Daily Egyptian

In the Dawg Pound with Dillon

Cardinals make final push for playoff appearance


After a management change for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Redbirds have turned their season around for a possible playoff appearance.

Let’s just go ahead and address the elephant in the room, the Cardinals are not the championship caliber team that they were before former manager and Cardinal Hall of Famer Tony La Russa retired.

The Lou has not seen a championship since La Russa’s final year in 2011 when the Redbirds took down the Texas Rangers in seven games.

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When La Russa stepped down, three big names up for the job were Joe Girardi, Joe Maddon and Mike Matheny.

Two of the options were managers who had led their respective teams to a world series win, while one was a catcher who had never managed a game.

I’m all on board with having a former catcher as a manager, but when there are two other options who are known winners on the table, I think the choice is clear. The Cardinals thought different.

Matheny stepped up as the new manager in 2012 and the Cardinals franchise has declined ever since.

Yes, St. Louis made the playoffs in 2012 and yes they made it to the World Series in 2013 when they lost to the Boston Red Sox in six games. That was not due to the management of Matheny, rather it was the last bit of La Russa that remained in the team.

The Cardinals once again made the playoffs in 2014 and turned in a 100 win season in 2015, which has not been done since 2005.

The 2015 season finished with a disappointing loss to the Chicago Cubs, who was at the time and still to this day managed by Maddon.

The following season a new team dominated the National League Central Divison, the Cubs.

Maddon went on to lead the Windy City to it’s first World Series ring in 108 years and has continued to dominate the Central division.

Meanwhile the Redbirds have failed to make the playoffs in two straight years. The last time this happened was 2007-08.

Matheny was en route to missing the playoffs again in 2018, marking the third straight year, which has not happened since 1997-99.

Heading into the All-Star break, St. Louis was sitting on a 47-46 record with one game left before taking time off.

Finally Matheny was fired and the Cardinals gave former bench manager Mike Shildt an opportunity to turn things around, naming him the interim manager.

In addition, hitting coach John Mabry was released from the team.

Since Shildt’s takeover, the Redbirds have improved dramatically in every aspect of the game with a 22-11 record under new management.

With the new management, St. Louis has been more aggressive on the base paths leading to more steals and more runners moving from first to third allowing more runs to be scored.

Prior to the All-star break, the Redbirds had stolen 33 bases while being caught 22 times. So far in the second half of the Cardinals have already stolen 16 bases while only being caught four times.

In additionally the Cardinals have hit the ball much better since Mabry was released.

Heading into the break, St. Louis was ninth in the National League in batting average with a .244 average. In the second half of the seasons, the Redbirds have jumped to the fifth best team in the National League with a .268 average.

The Cardinals have also been hitting the ball harder as they sat in fourth in total home runs prior to the break. Now they sit in second with a total of 40 in the second half.

It’s not fair to put all of the blame on Matheny. With a team that was looking at their third straight season without a playoff appearance, players underperforming and missing chemistry from the clubhouse, it was time for a new voice to take over.

Shildt is not the only person to thank for the comeback season that the Cardinals are having.

For starters, first baseman Matt Carpenter has stepped up tremendously and made a case for the National League MVP.

Before heading into the break, Carpenter led the team in home runs with 19 while only batting a .263 average. In the second half, he has hit 14 homers while batting a .284 average. His 33 long balls lead the National League.

Then there is the starting pitching, which has changed tremendously since the start of the season.

Three of the original five pitchers in the starting rotation have been on the disabled list for a majority of the season allowing some young prospects from the Memphis Redbirds to have an opportunity to show what they can do.

Austin Gomber and Jake Flaherty have been the two most notables with ERAs of 2.89 and 3.05.

You throw the Cardinals All-star pitcher Miles Mikolas and his 2.80 ERA in the mix and you have a devastating pitching rotation.

In the second half of the season, St. Louis has led the National League in ERA giving up only 3.30 earned runs per game.

The last thing to touch on is the defense in the outfield that has helped spark the comeback, most notably Harrison Bader.

Bader has been the modern day Jim Edmonds for the Cardinals with his consistent five-star catches.

All these things have led to the Redbirds sitting in a wildcard spot and three and a half games behind the Cubs in the Central at the time of writing.

If the Cardinals continue to play at this level there is no doubt in my mind that we could see the Lou make a playoff appearance.

Sports reporter Dillon Gilliland can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @DillonGilliland.

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