It doesn't seem like that long ago that the St. Louis Cardinals were sagging in the National League standings. They were 6 1/2 games back in the NL Central at the end of June.
The postseason magic from just eight months earlier was drained. They were injured and losing, some fans — as misguided as the notion might seem — were even calling for manager Mike Matheny's firing.
Baseball fans should know better than to count out the Cardinals, who have been one of the best teams in MLB the past decade.
These 2014 Cardinals (now 76-63) are looking like one of those teams for whom everything comes together in the season's most important month. They've ascended into first place, finally knocking the Milwaukee Brewers out of the division's top spot this week. They're getting healthy. They're scoring runs. They're looking dangerous.
On Wednesday, they beat the division rival Pittsburgh Pirates in a 1-0 walk-off after a Peter Bourjos single. It was St. Louis' fifth straight win, a sweep of the Pirates that gave the Cards a three-game lead in the NL Central after the Brewers lost to the Cubs again.
It's not just the winning streak that should put the rest of the NL on alert. A lot of things are going right for the Cardinals right now:
• Catcher Yadier Molina is back after missing time because of a torn ligament in his thumb. He's an important piece to both the lineup and the pitching staff. He scored the winning run Wednesday after drawing a two-out walk in the bottom of the ninth.
• Michael Wacha, the team's postseason spark plug a year ago, is set to return to the mound Thursday. He's been sidelined since June because of shoulder issues. Getting back a healthy Wacha — who has a 2.79 ERA this season in 15 starts — could be huge for the final month, especially with Adam Wainwright not at his best in August.
• The Cardinals offense has gotten a lot better recently. St. Louis ranks 26th in runs scored this season, but in August the offense turned it up. They were seventh in MLB. in runs They also had the third-best team batting average in August.
After sweeping the Pirates, the Cardinals now travel to Milwaukee for four games against the Brewers. The Brewers are losers of eight straight after Wednesday's 6-2 loss in Chicago.
If they can't slow down these red-hot Cardinals this weekend, the Brewers' fate might be sealed. And St. Louis' postseason stock might start to soar.
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