CHICAGO – Lance Berkman doesn’t believe the Atlanta Braves choked last year, coughing up a huge Wild Card lead in September to let the Cardinals sneak into the playoffs on the final day of the season.
The 14-year veteran instead thinks the Cardinals simply proved they were the better team over a full 162-game, six-month season. And with the Cardinals underachieving for much of the 2012 campaign to date, he thinks things could even out and happen again this year.
Berkman was one of five different Cardinals to hit a home run Friday in their 9-6 win at Wrigley Field, giving the visitors a four-game winning streak and seven victories in their past eight games.
Following a rough 1-5 road trip to start the second half of the season, the Cardinals have begun to turn things around. They improved their record to 54-46 and are eight games over .500 for the first time since they were 20-12 after a loss on May 11.
“It’s a long season and that’s why we keep preaching talent, talent, talent,” Berkman said. ” The teams that have talent over the course of 162 games generally find their stride and end up where they are supposed to be. Somebody asked me if the Braves collapsed last year or did you guys just, you know, and my answer is heck we won 91 games and over the course of 162 games, we were better, because we had more depth and just because it happened all at once – it just sorts itself out.
“Hopefully the same kind of thing will happen to this team his year. We’ve consistently in my opinion under performed in the win-loss column so to get back to where we need to be, we might play some great baseball.”
The Cardinals wasted little time getting on the board at Wrigley following an impressive 6-1 home stand, taking a 1-0 lead on Matt Holliday’s 18th home run of the season in the top of the first.
But Lance Lynn had one of his rougher outings of the season, allowing three runs to the first three hitters of the game to put the Cubs in front. On a day where the wind appeared to be blowing in, balls kept flying out of the friendly confines.
Yadier Molina’s two-run blast as part of a four-run second inning put the Cardinals back up 5-3. Berkman hit a home run to left batting right-handed in the third, Matt Carpenter added a solo shot in the fourth and Allen Craig homered to left in the fifth to give the Cardinals five home runs in the first five innings of the game.
The Cardinals became the first team in franchise history to homer in five straight innings and the first team since the 2004 Astros to homer in the first five innings of a game. It’s the second time this season that five different Cardinals have gone deep.
“I think this is definitely what we’re capable of,” said Craig. “It’s difficult to maintain that for a full season but I think we have a really good offense and I wouldn’t be surprised to see us keep going like we’re going.
“It feels good to win a number of games in a row and get on a little bit of a streak here but we just have to keep it up and keep winning games. … It’s just a matter of time with the guys we have on this team that we’re going put things together and win a lot of games.”
Lynn finished with six earned runs in five innings but still picked up his 13th win of the season. His five-inning outing ended a run of 21 consecutive games in which Cardinals starters went at least six innings. It also ended a run of ten straight quality starts.
The Cardinals have the best run-differential in all of baseball at plus-97. Many of their wins have been blowouts and many of their losses have been close – a trend that would typically even out over the course of the season and mean plenty of wins the final two months.
Friday’s win moved the Cardinals to within five games of the division-leading Cincinnati Reds, who played at Colorado later Friday night. The Cardinals also climbed to within one game for the second Wild Card spot in the National League.
They went 22-9 during their historic finish to the regular season last fall. And while the run may be starting a month earlier, the Cardinals hope they are in store for more of the same.
“It’s great but we just have to keep playing,” said center fielder Jon Jay, who made a highlight reel diving catch over his shoulder in the fifth inning. “Every day is a new day and there’s a lot of time left. We have a lot of ground to pick up but we have to take it one day at a time.
“We’re one win away from winning a series, so that’s big. We’re just playing good baseball. That’s what we need to do. I feel like we’re playing good baseball but we just have to keep it up.”
Impressive rookie Joe Kelly will start for the Cardinals on Saturday when they face the Cubs in game two of the three-game set at 12:05 p.m. on FOX Sports Midwest.