I am not privy to all discussions of editorial direction here at Defector, but so far as I am aware there has been no formal or even wink-and-nod collective effort to ignore the unfortunate rise of the 2021 St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, they were described as “somewhere between fine and OK” in a blog summarizing the engaging chaos of the expanded wild card back on Sept. 15, when they’d won four straight and six of seven to leapfrog several scuffling teams and take what one could still hope would be temporary possession of the second National League wild card spot. The only way to view what has happened to the standings since that day is reluctantly, with dread, through fingers smashed over eyeballs as if to protect your sensitive mind from an unfiltered view of pure horror. The Cardinals are now the hottest team in baseball.
For a solid half-season it appeared as though some combination of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Diego Padres, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Cincinnati Reds would fill in the NL wild card picture. The Cardinals were simply not a factor: As recently as Sept. 7, they were one lousy game above .500, good for third in their division. What’s happened since then has been nothing short of incredible: The Cardinals have now won 15 straight games through Saturday night—a new franchise record for a team with a 140-year history and the fourth-longest streak all-time—and 17 of 18, and have all but run away with that second wild card berth. They’ve taken series off the Reds, the Mets, and the Padres, and swept away division-leading Milwaukee in a four-game road set last week. They’re three games into a fifth consecutive series win, this one over the Chicago Cubs. They face the miserable Cubs again, in a three-game series, to close out the regular season. They’ve done it! Like a vulture who unloads a huge gross bird-shit on the windshield of your car, they have ravaged the carcasses in their midst and rudely overcome your preference to ignore their foul existence altogether.
Frankly, and historic streak notwithstanding, I would still be ignoring them today except for two factors: I am working the Sunday shift at this sports website and therefore must produce blogs about the current goings-on in the world of sports; and St. Louis’s win over the Cubs Saturday night was simply too damn notable and even fun to go undiscussed. The Cubs had a 4–2 lead headed into the seventh inning, but consecutive base hits from Nolan Arenado, Yadier Molina (his 2,111th career hit, which pushed him into third in franchise history), Harrison Bader, and Lars Nootbaar pushed a pair of runs across and forced a pitching change. Paul DeJong greeted Cubs reliever Scott Effross with a sacrifice fly to deep right center, which plated Bader and put the Cardinals ahead.
That’s not the fun stuff. The fun came in the eighth, with the Cards holding a one-run lead but in a tight spot, with Cubs baserunners on first and third and one away. St. Louis brought their corner infielders in, anticipating that David Bote would take off for home on contact. Rafael Ortega slapped a 1–1 sinker to the right side, where it was snared by Paul Goldschmidt, and all hell broke loose:
Chaos! My favorite part of this is Bader, a damn outfielder, making the heady and unconventional decision to race down and cover second, putting himself in position to make the penultimate throw in the second rundown, which ended the inning. He had a cool line about this after the game, noting that he’s never practiced making a throw on the infield in that scenario and that it’s therefore trickier than a spectator might think: “I thought I was gonna launch it into the seats, ’cause I don’t have that, like, little flick touch. I’m a one-speed thrower with my arm, so that was interesting for me.”
A Goldschmidt-Molina-Arenado-Edman-Molina-Bader-DeJong double play to wipe out a scoring threat and preserve a historic run is real team-of-destiny shit. It brings me absolutely no pleasure whatsoever to report this, but the St. Louis Cardinals are the best story in baseball right now. The only thing left to do is to somehow abolish the expanded wild card between now and October 3.