(BaseballStL) -- On July 25, the first place St. Louis Cardinals left Busch Stadium after sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies and improving their record to 62-37, their 25 games over .500 a season’s best.
On Aug. 4, 10 days, 11 games and 1,500 miles of traveling later, they returned to St Louis, just 20 games over even and 1 1/2 games out of first. Their pristine road record tarnished by a 3-8 trip, their all-star catcher on the DL, their lead-off man in the throes of a slump, it would seem to be a team in disarray.
But it is not. To the contrary, the Cardinals have renewed optimism after winning 3 of their last four games impressively and seemingly finding their offense again.
Yes, Yadier Molina is out of action, but Tony Cruz has been superb on both offense and defense.
Yes, the Pittsburgh Pirates humbled them. But they have 9 more games with the Pirates, 6 of them at Busch. They also handled the Cincinnati Reds for the 8th time in 12 meetings, hastening their collapse with lopsided wins and leaving the Reds doubting their ability to contend in what has become a two-team race.
And yes, they and particularly Jake Westbrook struggled on the road, but 32 of their remaining 52 games are at Busch, where they have won 65 percent of their contests this year. And, more importantly, Busch is where Westbrook has been Gibsonesque, going 5-0 with an ERA of 1.28 and a WHIP of just over 1.
More importantly as they embark on this all-important 10-game home stand, has been the re-emergence of the potent offensive attack the Redbirds displayed when they were piling up wins and leading the league. The Cardinals scored 41 runs in their 3 wins and crushed Mike Leake (10-5) and Bronson Arroyo (9-9) in the process.
Shelby Miller (11-7) has become more consistent, Joe Kelly pitched the game of his year against the Pirates and Monday, Lance Lynn displayed command not only of his pitches, but also of himself that had been missing at points during the year.
Every team struggles at some point and whether it emerges stronger and more confident determines its character. If the last few games is any indication, this Cardinals team could continue a tradition of late season surges that carries over into October.
The Pirates, meanwhile, have yet to endure that dry spell everyone has been waiting for all year. They have proven they can play well at home (38-20) but with just 23 more games at PNC, will now have to prove they can do it on the road (29-24) where they will play 28 times in the last 7 weeks.
When they leave home after Thursday’s game against the Marlins, they will have only 20 home games for the rest of the year and will travel to Colorado, Texas, Arizona, San Francisco, San Diego and end the year in Cincinnati.
The Cards’ schedule may be more difficult, but looks a lot more manageable for a team that appears to be back in the rhythm that defined them early.