St. Louis, left for dead by most baseball pundits, set a franchise record with its 16th consecutive win.
When the Cubs and Cardinals met at Wrigley Field just before the All-Star break, both teams were under .500. Since then, they have gone in divergent paths.
St. Louis, left for dead by most baseball pundits, set a franchise record with its 16th consecutive win after Sunday’s 4-2 victory over the Cubs and rocketed to a possible National League wild card spot. The way they’re playing, the Cardinals are no one’s desired opponent in the playoffs.
In the Cubs clubhouse, the Cardinals’ success this September has been a teachable moment.
“That’s a nice lesson for me of, it’s a [162-game season], it’s not the All Star break, it’s not the trade deadline, it’s not into September. It’s the entire season,” manager David Ross said.
As his team goes into the offseason and prepares for next spring, Ross will be holding on to what the Cardinals have accomplished these last few weeks.
“I’ll be using that as an example, for sure,” he said.
Ross believes the Cardinals are a great example of heading into a season with faith in who is on the roster and being willing to ride with that group whether they go up or down in the standings.
Other than filling a few small holes on the roster with bargain veteran additions, St. Louis was not especially active at the trade deadline. Ross thinks there’s value in assembling your group and then having the confidence to stick with them.
In the next few months the Cubs’ front office will start answering questions about what the 2022 roster will look like. Ross does not take a driver’s seat role in building that roster, but he said there are players who have gotten his and the front office’s attention.
“Guys are making names for themselves,” Ross said.
He points specifically to Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel along with role-player types like Rafael Ortega. Wisdom has set a new rookie record for home runs in fewer at-bats than Kris Bryant needed in 2015, and Schwindel has a good chance to lead the team in wins above replacement by the season’s end.
“I don’t know that there’s anything that I can put my finger on that is stamped into next season,” Ross said. “Big picture-wise, for the young guys, there’s a lot of holes to fill and depth to get, and how that plays out is going to tell us a lot about what kind of roster we’ll have next year.”
They might have the greatest need pitching-wise. Since the trade deadline, the offense has actually been better than the months prior. From opening day to July 30, the bats hit a collective .227 with a well below average wRC+ (theirs was 88, average is 100). Since July 31, those numbers are .249 and 96.
With the stable of young arms the Cubs have, the front office and coaching staff will have the winter and spring training to work on sorting out the best roles for those pitchers. For now, what Ross and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy value most is their availability and flexibility because that creates options for free agency and the trade market.
“The more options you have, the better it is for the front office to go out and be flexible in the pieces they can get to fill out their team,” Ross said.
Whatever those pieces are, seeing what the Cardinals have done since being essentially written out of the playoff conversation in July and August has left an impression on Ross.
That’s an impression he hopes to carry over into 2022 and use to remind himself and his players that things like prolonged losing streaks don’t always mean you’re out of contention.
“Baseball is weird like that,” Ross said of the Cardinals. “You get a little bit of momentum and the schedule plays out sometimes in your favor and you gain confidence, and you see what confidence does.”