Do-or-die doubleheader looms today for Cardinals as final month of play begins


David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

Against all odds, and a good portion of Cardinal Nation, the St. Louis Cardinals still have a decent shot at postseason play. Due to the two-team wildcard berth format, all they have to do is sneak in the backdoor for a chance to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in a month or so in a winner-gets-a-series one game playoff. Due to disappointingly erratic play for the first five months of the season, there is plenty of doubt about that potential game actually occurring.

Of course, anything is possible in baseball. All you have to do around here is mention 2006 or 2011 to initiate the fabled tales of Redbird comebacks. Ten years ago, after a brutal sweep at the hands of the Dodgers, St. Louis sat more than 10 games back of first place as August kicked off its final week. Due to an unreal stretch and some Atlanta Braves nosediving, they got in. In 2006, they needed help from John Smoltz and those Braves to fall through a window into a wildcard spot. Baseball has a sense of humor, but I am not sure about this 2021 team’s standup material.

This team doesn’t have Tony La Russa monitoring the managerial post in the dugout. They lack superstars like Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Chris Carpenter, and David Freese. They can’t hit much, rely on too-raw pitching talent, and have been hit with more injuries than most Major League teams. Jack Flaherty started hot, went down with an injury, came back, and went down again. Miles Mikolas missed the 2020 season and tried to make a return earlier this season, only to have his forearm injury flare up. Jordan Hicks will be back sometime.

Instead of easing Alex Reyes into a regular bullpen role, he was thrust into the closer role, where he flourished for four months before crashing and burning in recent weeks with five blown saves. Johan Oviedo rode the wild rookie pitcher horse for months before being sent back to Memphis for much-needed retooling. Tommy Edman is a utility player being asked to be a starter (just look at his OPS). Paul Goldschmidt is awoken and Nolan Arenado’s debut Cardinal season has been a success, but other areas of the lineup are faulty.


Adam Wainwright’s unbelievable output gives you hope, but he can only start once every five days. Mikolas will make another attempt for his first win in two years today in a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds, one of the teams St. Louis is chasing in the wildcard race. After an impressive 3-1 win on Monday night, last night’s game was rained out, setting up two outings today. It won’t be easy.

Opposing Mikolas in the opener is Wade Miley, a lefty whose career has been revived this year in Cincy, collecting a 2.74 ERA with 11 wins. Sonny Gray, who will start the second game at 5:40 pm today, wasn’t in need of revitalization this season. Outside of a wrong turn stint in the American League back in 2016 and 2018, Gray has never finished with an ERA above 3.70. He doesn’t walk many and strikes out a modest amount.

The good news is the Cardinals have defeated Gray twice this season, getting to him for 13 earned runs in just seven innings pitched. While Miley hasn’t won against St. Louis this year, he’s pitched very effectively in two outings. Why? Well, for one, Miley is left-handed and doesn’t overpower hitters, which basically transitions the Redbird lumber into dust at the plate. Cincinnati has also lost three in a row and five of their last seven games, so it’s a good time to catch them.

It’s not an exaggeration to say today’s doubleheader represents a crucial moment for the Cardinals. If they can somehow find a way to sweep both games, they are right on the Reds’ doorstep for the second wildcard spot. If they get swept, the deficit goes from 2.5 games back to 4.5 games, which is a bigger mountain with less than a month left in the regular season. One thing that has eluded the Cards this season is the ability to beat good teams consistently. After a June stumble, they’ve figured out how to defeat the Pirates, Marlins, Royals and Tigers. With the exception of strong play versus San Francisco, teams with winning records usually throw them for a loop.

It’s good to be this way. The Reds have slowly but surely moved into a divisional rivalry with St. Louis, sparked by Nicholas Castellanos posing over young pitcher Jake Woodford at the plate earlier this season. Later on, after a surprising sweep of the Cardinals, Joey Votto didn’t mince words when talking about the trash-talking St. Louis did after an earlier defeat. All this did was reignite a war that started back in 2009 between then-second-baseman Brandon Phillips and Yadier Molina. These teams don’t like each other and with September beginning, that’s where it should be.

Here’s the thing. There are three questions surrounding this team: Can they stay away from walks, find a way to execute with runners in scoring position, and score consistently throughout the nine-inning game? Giovanny Gallegos should be the closer today for both games, especially with the unexpected day off yesterday and off day tomorrow. The hitters need to swing at first pitch juicy fastballs instead of waiting to work the count. Miley and Gray will chop this lineup into pieces if they take that approach. Swing at the get-me-over junk fastball. In other words, do what Kolten Wong is doing in Milwaukee. Swing away!

Do I think they can pull it off, and make it into the postseason? Baseball has turned me into a cynic this season, so I would place my chips on the table in the “I don’t think so” section. This team hasn’t proven to me they are for real enough to make that bold bet of counting on them to do the right thing. The time to show dominance and make a stand. As Black Widow once told an angry green fella, the sun is getting real low. It’s getting dark out there in the 2021 season.

While today’s doubleheader may not represent the end of the road, a collapse will only pull Oct. 3, the final game of the season, even closer–and not in a good way.