The Chicago Cubs had runners at first and third with only one out in the eighth inning on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field, a setup that usually ends in some amount of runs being scored. But today, they ran into something no one in the game has seen in close to a decade: St. Louis Cardinals’ devil magic.
T.J. McFarland pitched to the plate and a weak groundball to third base started what will go down as one of the most impressive plays in recent memory. Paul Goldschmidt feeds the ball and immediately fires home to trap the runner breaking for the plate. Catcher Yadier Molina chases the runner up the baseline before throwing to Nolan Arenado, who tags the Cub out before he can jump out of the baseline. He then fires the baseball back towards first, where the hitter is now trapped between first and second.
But a quick throw over to Molina, now covering the third base area, has the runner (who started the play at first base) hung up between second and third. Centerfielder Harrison Bader comes running in to take a throw from Molina, and then he tosses to Paul DeJong for the final tag. Double play.
The play is so riveting due to Dan McLaughlin’s play-by-play making it sound like a World Series-ending sequence. The Cardinals go from a potentially-treacherous situation-a 5-4 lead with only one out and runners at the corners-to escaping the inning with the lead intact and the momentum swung back in their direction.
Now, the defense of St. Louis has been superb for years, ranking first in the Major Leagues in total defensive runs saved. But we all know in years past, this particular play could have been easily fumbled. An errant or inaccurate throw, a bad decision made by a fielder, or just a slight hesitation. Not Saturday, Sept. 25, also known as 15 days after the Cardinals last lost a baseball game.
Yesterday’s win was the 15th win in a row, which is a club record for consecutive wins. Furthermore, St. Louis has won nine games in a row over Central Division opponents. Let’s recap the most improbable streak that broke records previously set in 1935 and 1982:
Two wins over the Cincinnati Reds at home to win the series on Sept. 10-12. Three wins over the New York Mets at Citi Field followed that, before an impressive sweep of the San Diego Padres at home–including a thrilling comeback on Saturday, Sept. 18.
At this point, a fan is just happy to see the team putting wins together against teams that don’t suck, and against teams that are right around the Cards in the wildcard race. Before the series win at New York, the Padres and Mets were very close to St. Louis in the battle for the second wildcard spot (no one is catching whoever finishes second in the NL West).
Sweeping the Milwaukee Brewers in their home ballpark, formerly known as Miller Park, still stands as the most eye-opening feat. The lopsided offense in the series (STL outscored MIL, 25-10)-specifically the Thursday comeback after Adam Wainwright’s first rough start in ages-also proved this team is absolutely no joke.
I mean, if a joke lived in South County, this Cards team lives down off Washington Avenue. If a lucky streak or surreal week of play built a house by the brewery, this baseball team resides out off Airport Road. Unreal doesn’t begin to explain it.
While the pitching and defense has gotten a big amount of words from local and national media over the past couple weeks, don’t sleep on the offensive resurgence of the Cardinals. For most of this season, they ranked near the bottom of the Majors in team OPS and slugging percentage. Here is where they rank today:
16th in OPS, 14th in SLUG, 18th in HR, and 17th in 2B. That’s a big climb from the ashes of warning track power and inning-ending double play grounders. It’s a leap from striking out incessantly and drawing fewer walks. It’s a combination of Whitey Ball and La Russa ball, infused with an “everyman on the roster going for it” type of energy. It’s not a fluky streak at all; it’s a talented roster firing on all cylinders at once.
But that double play on Saturday signified that we are watching a team having a supreme moment in time. World Series run or not, trophies taken or left on the table, don’t forget these past 15 games.
In a week, the regular season ends and the playoffs begin. As my good friend P.J. (who lives in Northern Chicago by Wrigley) noted, nobody in the Majors-not the Dodgers or White Sox-should wish to face this team right now.
As Iceman would say, the St. Louis Cardinals are dangerous. VERY dangerous. Stay tuned and start believing.
Image Credit: Matt Marton/USA Today Sports