Good morning, and welcome to the second-to-last week of the regular season. Back in February, it seemed like the beginning of the season would never get here. Now, it feels as if there’s all too little time left.
But it is September, and this is the best time to be a Cardinals fan this side of October. In fact, I woke up this morning and said to my wife, “You know what sounds good? Packing up the car and driving to St. Louis for a three-pack of games.”
The cool weather, the slightly darker days, and the thrill of impending October baseball. That’s when Cardinals Nation comes alive, diving into closets and digging out scarves and jackets, sweatshirts (we’re not sweater people) and stocking caps, all tinged in red.
This – meaningful baseball in September as a prelude to the thrill of postseason baseball – is what we live for here in Cardinal country.
Let’s take a minute to check in on a few other issues while we revel in our good fortune…
The Cardinals, who once boasted five reliable postseason starting pitchers for four spots as recently as last week, now face significant question marks with two of them. John Lackey has the infamous “dead arm,” and Michael Wacha hopes skipping his next scheduled start on Sunday will help things “get right” with his jumping fastball and “limp noodle” change up. Odds are, one of them will rebound and be able to finish September strong enough to handle a spot in October, but it’s becoming clear that Shelby Miller will be called upon to round out the rotation for the other.
But what if neither can go? Lackey’s arm fatigue is not typically something to panic about…in August (see: Adam Wainwright). Given enough time, a pitcher can throw through quite a lot of struggles — mechanics, fatigue, feel for pitches, etc. — but time is exactly what the Redbirds don’t have right now. With less than two weeks to go, Lackey could conceivably finish the year on the outside looking in…and don’t even get me started on the chances of Wacha suddenly “clicking.”
It’s a good thing young hurler Marco Gonzales is shaping up nicely.
At the beginning of the season, a fellow UCBer asked me, in all seriousness, if I thought Gonzales could be this year’s Michael Wacha — make a few cameo appearances throughout the season, perhaps an appearance or two in relief, and then BAM! Burst onto the postseason stage and shine. I, of course, politely chuckled at the notion. The idea that the same could happen with two different pitchers two years in a row was less than likely. I took it as further evidence of just how much Wacha’s quick rise to stardom had spoiled Cardinals fans.
And now look where we find ourselves. Gonzales’ performance Sunday netted the most strikeouts (9) by a rookie left-hander since Rick Ankiel in September of 2000 (thank you, Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch).
The Cardinals are suggesting Marco could pitch himself into a meaningful bullpen role for October, acknowledging at the same time that he doesn’t fit the prototypical lefty-specialist profile. Of course, it could be more than that. If Wacha and Lackey both falter over the next two weeks, and Gonzales continues to perform — get ready to go Gonzo for Gonzo, Cards fans. Marco Gonzales could very well find himself starting for the reigning National League Champions in October.
Things aren’t looking so bright in Royals…land? Country? Nation doesn’t fit…what DO the Royals fans call their little slice of the midwest? Anyway, after dropping three of four to the Red Sox over the weekend, maybe they should just call it quits.
Kansas City is finally playing meaningful games in September, trying to the make the postseason playoff picture for the first time since committing grand larceny in the 1985 World Series. Don’t worry, Cards fans…they’re doing all they can to screw it up. With just 13 games (plus 1 suspended game) to go, the boys in blue are threatening to get OH SO CLOSE!…and then drop the cake two steps shy of the table.
They currently trail the Tigers for first place in the division by 1.5 games (a division they led alone just days ago) and maintain a slim hold on the second Wild Card slot in the AL by 1 game over Seattle and a slew of other mathematical challengers farther back.
At first glance, a fan could be forgiven for being encouraged by the slate of six straight home games over the next seven days. But then you would see the Royals’ marginally successful home record of 39-35, and the fact that the Royals’ biggest challengers, the first place Detroit Tigers, will wrap up their home stand with three in KC over the weekend.
The Tigers have flat-out owned the Royals in 2014 with an 11-5 record against the KC kids.
Of course, if the Royals are in postseason contention with a 39-35 home record, surely they’ve been tearing it up on the road, right? Sure. Their 42-32 record on the road is commendable. Of course, three of the remaining seven road games on their schedule are against the Cleveland Indians — a team that owns a 9-7 winning record against the Royals and at least a mathematical chance at overtaking the Royals for the second Wild Card spot.
That’s two of the three teams left on KC’s schedule (almost half their final games) with a winning record against Kansas City this season. At least the other seven games are against the Chicago White Sox, a team the Royals have played well against this year (8-4 record).
But then, once again, we can’t forget about the team the Royals are chasing — the Detroit Tigers.
Over their last 13 games, the Tigers play Minnesota seven times, the White Sox three times, and the Royals for three games from the 19th through the 21st. As we mentioned above, the Tigers own the Royals with a 5-11 record — a stat made more significant by KC’s difficulty playing at home and Detroit’s 42-33 record on the road — but, surprisingly, they’ve played only .500 ball against the other two teams on their schedule (Twins, 6-6; White Sox, 8-8). So, I guess there’s hope…?
(Side Note: How bad does your fan base have to be when you have a significantly better record on the road than you do at home in Kansas City?!)
But then there’s the elephant in the room, the game that keeps KC fans up at night.
Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals – August 31st, 2014.
The game went to extra innings where the Indians took a two-run lead into the Royals’ bottom half of the inning. And then rain hit and suspended what looks to be a sure loss for the Royals. Execution, however, has been delayed until after the Tigers series and immediately before the Indians series on September 22nd.
The morning of September 23rd could be a very bleak time in Kansas City.
Not only could the Royals lose all hope of taking the AL Central division by the start of the Indians series, but they could also find themselves looking up at the Seattle Mariners by season’s end — the team looking over their shoulder at the second WC spot — for the last spot in the AL for postseason play.
Sure, the Mariners have seven games left against the Angels, but three of those games close out the season — a time when LA will have likely already clinched and are looking to rest their starters for October ball. And those remaining four games against the Blue Jays? Don’t expect them to put up much of a fight at a time when they will likely either be eliminated or so darn close as to not care much about swinging back.
The last three games on the M’s docket? The horrid Houston Astros, already operating under an interim manager after firing Bo Porter.
Hmmmm…get ready for the pain of a late-season collapse, Royals fans.
— GO CARDS!!!