Timing, they say, is everything, and the St. Louis Cardinals seem to have landed theirs precisely.
Once it became clear early last week the Cardinals had all but backed out of the derby to land Juan Soto, a more reasonable and predictable trade deadline strategy shifted into view. In acquiring José Quintana and Chris Stratton from Pittsburgh and Jordan Montgomery from the New York Yankees, St. Louis found in both bulk and quality that which they had been unable to identify for far too long — multiple sources of reliable innings.
That they opted for that path at the same time the rival Milwaukee Brewers shifted away from it is its own sort of good break in their direction. Josh Hader was unlikely to remain in Milwaukee after next season and perhaps never had higher value, but a clubhouse can tell when a c-suite is stepping back. David Stearns deserves credit for the consistency of winning he’s nurtured with the Brewers, but the lack of awareness in trampling that fertile patch was stunning.
It should not come as a shock, then, that within a week, the Cardinals surged from three games back in the National League Central to two games ahead. Indeed, last Thursday, set for a doubleheader against the Cubs, St. Louis’s wide range of outcomes spanned from falling further back to drawing even. When it turned out to be the latter, the weekend’s stunning sweep of the New York Yankees felt like a catapult that now leaves the Brewers as the club forced to chase.
And still, the timing of decisions outside of the deadline has been fortuitous. The disastrous start to Paul DeJong’s season which saw him exiled to the minors and uncertain of whether he’d reclaim his job at shortstop meant his recall in Washington was not at all guaranteed to succeed.
Teammates thrilled to have him back
He played every inning of his first eight games back, and in those games, the Cardinals went 7-1. He delivered three doubles, three homers, and 10 RBI, and in the process added more than 120 points to his season OPS total.
It could be fairly claimed, as eyes roll heavily across the metro area, that getting him back has been even better than making a trade.
There are different kinds of demotions, and a player’s status in the clubhouse can make each one resound in different ways. DeJong shared his teammates, upon his arrival in D.C., were banging on the windows from inside the team bus, so excited to see him back that they decided not to wait for him to climb the steps.
When he readied in the visitors’ clubhouse at Nationals Park for the flight back to St. Louis, there was even an anachronistic sign of how long he’d been gone — the emerald green suit he put on was out of touch with the comfortable, gray tracksuits his teammates had acquired for night flights in his absence. Presumably they’ve since sorted him out.
DeJong’s key swing against Yankees
It’s hard to imagine cheerful teammates and good vibes extended all the way through to manager Oliver Marmol’s decision making in the team’s series against the Yankees, but when DeJong strode to the plate Friday night with the Cardinals down one run in the eighth inning, it would also be inaccurate to say those things didn’t play a role.
Marmol acknowledged after the game — and again the next morning, after double checking — the optimal matchup called for by the numbers in that situation was for Brendan Donovan to pinch hit. Perhaps he would’ve come through, at least to tie the game. Perhaps not, and the Yankees would’ve closed the game out in the ninth, disrupting what had the potential to become a season-altering sweep for the Cardinals.
The trust in DeJong manifested in a double down the line, and as the game flipped, it would be hard not to feel something broader flipping in the ballpark as well. Three sold out games against one of baseball’s other premiere franchises can do a lot to energize a fanbase in the doldrums of summer, and following a deadline at which the team added more than they have in arguably eight seasons, it’s impossible not to draw a distinction with division rivals content to fall slightly back and hope that it’ll be enough.
Credit where credit is due
It may not be the style of the Cardinals to go all in at any given time, but it’s very much their style to see an opportunity and seize on proper timing. For all the things for which they can be fairly criticized, it’s also true those in positions of power should be lauded for knowing when the iron is truly hot.
It’s glowing, now. The Brewers added fuel to that fire, and Paul DeJong, to date, has breathed just enough life into it to make potential possibilities feel instead more like probabilities. If nothing else, the Cardinals clearly don’t intend to let the moment pass by.