The Nats on a Staples diet

2019-10-14 ParkerStaples

Ten-year-old Parker Staples preparing a ceremonial first pitch 24 May. He did it again Monday night—a wicked changeup. Almost like the ones ruining the Cardinals so far.

Who’s to say a lymphoma-stricken boy didn’t turn the Natonals’ season around on 24 May? Not the Nats limbering up for National League Championship Series Game Three Monday. And he did his share to help send the Nats to one game away from the World Series.

On 24 May, in remission, Parker Staples got his wish granted to be a National for a day, with a little  intercession from the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which does things like that and more for children suffering grave illnesses.

Parker got his wish beginning with Nats general manager Mike Rizzo signing him to a real live one-day player’s contract. He spent the day with his heroes in the clubhouse and on the field and got himself a nice round of signatures, sunglasses, and other swag from Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Yan Gomes, and Matt Adams among other Nats.

Then, looking proud and happy in his Nats home whites with his surname across the back above number 34, Parker walked out to the mound with Max Scherzer, whom he got to chat with before the moment, waiting behind the plate. The boy waggled his glove just a moment before going into a stretch at the rubber.

Then, he threw one to Scherzer that crossed the plate just under the low, lefthand-hitting corner. Scherzer’s pitch framing needed a little work; the boy missed a low strike by millimeters. But the kid threw one hell of a changeup.

And Max the Knife trotted back to the mound, plopped the ball into Parker’s glove, shared a hearty mid-five with the boy, then walked him off the mound toward the dugout in front of which he signed the ball for him.

That night, the 19-31 Nats ground their way back to 9-8 against the Marlins, of all people, when Soto crashed a three-run homer and Adams followed immediately with a solo blast in the bottom of the eighth. The Marlins’ lone answer back was Jorge Alfaro hitting Sean Doolittle’s first pitch of the ninth over the left center field fence, but Doolittle held on to close out the 12-10 Nats win.

Parker’s Game started the Nats’ season turnaround, right into the 74-38 they nailed from there to snatch a National League wild card, dispatch the Rockies in the wild card game, wrest the division series from the Dodgers, and pull back into Nationals Park Monday for Game Three of a National League Championship Series they dominated on the first St. Louis leg.

Hours before the game, the Nats couldn’t resist commemorating Parker’s first pitch. They tweeted, “On May 24, Parker threw out the 1st pitch at #Nats Park. On May 24, we turned our season around. Coincidence? We think not.”

You hoped it wasn’t pushing the Nationals’ luck to remind yourself Monday afternoon that, in a season which bullpen issues including their own were matters of life and death, their starting pitchers kept the other guys hitting .150 in this postseason so far. With a Game Three showdown between Stephen Strasburg and Jack Flaherty looming, boy wonder past (Strasburg) versus boy wonder present (Flaherty).

And with Scherzer himself hoping the joint went nuts Monday night. “I have a feeling it’s going to be even more crazy,” he told an afternoon presser, “given what we’ve done. Really, our first postseason win as an organisation, I think that means a lot to everybody in D.C., so it should be a fun time.”

Max the Knife got what he wished for. Nationals Park went nuts over the 8-1 Game Three win. And over being just one win away from the first World Series appearance by any Washington team since year one of the New Deal.

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Parker Staples holding the 24 May lineup card Nats skipper Dave Martinez signed for him before that game.

With young Parker Staples throwing out the ceremonial first pitch again, another changeup hitting under the corner, too, the lad telegraphed Strasburg’s evening’s work only too acutely. Striking out twelve Cardinal batters on the night, not one of Strasburg’s strikeouts finished with anything resembling a fastball.

The power pitcher who hits 96 or better on the gun nailed those third strikes with changeups and curve balls and exploited almost to the point of mental cruelty the Cardinals’ continuing flaw, their near-complete inability to hit off-speed pitching.

By the time the game ended, the only shock was that neither Strasburg nor two Nats relief pitchers to follow even thought about throwing a screwball. But you’d forgive the Cardinals if they wanted to reach for unlimited highballs.

“It’s not like they’re throwing it right down the middle,” said Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, a four-strikeout victim Monday night. “They’re making quality pitches. They’re throwing strikes and then they’re getting us to chase. They’ve done a good job. We’ve got to do a better job if we’re going to win.”

For three and a half innings the Strasburg-Flaherty matchup went mostly as advertised. Then the Nats slapped Flaherty silly in the bottom of the third. And Howie Kendrick went doubles happy on the night,  including driving one to send Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto home in the third, driving another one to send Rendon home in the fifth, and doubling in the seventh to kindly allow Ryan Zimmerman to single him home in the seventh.

An excuse-us Cardinal run scored in the seventh when Soto lost his footing as he fielded Paul DeJong’s should-have-been bases-loading single and threw inexplicably, perhaps in momentary confusion, toward an uncovered portion of real estate. It wasn’t even close to enough to negate the Nattacks.

“Shoot,” deadpanned Rendon after the game, “maybe we’re finally coming around.”

