ST. LOUIS — As August nears its close, we are getting a glimpse of what the end of the Cardinals’ season could bring: a fun, tight, nail-biting pennant race.
Down I-70 the Royals (70-56) are rewriting the norm in Kansas City and sitting atop the American League Central — one game in front of a loaded Detroit (68-56) team. They are a confident bunch, one that keeps aiming higher despite a 29-year absence from the postseason.
What difference does that make to Cardinals fans? Well, how cool would a second I-70 World Series be?!
OK, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Not only do the Royals still have a long way to go, but the Cardinals need to take care of business, too. Which, lately, they’ve done.
The Cardinals are hanging tough in the NL Central, only 1 1/2 games behind the division-leading Brewers, and they’re coming off a very successful (6-1) homestand in which they showed some positive signs, not the least of which has been the emergence of Jon Jay.
The St. Louis offense has struggled this season, particularly compared to last year, and manager Mike Matheny will take runs however he can get them — even if that means his hottest hitter getting bruised in the process. Jay’s ability to absorb a pitch — he’s been hit six times in the last eight games and leads the major leagues with 16 HBPs — has been matched by his ability to smoke a pitch as well. His .447 batting average in August is the best in the bigs.
The entire team has been contributing of late. Even now-regular right fielder Oscar Taveras is getting the hang of things; he went 7 for 20 (.350) during the homestand. He was 1 for 3 against the Reds on Wednesday night, when every player in the Redbirds’ lineup had been on base by the time the grounds crew pulled out the tarp at the conclusion of the seventh inning.
When the rain stopped and play resumed, the Cardinals finished off a 7-3 win, which concluded the homestand and gave St. Louis a sweep of its division rival.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ investments are paying off as well. Jhonny Peralta ranks top five among NL shortstops in hits, homers, RBI, batting average, OBP and slugging percentage, writes Stan McNeal. Matt Holliday keeps coming up with key hits while toughing it through a sore left knee.
And September could bring the return of two key Cardinals, Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina and the Redbirds’ 2013 whiz kid, starting pitcher Michael Wacha.
— You may be aware of reliever Pat Neshek’s hobby of collecting baseball cards. Well, I’m sure his swap with new teammate John Lackey for an authentic signed Babe Ruth baseball in exchange for the sidearmer’s No. 41 jersey number absolutely made his month. This year hasn’t been too shabby for the resurgent pitcher and first-time All-Star.
— If you are wondering why we’re suddenly getting our normal summer heat, blame it on Jon Hamm, who brought the stereotypical August heat wave to St. Louis this week. Just ask the ladies online, who were in for a treat on Jon Hamm night at Busch on Monday. And there’s your local weather report. 😉
— Kayla, Katie and I were pleased to participate in two important local causes, starting with the Jason Motte Foundation’s Cornhole Challenge.
Then on Tuesday was FOX Sports Midwest and the St. Louis Cardinals’ "This One’s For You" special broadcast. "This One’s for You" is one of our favorite events of the year. It’s just a small way we can all say, "Thank you for your service and come home safe!"
SHOUT-OUT OF THE WEEK
My shoutout this week goes to Matt Carpenter, who earned his second consecutive Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association’s Heart and Hustle Award for the St. Louis Cardinals.