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Cardinals. National League Central

St. Louis Cardinals: 3 keys to winning the National League Central

  • CLUTCH SUMMARY: Having had one of the most consistent seasons in the National League Central, the St. Louis Cardinals have the pieces in place to win the division.
  • Even with not making any big additions at the trade deadline, this team is built for the playoffs already.
  • The keys to getting to the playoffs, then excelling in them, are obtainable. 

With the struggles that both the Cubs and Brewers have had, the Cards almost look to have the remainder of the season in their favor

Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna, among others, must become more consistent at the plate for this team to pull away in September

58 wins and sitting around two games back of the divisional lead, the St. Louis Cardinals are very much in the thick of it when it comes to fighting for the National League Central divisional title. With a guaranteed playoff berth on the line, the Cards have the pieces to fight back to the top of the standings as the month of August gets rolling.

Even with as quiet as they were at the trade deadline, the Cardinals are a very solid team. Led offensively by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and left fielder Marcell Ozuna, this team has put together a solid season, one that may see them eventually take home the divisional crown.

As bad as the NL Central has been playing so far this season, the divisional winner may end up with under 90 victories this season, a completely disappointing amount but one that should not hold the winner back. As dangerous as they come, this division consistently puts out threats that the rest of the league should be aware of.

Specifically for the Cardinals, their pitching has become the biggest area that has been under the microscope for some time. Offensively, their core pieces just need to come together at the right time, and defensively they lead in the league in fewest errors, which speaks to the importance they place on playing efficient and smart defense.

Here are a few keys for the Cardinals to focus on as they push ahead to make a climb up the standings for the Central championship.

Quiet at the deadline may not be a bad thing

General manager Mike Girsch and President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak remained diligent in their hunt to add to the team, according to the copious amounts of rumors that they were tied to, but eventually did not make that splash. Having a somewhat decimated farm system after acquiring Goldschmidt and Ozuna as of late, this team held onto their minor league assets and decided to stay the status quo at the trade deadline.

Outside of their minor deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which saw them send Jedd Gyorko over to LA in return for left-hander Tony Cingrani and righty Jeffry Abreu, this was as non-eventful as a trade deadline can get for a team. While not a bad thing at all, the front office must really feel comfortable with the current stable of talent that this team has.

Outside of Goldy and Ozuna, the returns of Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina from the injury list will act as late-season acquisitions too, which will hopefully inject a sense of production back into the starting lineup that has been missing it from both of those players. Carpenter was activated from the injured list on August 4, but Yadi is still on his rehab assignment, awaiting an all-clear on his health before returning to the big leagues.

Take advantage of their rivals’ shortcomings

While simplistic in nature, winning games while both the Cubs and Brewers go through ups and downs is exactly what this team needs to do, even if it struggles too. Sitting behind the Cubs and in front of the Brewers gives the Cards a good perspective on how everyone is playing, yet it also shows that the pressure is more on the first and third place teams due to either needing to keep a divisional lead or to dig themselves out of a third-place hole to draw closer to competition.

Over the course of the remainder of the season, the Cardinals do not face the Cubbies until September 19 and play them a total of seven more games, four away and three at home. All seven games come in the final 12 days of the regular season, so the late-season push may come down to the wire.

For the Brewers, St. Louis plays them again on the 19th of August and nine more times this season. With six of those nine remaining games being at Busch Stadium, the pressure will be on the Brewers to come into St. Louis and make a statement, similar to how they did last year by clinching a playoff berth after eliminating the Cardinals on their own field.

Both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, even though they were close as recent as early July, have fallen out of playoff contention, but can play spoilers over the rest of the season for St. Louis. The Reds play the Cards eight more times, including a doubleheader rain makeup, and the Buccos face St. Louis six more times, including three in St. Louis later this week after the Cards finish up their ongoing series with the Dodgers.

The offense needs to show up, cover up pitching deficiencies

Hitting .258 with 25 home runs and 58 runs driven in seems to be below average for Goldschmidt, and truly it is. Having a high amount of strikeouts with 119 is above average, which is not the statistic that players want to be above average in.

But for Goldschmidt, his play over the past 30 days has got to excite Cardinals fans, based solely off of improvements. Over the past month, Goldy has been hitting .274 with nine long balls and 21 RBIs, and his 22 strikeouts across 84 at-bats are about two percent lower than his season-long average of strikeouts compared to total at-bats.

Ozuna has gotten over 100 fewer at-bats than Goldschmidt this season, but some of his offensive numbers are better than Goldschmidt. .255 average, 20 dingers and 62 runs driven in against 71 punchouts in 302 at-bats are all comparable to Goldschmidt in a much smaller sample size, showing that even with missing time, Ozuna has been a key contributor for this team.

The 302 at-bats puts the former Miami Marlins outfielder tied for sixth with Carpenter on the team, so hopefully by having a bit of a rested core coming back, the likes of Ozuna, Carpenter, and Molina can help Goldschmidt and the rest of the starters pick up some slack and start hitting again, helping lead this team back to the playoffs.