise, 3rd only behind the Yankees and Dodgers respectively. September 28th, 2011: STL 8 @ HOU 0 (WC STL Clinched)
September 29th: Final MIL 4 @ STL 0
Well, it was bound to happen and it finally did. The St. Louis Cardinals lost a game. I mean, what is this world coming to! The day after clinching the 2nd wild card spot, riding that same energy that took them on a streak that saw them win 17 in a row manager Mike Shildt decided to rest a lot of his starters, deservingly so, Regulars getting the day off Included; Arenado, Edman, Molina, and O’Neill (Edmundo Sosa is also still recovering from the HBP to his wrist, expected back very soon.). Though any game you don’t want to just “give away”, the Cardinals can not change their standings in post-season play and just need to stay healthy and sharp for the playoffs.
It was Miles Mikolas vs Adrian Houser, the final start for both men on the season. Houser took advantage of the powered-down version of the Cardinals Lineup and worked through 5 IP, allowing 0 ER, and walking 2. That’s all the Brewers probably cared for as they are looking to conserve arms for October. The Cardinal’s offense couldn’t get much going as Houser and the rest of the Milwaukee bullpen ( Suter, Boxberger, and Ashby) all combined to shut out the birds and hand them their first loss in almost THREE WEEKS. On the flip side, powered by home runs from Daniel Volgelbach and Manny Pina, the Brewers got to Mikolas and the Cardinals bullpen (A. Miller, Flaherty, Cabrera) for 4 runs on the afternoon, 3 earned to MIkolas and 1 to MIller. They coasted on to a final of 4-0 in this one, but the real story from here on is the health and rest of the key players for the Cards.
September 30th: Final MIL 3 @ STL 4
The final contest between the two teams for the 2021 regular season, and back to their winning ways for the Cardinals. Continuing to rest some of their regulars for the first time in a month, saw the redbirds sit Paul Goldschmidt, Harrison Bader, and Yadi in today’s contest. Alas, it didn’t matter much as today was the Dylan Carlson show, more on him in a minute. The Brewers threw Brett Anderson at the Cardinals in hopes he would be a bit better than his last time out where he only lasted 1.2 innings pitched. The Cardinals countered with veteran J.A Happ. Happ did his job, very efficiently, going 6.1, striking out 7, and allowing 3 earned runs, the only runs the Brewers would get. He worked the outside corners very well and kept the brewers off balance all afternoon enough to where they couldn’t string together anything too big. The game was back and forth though through 5 as Anderson, for the Brewers, was able to pitch 5 strong innings only allowing 2 runs.
Then in the 6th inning, after already homering once from the right side of the plate, Dylan Carlson who has long been the next big Cardinals hitting prospect, turned around to the left side of the plate and hit his 2nd home run of the day to put the birds up 4-3. It was the 2nd time in two weeks that Carlson has homered from both sides of the plate in the same game and in doing so, he also broke the all-time Cardinals single-season extra-base hits record, formerly set by Stan Musial at 52. Whitley, McFarland, and Garcia all looked strong out of the bullpen and the Cardinals will look to carry their momentum towards the playoffs.
October 1st: Final CHC 3 @ STL 4
Yesterday was Dylan Carlson day, today was Tyler O’Neill. The matchup was Cardinals Dakota Hudson making his first start of the season against the Cubs Cory Abbott, making his first start of his career. “Bro-Neill” got the party started for the birds by launching his first home run of the afternoon in the bottom of the first to make it an early 1-0 lead for the Cardinals. Then in the 4th Tyler was bored and decided to do it again as he swatted his 34th home run of the year to tie Nolan for the team lead, and put the Cardinals up 2-0. Overall, Abbott was able to handle his own by only allowing 2 earned runs and going 5 Innings on the afternoon for the Cubs. The only runs he allowed were 2 home runs to the player of the month in the National League for September, Tyler O’Neill. Pretty Impressive. Hudson, on the other side of the field, looked fantastic. Dakota went 5 innings, allowing zero earned runs and inducing 8 groundouts. He truly is an X-factor for the birds as they look to make a big October push. TJ McFarland came in in the 6th and had a rare off day as he allowed a 3-run home run to Trayce Thompson of the Cubs to fall down 3-2. Where earlier in the season Cardinal fans may have doubted their ability to come back, that’s just not the case anymore. This team is started to make a habit of late-inning comebacks. In the bottom of the 6th Lars NOOOOOTbar tied the game at 3-3 with an RBI single to CF scoring Tyler O’Neill. Fast forward to the 9th and Tyler O’Neill wasn’t done as he showed off why he won the 2020 Gold Glove award for his defense and nailed the would-be go-ahead run at the plate in Wilson Contreras on a beautiful throw from RF. The Cardinals went to the bottom of the 9th tied 3-3 and the excitement continued as the most consistent hitter for the birds since about May 1st, Paul Goldschmidt laced an RBI single into right field to send the Cardinals and their fans home happy with a walk-off victory 4-3. Only two more games remain.
