The Cardinals Are Suddenly the Hottest Team in the NL - Are They "Back in the Race"?

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The Cardinals Are Suddenly the Hottest Team in the NL – Are They “Back in the Race”?

Chicago Cubs

Something to ponder as you get your Tuesday morning started …

The Cardinals came back on the Nationals last night, with Matt Carpenter hitting a three-run shot in the 8th to cap off the comeback, and then blew that lead in the top of the 9th … only to walk it off on a Paul DeJong homer in the bottom of the 9th. It’s the kind of loss that, after their incredible and stunning loss to the Cubs on Sunday, could absolutely end the season for a team like the Nationals. Maybe kinda probably shouldn’t have dumped two effective relievers for stupid reasons, eh, Nationals?

But, back to the Cardinals. That win was their sixth in a row. Since the moment they fired long-time manager Mike Matheny, the Cardinals have the best record in the NL, at 17-9. In under a month, they’ve moved from 8.5 games back of the Cubs to 5.0 games back, and just 2.0 games back of the Brewers. They are the third place team in the Wild Card race right now, ahead of the Rockies, Dodgers, Pirates, Nationals, and Giants.

So, then, here’s the question: are the Cardinals suddenly a team to be concerned with in the NL Central race? Just two weeks ago, they were borderline sellers at the Trade Deadline. Heck, they talked like sellers at the deadline. But now they’re the hottest team in the league, and they’ll soon get back both Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez (the latter of whom will return in the bullpen, adding quite a weapon there).

The flip side of that is that, despite being the hottest team in the NL for a month, the Cardinals have closed the gap on a Cubs team that hasn’t been hot by just 3.5 games. They now have to close it by 5.0 games in a month and a half. And they’ll have to do it without the benefit of head-to-head match-ups, since the teams do not play each other again until the very last series of the year.

I still have my questions about this Cardinals team, though, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this hot month has featured an exceptionally weak schedule (14 of the games came against the Reds, White Sox, Royals, and Marlins). The entire rest of the way, they have just six games left against “bad” teams (three against the Reds, three against the Tigers).

Unless Matt Carpenter continues to hit like the reincarnated Babe Ruth – heck, even then – I don’t think I see it.

But they’re certainly back on the radar in a way I wasn’t expecting just a couple weeks ago.

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.