ST. LOUIS — No matter what happens the rest of the way, the Cardinals are assured a return to postseason play. Milwaukee’s loss to Pittsburgh Sunday guarantees at least a Wild Card berth for St. Louis with seven games to go.
In the clubhouse, however, there was no release or celebration.
“You could tell it’s pretty much a one track mind right now,” Mike Matheny said of his players. “It’s, ‘what do we have to do to win this division?’ There will be a time if things play out to the fact that we were able to go in as a Wild Card team, we will celebrate that. That’s something we’re celebrating. There’s a whole bunch of teams that would like to be in this position.”
Until then, the Cardinals have eyes on a division title. Much of the team was watching the game between the Brewers and Pirates, and Matheny said the Milwaukee loss was greeted with a subdued reaction, especially since it meant a Pittsburgh win.
“We set out to do something in our division, and we’re in a good position to do that. We kind of hold those cards in our own hands,” he said. “Without ever giving any disrespect to being one of those teams that are fortunate enough to be able to play beyond the end of the season. It’s a great honor. If that’s where we end up we’ll acknowledge that later and we’re not going to be shy about that.”
The Cardinals currently hold a three game lead over the Pirates, pending the outcome of Sunday night’s game with the Reds. A St. Louis loss will mean a 2.5 game advantage, a win 3.5. While the Birds aren’t popping champagne, Matheny was clear his club is proud of their fourth straight return to the playoffs.
“I never want to disrespect this game or how hard it is to play after a 162-game season, so we acknowledge that,” he said. “I never want that to come across as arrogance, because that’s not it at all.”
It’s high expectations, and the Cardinals have a chance to live up to them with a second division title in two years.
After such a tumultuous season, there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment for Matheny in shepherding his team to the postseason in 2014. He spoke candidly Sunday, saying he still believes there’s more to be seen from the Cards. After seeing stretches of great starting pitching, great hitting and great bullpen work, the manager believes St. Louis has just as much a claim to October as anyone else.
“I start putting those pieces together so it’s not just me dreaming stuff up and I say, ‘ok can we do this for the next week plus another month?’ Absolutely,” he said. “Why not? Why not us?
Stomach bug still around
The stomach illness that sidelined Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams Saturday has claimed more victims, though their names are being withheld. Both Matts are out of the lineup again, though the manager said it’s more to build up strength and both could be available late in the game.
The remaining sick players are question marks to travel as of Sunday. With the illness spreading so easily, a cramped flight to Chicago and the tight accommodations in the visiting clubhouse in Wrigley are not the most conducive climates to prevent illness.
“We’re still sorting through this. We’re all concerned about that,” Matheny said. “We’ve got extra hands on deck as far as the medical team goes.”
There were signs posted in the Cardinal clubhouse reminding players and personnel to wash their hands, and the medical staff is still trying to get a hold on how to contain the bug.
“We’re trying to figure out who is contagious at this point,” Matheny added.
Michael Wacha rebounded from his Saturday start with no ill effects, other than perhaps some lingering frustration at not finishing six innings.
“[He’s] more frustrated than the rest of us,” Matheny smiled. “Because I thought- just like I said in the post game- it was a step in the right direction.”
Wacha finished 4.2 innings and allowed only two runs, but a two-out double pushed him from the game in the fifth. He was one out from being in line for a win, which would have been a nice exclamation point on his return to the mound.
“If he would have gotten out of that fifth clean, and be able to be in line for a win and be able to close that out, not allow another run, he probably would have had a better taste in his mouth,” Matheny said. “We try to look at the whole body of work and the whole body of work was better.”
Wacha is in line for one more start in Arizona, and the team is leaning toward giving him the ball against the Diamondbacks. He would be at about full strength for the outing, and not held to a pitch count under 100.
Still, his success will be tied to his change up, something that has been giving him trouble of late.
“It’s something where he’s been able to fall out of bed and throw one of the better change ups in the game of baseball, especially from the right side,” Matheny said. “I think these are all growing opportunities. This isn’t necessarily a time for us to be trying to grow, but you’re either growing or you’re going backward in my opinion.”
1) Jon Jay CF
2) Kolten Wong 2B
3) Matt Holliday LF
4) Jhonny Peralta SS
5) Yadier Molina C
6) Randah Grichuk RF
7) Daniel Descalso 3B
8) Xavier Scruggs 1B
9) Lance Lynn P