ST. LOUIS — Sweeps are always a good thing. Stealing two games between sunrises adds a little sizzle to a team's swagger in the dog days of summer's fiercest blues. It's especially sweet when both games are genuine thrillers that ride all the way down to the final inning or so.
These days, the St. Louis Cardinals are riding what the casual baseball fan would call a streak of winning baseball. They finished August at 18-9 after taking both games over the visiting Cincinnati Reds, who are natural pests but couldn't figure out a way to win on Saturday.
The Cardinals have won eight of their last nine games and 11 of their past 13 games. Since rolling into the All-Star Break at a tedious 44-44, they have gone 31-15 since, bringing a 2.5 game lead in the division into Sunday's doubleheader.
Before that latest endurance test begins as brunch stretches its legs this afternoon, let's look back at the doubleheader sweep and draw a few conclusions. Five may not be a serious number, but it's affirmative and neat.
5) The Wong Show
The second baseman reached base six times on Saturday, including a put-away two-run double in Game 1 and three walks in the afternoon. Kolten Wong is red hot, hitting everything, fielding all of it, and looking like the game is his to serve on a silver platter. He's shining up the #2 hole in the lineup just right, adding some flair to Dexter Fowler's work at the top. There's a thriller aspect to his game right now that can't be denied.
4) Believing in Michael Wacha...?
Every time this guy takes the mound, I expect him to fall flat. The Reds were angry after battling back in Game 1 only to be smoked again for a 10-6 final, so Wacha was a prime target for a beatdown. All Wacha did was say no way. He needed just 95 pitches to blaze through seven innings, striking out seven and only allowing three hits. He's mixing and matching his 2.5 worthy pitch arsenal quite well these days, keeping hitters off-balance and finding a way to get outs the third time through, something that doomed him in certain starts this year. He's proving me, and several others, wrong. I'll kindly eat this Wacha crow salad all September too.
3) Molina emerges
Here's a guy who just refuses to die off and drift away. Molina took a 101 mph fastball to the testicles last summer, came back, and finished the year in full force. This year, he suffers another brutal thumb injury that zaps his power at the plate, and the doors started to close. He just keeps spreading them back open. He smacked his fourth home run in four days Saturday and is 11-23 in his past seven games, including ZERO strikeouts. A takeaway from the doubleheader is that the baseball looks like a beach ball to Molina right now.
2) Dexter gonna give it to you!
Fowler stroked five hits on Saturday, including a home run and a couple of key RBI. He's accumulated a .394 on-base percentage in his last 15 games, becoming exactly what the team needed in the leadoff spot after others failed to produce there. He's got pop, the ability to spray the ball all over the field, and is fielding his position quite well. A bounce-back season is becoming something more.
1) Carpenter redemption?
I'll walk out on a limb here. Last summer, Matt Carpenter broke out of a brutal slump with an ugly chip single to left field off Lance Lynn in Minnesota. He went berserk at the plate after that breakthrough. Saturday night, with the game tied at two in the ninth inning, Carpenter traded his bat for a sand wedge and flipped a bloop single into right-center field to score Molina for the walk-off. Maybe ... just maybe ... Carpenter can find his way again through an improbable hit. He needs some sort of redemption in a season marred by injury and underachievement. I feel like Vince Vaughn when I look at Carpenter and think, "you're better than that."
If you had told me on Aug. 1 that Harrison Bader and Carpenter would win a game for the Cardinals with their bats on Aug. 31, I would have taken your bourbon away. They did just that last night. Bader was lost for weeks and then found his game again. Perhaps Carpenter can follow suit. If so, this lineup will make opposing pitching staffs cry a lot.
The Cardinals are 75-59 on the season, a team capable of coming back from any deficit and completely annihilating a team on the road or at home. They are becoming what many expected they would be back in February. A ferocious and entertaining baseball team.
While the Chicago Cubs aren't exactly going away, the Cardinals aren't leaving the door that wide open for a fight. At a time when no mercy must be shown, St. Louis is becoming ruthless and resilient.
September has begun and the Cardinals control their destiny with a two and a half-game lead. A year ago, they were closing in and the wheels fell off the bus. Will 2019 be any different?
I think so, but with this drunk team, you never can tell. Drop an extra shot of vodka in that Bloody Mary, pull up a chair, and let's find out. One sweep was nice. Another would be sweet action. The ultimate heist for a hungry baseball team in the summer.
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