The last time I wrote a Giants-Cardinals series preview, I was called up by sports talk radio in St. Louis to give an interview because I vaguely echoed the sentiment of many St. Louisans who felt that Mike Matheny was ruining their favorite baseball team. It turns out, they were right and Matheny’s mismanagement of the Cardinals’ young roster got him Schildt-canned on July 14, replaced by then-interim but now-permanent manager Mike Schildt, whom the team has already signed to a three-year extension.
It’s going so well now that their broadcasters are actually having fun in the booth and certainly, the Giants broadcast team will need to get some payback on Dan McLaughlin for his Jon Miller impression.
Since Schildt has taken over, the Cardinals are 37-23. Their playoff odds have risen from 21% to 76.5% and they managed to move from a debacle-worthy 7.5 games back of the first place Cubs to a more respectable 5.5 with a little over a week left in the season. I say that because everybody knows the Cubs are the class of the division, but the Cardinals are the Giants in that every year they’re willing to let the richest team in the division jump out to a huge lead and then try to hard-nose their way into stealing the top spot. It didn’t work out this year, but they certainly managed to start playing to their talent potential.
So, now they share the Wild Card with the Brewers. These next three against the terrible Giants are the last easy games for the Cardinals before they run a final 6-game gauntlet of their Wild Card rivals and division-leading Cubs to end the season. Wouldn’t it be something if the Giants totally boned the Cardinals’ playoff odds?
It is, of course, highly unlikely — the Giants are playing with both arms and their face tied behind their back and Madison Bumgarner has transformed into a much taller Kirk Rueter — but that just means they’re not expected to put up much of a fight. Maybe the Cardinals will lower their guard. And that’s when the Giants can win consecutive 1-0 games.
Or, the Giants can keep losing and help create a little anarchy. From Al Yellon:
This year? With a week and a half to go in the regular season, we have this plausible scenario where the Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers and Rockies all wind up at 90-72. In order to have that happen, here’s how the teams would have to wrap up their final 10 games (11 for Colorado):
The Cardinals have had a rocky September (8-10) and, as I said above, it doesn’t end on an easy note. This is their best chance to gain ground or hold serve. Meanwhile, the Giants are playing for... um, our entertainment? Certainly not for pride. Uh... paychecks? Stat-padding? Yeah, let’s go for that. It affects arbitration and probably some contract bonus escalators. Stats. The Giants, of all teams, are playing for stats.
BUT, they could be playing for so much more. Of course the team should try hard, but when the leverage situation gets too high, they should strongly consider rolling over. Every Cardinals win is a win for chaos, and in the Giants’ situation (4-13 in September, averaging 2.7 runs per game) winning is, well... maybe it’s counterproductive? Maybe the team gets to 74 or 75 wins and we say, “Hey, they were 10 games better than last year” and some representative of the team IMMEDIATELY jumps in to add “despite all these injuries” and we all go to bed thinking the Giants are great and that tomorrow will be a better day. Or maybe none of this matters. Maybe it’s all just pointless.
The Giants might try hard and not give up but here’s what you might get out of this weekend’s series that’s greater than try hardiness: clips of the Travis Ishikawa home run, Kenny Lofton’s walk-off hit, Marco Scutaro looking up to the sky, and Hunter Pence hitting the ball three times with one swing of a broken bat. The Giants might not have that magic anymore, but maybe the Cardinals don’t either. Or maybe the Giants can still use what little residue there is left of that playoff success to muck up the Cardies plans. I mean, probably not, but what if?
Hitter to watch
Matt Carpenter is having the best season of his career by far. His OPS stands at .917 (he’s never ended a season above .900), his 35 home runs are easily a career high (previous career best was 28, back in 2015), and he’s close to creating new bests in stolen bases and walks. He’s 32 years old, generally considered to be the end of a player’s peak performance, and he’s slugged higher than ever before without hitting even one triple. That probably doesn’t mean much (the extra home runs certainly pick up the slack), but he’s averaged about 3 or 4 triples a season for his career. With just 9 games to go, he’ll need to get rolling. The Giants might be the perfect team to do that against.
Then again, in 17 games, he’s had a legitimately bad, Giants-worthy month, slashing .169 / .333 / .203 in 75 plate appearances.
Pitcher to watch
Bud Norris lost his closer role because he’s bad at his job and after reports from just before Mike Matheny’s ousting, it’s pretty clear he’s bad at being a teammate, too.
The 33-year-old Norris has been mercilessly riding 21-year old rookie Jordan Hicks since spring training, reminding him to be at meetings on time and publicly calling him out when he is lagging in any of the details a visitor might not notice, but other players do. Perhaps Hicks will one day appreciate the treatment?
“Probably not,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny admitted with a chuckle. “But Bud’s going to do continue to do what he thinks is right as a veteran, so you respect that.”
The Giants don’t hit many home runs and they don’t put a lot of fear into opposing pitchers, but if ever they were to embarrass a pitcher this weekend, it should be this guy.