ST. LOUIS -- Just like that, the Cardinals are back in business. After getting swept by two visitors in a five-game homestand, the team landed in Chicago and looked every bit like the squad that won 100 games last season.
Mike Matheny and his players have been adamant they’re better than their record, and left St. Louis determined to prove their theory against baseball’s best team.
Wednesday’s 7-2 drubbing of the Cubs completed a three game sweep, one that showcased just how good the Cardinals can be.
After two one-run wins (contests in which they were previously 4-11), the Birds harried Jake Arrieta Wednesday afternoon, pushing the Chicago ace to throw 106 pitches in just five innings. They picked up four hits, drew four walks and scored twice off the big righty, then turned the aggression up on the Cubs’ bullpen. A five-hit, five-run sixth inning sealed the victory and the Cardinals pulled to within 9.5 games of the division leaders.
For three games, they put everything together at once.
All three starters in the series gave quality starts, and Wacha’s Wednesday effort was an eye-popping finale. The 24-year old, who has now strung together three dominant starts in a row, struck out five and induced seven ground outs while allowing just three hits, two of which came against the final three batters.
The offense, which delivered timely hits all series, was relentless behind him. They provided three doubles and a home run on their way to nine hits, with four different hitters picking up an RBI (Matt Carpenter and Aledmys Diaz each had two).
The bullpen provided seven innings of scoreless relief and struggling closer Trevor Rosenthal, though he created some drama, picked up back-to-back saves in the first two games.
The sweep is a tremendous morale boost for the Cardinals, who have sought consistency against good opponents all season. The emotional impact was evident after Tuesday’s one-run victory, when Matheny and his players displayed a euphoria previously unseen this year. It was born of cathartic release, as the team was finally able to display the talent they were sure they possessed despite contradictory results.
They head to Seattle and Kansas City before returning home, with a chance to parlay their recent wins into a sustained run of success. They now have the season series lead on the Cubs (they’re one of only three teams with a winning record against Chicago), and are undefeated at Wrigley field.
The Cubs are still baseball’s best team and are still firmly in control of the division, but the Cardinals finally injected a sliver of doubt about their rivals’ invulnerability. They believed they were a better team than we thought, and proved it this week. They also believe they can catch the Cubs. After this series, it doesn’t sound so crazy.