Let's face it, this is a good, but not great Cardinals team. The recent stretch has proven that.
The Cardinals squared off against division leaders Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Los Angeles and lost 10 of 12.
Perhaps the Cards just caught those teams at the wrong time, but the team is certainly showing signs of mediocrity.
Take away the month of May, in which the Cardinals went 20-7 and the team is just 47-43--pretty average at best.
Looking further, the Cardinals have the biggest run differential in the NL, scoring 574 runs while allowing only 434, for a difference of 140. Yet they are tied for the third best record in the league. If you calculate their win expectancy based on their runs scored and allowed, you would expect the team to be 73-44, meaning the Cardinals are 6 games below where they should be.
The biggest culprit for this difference is the Cardinals performance in close games. The Cards are just 13-14 in one-run games and a lousy 1-5 in extra inning games.
Now, with the Pirates coming into town for an important 3-game series, the Cardinals are in a must-win situation. Win the series and it could spark the team heading into the homestretch.
I'm sure Mike Matheny will try to downplay the importance of this series, but his actions speak volumes.
The Cardinals purposely shifted the starting rotation to set up their big 3 starters--Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn--for the Pirates series.
If the Cardinals can somehow sweep this 3-game set, it could go along way towards building momentum for the stretch run, especially with Yadier Molina likely to return from the DL on Thursday.
However, if they were to lose the series against the Pirates or, even worse, get swept by the Pirates, I'm concerned that the team could head into a further tailspin and possibly miss the playoffs altogether.
It all starts with Wainwright, who needs to come up with a big performance Tuesday, especially after getting extra rest. If the Cardinals can take the first game in commanding fashion, it could set the tone for the series and perhaps the rest of the season.
There is still time to turn things around, but it needs to start now.