St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty delivers during the first inning of a baseball … [+]
Few people are more closely associated with the St. Louis Cardinals or are a more ardent supporter of the franchise than Mike Shannon.
Shannon is wrapping up his 50th and final season in the Cardinals’ radio booth. He also played for the team for nine seasons and was a three-sport star at St. Louis’ Christian Brothers College High School.
So, it was shocking to hear what Shannon had to say about the Cardinals this past Sunday during their 6-5 loss to the visiting Kansas City Royals at Busch Stadium.
“This team is not very good at all,” Shannon said.
No, the Cardinals aren’t good as so many expected when they entered the season as the consensus favorites to win the National League Central.
It’s not that the Cardinals are terrible, either. They have enough talent on the roster and a pitching staff getting healthy enough that allows them to believe they can overcome a large deficit to gain a playoff spot.
But what the Cardinals really are through 112 games of a 162-game season is average. Their record is 56-56.
When the Cardinals beat the Pirates 4-1 on Tuesday night at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, it marked the 22nd time this season their record was at .500.
The so-so performance has left the Cardinals on the fringe of playoff contention with 50 games remaining. They are in third place in the NL Central, 10 games behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers and four games in back of the second-place Cincinnati Reds. St. Louis is also 8 ½ games out of the second wild card.
However, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt refuses to lose faith in his team. In fact, he believes it is ready to show a late finishing kick.
What gives Shildt optimism is that ace pitcher Jack Flaherty is scheduled to return Friday night to face the Royals in Kansas City. Flaherty has been on the injured list since June 1 with a strained left oblique.
Another right-hander, Miles Mikolas, is expected to make his fifth and final minor league rehab start sometime this weekend. Mikolas won 18 games in 2019 but has been limited to only one start this season because of right forearm tightness.
“I certainly think we’re more than capable of finishing this season strong,” Shildt said Tuesday night. “It’s been a year of inconsistency and consistency of being able to string (wins) together.”
The Cardinals’ longest winning streak of the season is six games and that came back from April 29-May 5. Their longest streak since then is four games, which they have done twice.
“Yeah, we’d like to throw six wins in a row together but to do that you just have to continue to get that consistent production from your offense and your starting pitcher. We’re getting two of our starters back soon and we added some pitching depth at the deadline. I believe starting pitching can be a strength of ours down the stretch.”
The Cardinals made two small trades at the July 30 deadline for veteran left-handers J.A. Happ and Jon Lester. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak admitted he didn’t want to go all-in and trade top prospects because of the Cardinals’ position in the standings.
Lester was just 3-5 with a 5.02 ERA in 16 starts for the Washington Nationals this season. He has been worse with the Cardinals, going 0-1 in his first two starts while allowing 11 runs in 10 1/3 innings.
Happ, though, has pitched well in two starts as he has a 1-0 record while giving up three runs in 11 innings. He limited the Pirates to one run and one hit in six innings Tuesday night.
“With guys that have been in this league, guys that have had experiences and successes, we just sat all those guys down initially and said, ‘Hey, where are you and what’s going on? You tell us; we don’t know you. And what do you need from us?’” Shildt said. “It’s a steadying presence of having guys that have been there, done that, under control. It really does start on the mound.”
The Cardinals’ saving grace could be having 28 of their final 50 games against teams ahead of them in either the division or wild card standings. That provides a ray of hope.
“We’re going to have the opportunity to put things together, take control and get back into the race,” Shildt said. “You know, if you get to the point where you’re four or five games back with a couple of weeks to go, it gets a little hairy for the teams in front of you. So, we like the position we’re in. It’s a very good opportunity for us.”
Originally Appeared Here