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The Cardinals’ Second-Half Success Isn’t a Fluke

After winning the first three games of the four-game series at San Diego, the Cardinals lunged past Milwaukee and into second place in the NL Central. Your fave team sliced another game from their wild-card deficit, and are crouched only two games in back of Colorado for the No. 2 WC spot.

With a victory Thursday night in San Diego, the Cardinals would return home with an 8-2 record on their important 10-game roadie.

This isn’t a fluke.

The Cardinals have won consecutive series from a couple of inferior opponents (San Francisco, San Diego) but that’s what they’re supposed to do. The Cardinals are better now. They are better than they were earlier this season. And there’s nothing quirky about that, either.

And before you start in with the mindless “bandwagon” nonsense, you might want to pause and think about how much the Cardinals have evolved in personnel. If anyone out there was ticked off at this team, yelled at this team, complained about this team, had cuckoo tantrums over this team, or threw the remote at the TV because of this team … that’s completely understandable.

Because THAT Cardinals’ team — the one that had us cursing — simply isn’t the same as the team that’s barged into postseason contention to slip by Milwaukee (for now) and crowd Colorado in the charge for a wild-card spot.

(Side note: I’m focusing on the wild-card race because it’s more realistic. I’m not erasing the Cardinals from the NL Central picture. It’s just that the Cards, down to 23 regular-season games, trail the first-place Chicago Cubs by four games. The Playoff Odds Report at Baseball Prospectus lists St. Louis with a 13.1 percent chance to win the division … with an estimated 27.7 percent shot to annex a wild-card berth.  Sure, the Cardinals and Cubs still have seven games left against each other. The Cardinals are angling for an opportunity. But for now, I’m concentrating on the goal — the WC — that’s within short reach.)

There was no bandwagon for the lesser, sloppier, older, sleeper Cardinals team.

Some parts of that team remain, of course.  Mostly good parts. But as I’ve discussed approximately 1,057 times here or on my radio show, the Cardinals have been in transition all season. And even now, here on Sept. 7, they continue to adjust and modify and make more changes … with the latest addition being sturdy RH reliever Juan Nicasio, who was acquired in a deal with Philadelphia.

The Cardinals’ rotation has two new arms in rookies Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty. Weaver began the season at Triple A Memphis; Flaherty started the year in Double A Springfield.

A tired bullpen has been freshened up — more than many  assume — and I’ll be writing a more specific piece on this later. But the Memphis infusion is making a positive difference in the pen.

Changes in the rotation and bullpen help explain why the Cardinals’ pitching staff is ranked fifth in the majors and third in the NL over the last two weeks in adjusted ERA. The reconfigured staff is rebounding after struggling through much of August.

I’ve repeatedly quantified the Memphis-factor impact on the Cardinals’ lineup and player-position strength, but here’s a different way to look at the same thing:

Since the All-Star break, 11 Cardinals hitters are above the league average offensively based on park-adjusted runs created, or wRC+.  There are obviously some differences in the number of plate appearances. Some are starters. Some are banged up a bit with injuries. Some are reserves.  One, Harrison Bader, was recalled from Memphis on Sept. 1.

Putting the various sample sizes aside, fact is the Cardinals still have 11 above-average hitters in the season’s second half:  Jose Martinez, Tommy Pham, Bader, Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk, Yadier Molina, Greg Garcia, Kolten Wong,  Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong.

Six of the 11 players on that list either (1) began the season at Memphis, or (2) were recalled after being demoted to Memphis to repair their swings.

The roster remix has led to enhanced results. That hardly qualifies as a random swirl. After all, what’s the point of making roster revisions? In this case, here’s the answer: to boost your team’s probability of success. And it’s true …. the new blood has enlivened the Cardinals.

It isn’t a fluke when your team is 29-22 since the All-Star break, a .569 winning percentage that’s tied for fifth-best in MLB, and fourth-best in the NL.

It isn’t a fluke considering that the Cardinals are ranked second in the NL in runs per game (5.16) since the All-Star break. And the favorable trend isn’t a fluke when your pitchers are ranked third in run prevention during the second half.

Who knows if this will last?

There have been too many plot twists and dips to assume anything. And performance by young players tend to be volatile. Up and down. Hot and cold. Confident then deflated.

But when your team has benefited significantly from internal roster reinforcements, is No. 2 in the league in scoring runs, and is No. 3 in preventing runs — all during a 51-game stretch since the All-Star break — the progress isn’t a matter of dumb luck. It’s authentic.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Miklasz – Backed By Memphis Muscle, the Cards’ Offense Is Among the NL’s Best Right Now