October 2nd: Final CHC 6 @ STL 5
(STL) Lester vs (CHC) Sampson
With rest still on the mind of Mike Shildt for his team in the final week of the season, Tommy Edman got the day off. No worries of course as Harrison Bader led off the game for the Birds with a rocket to LF for a solo shot to make it 1-0 on the first pitch he saw. For Cubs starter Adrian Sampson, that was the only run he allowed though. He looked very good on the afternoon striking out 7 with a wonderful sinker/changeup combination. Kind of reminds me of Kyle Hendricks. By the top of the 5th it looked to be a great pitchers dual and It was 1-0 birds when Jon Lester lost his control a bit and BOOM, it was 4-1 Cubs with one swing on a Trayce Thompson Grandslam. Both teams turned to their bullpens saw some late-inning action. Right after the grand slam, the Cardinals answered with a Tyler O’Neill RBI single in the bottom of the 5th to make it 4-2. It looked as though the Cardinals were going to come from behind and secure yet another victory as they scored 3 more runs in the bottom of the 7th to make it 5-4. Yet, baseball is always unpredictable as Luis Garcia, the man who has been lights out for the Cardinals since coming here had a bad day at the office. In the top of the 9th, Garcia grooved a sinker down the middle, and Ian Happ for the Cubs did not miss it clobbering his 25th home run on the season and powering the Cubs ahead 6-5. The Cards did not have an answer today and thus dropped only their 2nd game in the past 20. With one more game left on the docket, lets see if the birds will go out with a bang.
October 3rd: Final/8 CHC 3 @ STL 2
(Sidenote- I grew up listening to Cardinals baseball on KMOX 1120, the Cardinals radio network. For fifty, FIFTY years, Mike Shannon has been the voice of the Cardinals calling games. He’s been truly a St. Louis staple as Cardinal fans everywhere old, and young have memories of Shannon a broadcast. Today was Mike’s last day behind the Mic.)
Here we go! Game 162. Glad to say the Cardinals don’t have to worry about a playoff spot as they have already secured their spot. Today saw an opportunity to get the regulars their at-bats and stay sharp before Wednesday’s contest and a chance to celebrate Mike Shannon, the Cardinals radio play-by-play announcer for 50 seasons, in his last broadcast. Woodford got the start for the Birds against Alec Mills for the Cubs. Woodford allowed an RBI single to Matt Duffy of the Cubs in the 1st to go down 1-0 en route to his afternoon of 5 IP, allowing 3 earned runs. To counter, Tommy Edman, back in the lineup, liked what Harrison Bader did yesterday so much that he did it himself. With Dan McLaughlin honoring Mike Shannon on the Call, Edman hit a leadoff home run on the first pitch he saw to tie it 1-1. The Cardinals added on the 2nd with the help of Edmundo Sosa getting his first start since injuring his wrist over a week ago to make it 2-1. After that though, it was all Cubs, and rain. That’s right the Cubs scored 2 in the top of the 5th on a Frank Swindel 2B (2-2) and a Matt Duffy single to make it 3-2. The Cardinal bats had no answer against Cubs deliver Joe Biagini who came in for relief of Alec Mills who went 4 IP, allowing 2 ER, and striking out 1. Both Joe and the Rain were on Chicago’s side as the game was shortened and called in the 8th inning thus ending the regular season for both the Cardinals and Cubs. The Cubs will go home. The Cardinals however will play the NL Wilf Card game on Wednesday.
Interesting notes to be had. Both the 2011 and 2021 St. Louis Cardinals teams finished with a record of 90-72 and were both winners of 21 of their last 25 games. When we started bird-watching back in the last week of August, I had no idea what to expect in the last month of play. That’s why we were watching though. If you know Cardinals baseball history, you know that anything is possible. Especially considering how 2011 unfolded and all the improbable that came to be from that run. When I look at the task ahead I see very challenging, but also very exciting playoff baseball ahead. It’s a feeling that I hope doesn’t leave my stomach for the month of October. That mix of nausea, excitement, and hope. Hanging on every pitch, every out, every hit, or managerial decision. There’s nothing like it. Wednesday will bring what I consider to be the 2021 version of 2011’s Chris Carpenter vs Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright vs Max Scherzer. If you’re a baseball fan, sit down (or if you’re like me, you won’t be able to) strap in, and get ready for a Red October. I’m going to call it and say that if the Cardinals can get past the Dodgers in the win or Go home game, they will make it all the way to the World Series. What are your thoughts? How far will the Cardinals make it in the Playoffs? Leave a comment below! I will talk to you after the Wild Card game. Time to Fly.