Last season, the St. Louis Cardinals took the wild card route to the playoffs and won the World Series. There are three keys to pulling it off again, but whether they are able to do so is yet to be seen.
It will take a heroic, 2011-esque performance from its stars, and some young players will have to step up in order to make a repeat possible.
Clutch hitting, solid starting pitching and a better bullpen will all be necessary, and now is the time to turn it on.
These are the three keys to another deep playoff run for the St. Louis Cardinals.
St. Louis’ bullpen is ranked 22nd in MLB with a 4.15 ERA.
They recently moved rookie Joe Kelly from the rotation to the pen in an attempt to give them a boost, and his first appearance Sunday was more like a start, as he entered the 19-inning marathon loss to the Pirates in the 12th inning and produced a stat line of 5.2 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 4 K.
Closer Jason Motte has been arguably the best in baseball this season at shutting the door.
He’s currently No. 8 in MLB with 28 saves, and though he’s had some trouble of late (allowing three runs in his past two appearances including a blown save), he gets himself into a groove nicely after he struggles for an outing or two.
They need someone other than Motte to step up, and one candidate to do that is Marc Rzepczynski.
In 18 appearances since his ERA hit a season-high 6.00 on June 29, he has pitched very well. In 11.2 innings over that time, he sports a 2.38 ERA with six holds and only one HR allowed.
He has been great since the beginning of July, and St. Louis will need him to be equally good down the stretch.
Clutch Replacement for Albert Pujols
No player in the National League meant as much to a city as Albert Pujols meant to St. Louis.
He helped them win two World Series titles in six years.
Pujols left St. Louis just 30 home runs from tying Hall of Famer Stan Musial for the most in franchise history. His .328 batting average is sixth in franchise history among players with at least 500 games played.
He also came up big time and time again when his team needed him, and is considered one of the most clutch players of his era.
But who can replace that kind of player late in the season?
With Lance Berkman out presumably until September 1 and having spent the better part of three months on the DL, he likely will not be looked to for the big clutch hits St. Louis needs.
That job will be a joint effort, as Carlos Beltrán and 2011 World Series hero David Freese will look to close the regular season strong.
Beltran began the season on a tear, hitting .313 with 20 HR and 57 RBI through the team’s first 74 games (through Jun 25). In 44 games since then, however, he’s hit just .227 with 8 HR, 28 RBI and a .256 on-base percentage.
His average has dipped to .278 on the season over that time. But, he still hits when it counts, coming in at .306 with runners in scoring position.
Freese has been on fire since July began, hitting at a .341 clip. His three home runs and 18 RBI since then are low, but he’s another good clutch hitter—51 of his 66 RBI have come with runners in scoring position.
Both men have to step up for their team if they are going to make another late run.
Continued Starter Success
St. Louis' starting pitching has been wonderful this season, ranking third in MLB with a 3.47 ERA.
Getting Jaime Garcia back from the DL only helps, as they have done it with many young men scattered throughout the rotation.
He pitched eight innings Sunday in his return from the DL and gave up two unearned runs while striking out 10 Pirates hitters.
Kelly was good while filling in for Garcia, earning a 3-5 record with a 3.41 ERA. As mentioned previously, he is now a member of the bullpen and hopes to get things shored up there.
Lance Lynn has not gotten much talk for NL Rookie of the Year, and probably won’t win it, but his 13-5 record and 3.71 ERA are nothing to scoff at. The kid has been a real surprise stepping into the shoes of Chris Carpenter after the former Cy Young Award winner was lost for the year before the 2012 season began.
Kyle Lohse continues to succeed against anyone and everyone this season, and he’s creeping into NL Cy Young contention. According to ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor, Lohse is currently No. 8 among NL pitchers in predictor points, and though he’s still a longshot, his 12-2 record and 2.61 ERA are more important to the team than postseason awards.
In 19.2 innings over three August starts, Lohse is 1-0 with a 0.46 ERA and 18 K, a .174 batting average against and a 1.02 WHIP.
If he keeps up that pace down the stretch, there is a good chance his team will be in the mix for a playoff berth at the end of September.