St. Louis Cardinals: Can They Really Make a Serious Run at the Playoffs?

Jeff SucherContributor IIIAugust 20, 2012

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 19: Starter Jamie Garcia #54 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium on August 19, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

After Sunday's 19-inning marathon, which the St. Louis Cardinals came out on the losing end of to the Pittsburgh Pirates, doubts are starting to creep in regarding the playoff legitimacy of the Cardinals.

Skipper Mike Matheny said after Sunday's loss, via B.J. Rains of Fox Sports Midwest, "I don't know if it can be any more disappointing."

The Cardinals welcomed back Jamie Garcia to the rotation and he rewarded them with eight strong innings, allowing two runs, both unearned, while fanning 10.

What did the Cardinals offense reward him with?  Two runs and a no-decision.  For a team that came into the weekend leading Major League Baseball in run differential, they appeared without bite all weekend at the plate.

At one point during Sunday's game, Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and David Freese were a combined 1-for-19.  Those three finished the game 2-for-22, with Beltran collecting both of the hits. 

While hitting is certainly a streaky thing, the Cardinals need to find the bats from the beginning of the season when they were bludgeoning their opponents.  Matt Holliday struggled at the start of the season and then turned it on, and now it's off again.

Holliday batted .215 in April, .340 in May and .363 in both June and July.  In August, Holliday is batting .224, and in his last 25 plates appearances he is hitting .080.  Hopefully for the Cardinals' sake, Holliday will find his stroke of midsummer and start crushing the ball again.

While all the offensive woes can't be placed on Holliday or any other player, the bullpen has killed the Cardinals this season, especially in close games.

The Cardinals can't seem to win one-run games.  They are a putrid 12-21 in one-run games.  With even a .500 record in those games, the Cardinals would find themselves in a playoff spot if the season were to end today. 

Hopefully Mike Matheny can find some help from the left side in the bullpen.  Marc Rzepczynski and Barret Browning just are not reliable.  Add to that Brian Fuentes, who just up and left the team, and you have a mess.  Matheny never knows what he is going to get when a lefty reliever comes into the game.  The lowest ERA amongst the lefties in the pen is 4.89. 

The Cardinals almost have all the pieces to make a serious run at the Wild Card.  It all comes down to timing now and finding answers to some key questions. 

Can the Cardinals put runs on the board when they get a good pitching performance?  The same question lingers if the Cardinals have a poor pitching performance.  Will the bullpen find a lefty they can count on?  Will the team chemistry gel and the team get on a run like they experienced last year?

All of those questions can have positive answers, and if the Cardinals find their swagger, watch out.  Let's hope, for Cardinal Nation's sake, the Cardinals can flip the switch and make a run.