All Game Four starter Patrick Corbin has to do is stick to the script and resist the temptation to feed the Cardinals anything at or above the speed limit. And don’t worry about contact. The Cardinals’ defense was considered nonpareil entering this set, but any time the Cardinals managed to tag any pitch hard Monday night, there was a Nat with a glove committing grand theft base hit.

Rendon took a guaranteed leadoff hit away from Paul DeJong with a well-timed dive left in the third, and Victor Robles—freshly returned to the lineup after the hamstring tweak running up the line in division series Game Two—backpedaled deftly to reach for and snatch Kolten Wong’s leadoff liner to the track in the fourth.

As if to prove further that he was recovered well enough to make it count, Robles made Cardinals reliever John Brebbia pay for ending the fifth with back-to-back strikeouts by hitting a 2-1 fastball too far in the middle of the zone over the right center field fence to lead off the bottom of the sixth.

By the time the Cardinals got anywhere near a more balanced diet including fastballs, there on the mound, of all people, was Fernando Rodney—the grand old man of the Nats’ formerly beleaguered bullpen, who could probably say with a straight face that in his childhood the top ten were the Ten Commandments—to get them out in order in the eighth, including back-to-back strikeouts.

He threw Paul Goldschmidt one changeup near the end of a run of fastballs before catching him looking at a third-strike fastball. He threw Marcell Ozuna—whose premature slide trying for Rendon’s third-inning double let the ball get past him in the first place—two fastballs to open, then nailed him swinging and missing on (stop me if you’ve heard this before) a changeup.

Then as he walked away from the mound, Rodney turned, arched, and delivered his familiar arrow-shoot pantomime. You thought the big boppers, the dugout dancers, knew how to celebrate big moments?

Before you ask, I’ll answer: the Cardinals didn’t hit fastballs too well Monday night, either. Nats rookie reliever Tanner Rainey proved it by throwing sixteen fastballs in eighteen ninth-inning pitches to get rid of Jose Martinez (in the Cardinals starting lineup for a change) and Yadier Molina on swinging strikeouts before letting Tommy Edman settle for flying out to left to end the game.

Just don’t ask Kendrick to explain his torrid postseason to date. “Just having fun and trying to keep it loose,” he said in an on-field interview. “Same stuff I’ve been doing during the season, trying to stay consistent in my routine, trying to get pitches to hit.”

Five months ago the Nats were left for dead. Their manager was left to wonder when, not whether, he’d be taken on the perp walk to the guillotine. Now, they’re the swingingest act in Washington—at the plate, on the mound, in their dugout, and in their clubhouse.  “If you don’t have fun in this game, or in anything that you do,” said Rendon, “then in the end, you shouldn’t be doing it.

The Cardinals need a little of that. And any other mojo they can get working. As of the end of Game Three, they have two runs—both unearned—and eleven hits in this NLCS. Their manager Mike Shildt is only too well aware of it.

“We’ve got to get a lead at some point in this series. Hard to win a game if you can’t get a lead,”said Shildt, the man who promised after his team’s division series triumph to [fornicate] up anyone who got in their [fornicating] way. “We’ve got to figure out a way to create some offense early in the game and be able to hold it there. It’s the first time our pitching hasn’t been able to contain this offense. I’m confident we’ll be able to do that tomorrow.”

Maybe the Nats shouldn’t take chances. Maybe Parker Staples should be there to throw out the first pitch before Game Four, too. Considering the Nats season after he did it in May, and the Nats’ NLCS after he did it Monday night, well, if it ain’t broke, don’t call the repairman.

Funeral to frat party and back in a Wrigley blink

2019-09-19 MattCarpenter

Matt Carpenter runs out the bomb that proved the difference maker in the tenth Thursday.

You knew it was just round one of total weekend war when a throw to first to catch Kolten Wong in the act was challenged, the safe call upheld, and the Wrigley Field boos rained louder than a heavy mental concert Thursday night. In the top of the first.

And, as Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks and catcher Willson Contreras ended the half inning with a strike-’em-out (Paul Goldschmidt)/throw-’em-out (Wong) double play,  the cheering from the Confines would have drowned the earlier booing out if both could have happened at once.

Then, for the following seven innings, Wrigley Field resembled a funeral home with Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty the chief undertaker. Until the Cubs tied things at four in the bottom of the ninth, turned the funeral home into a frat party and sent it to extra innings.

With Craig Kimbrel—returning from elbow inflammation, not having pitched since the beginning of the month—taking the mound for the top of the tenth. Cardiac Craig, about whom it was written snidely that every time he nailed a postseason save for last season’s Red Sox his high-wire act still made it feel like losing.

He struck out former Cub Dexter Fowler on a full count. Then Matt Carpenter—who’d lost his third base job to rookie Tommy Edman, who came into the game late when it looked like the Cardinals had it in the bank, and who hadn’t gone long since late August—hit Kimbrel’s first pitch over the center field wall. That’s what a quick trip back to the minors to fix your swing can do for you.

It also knocked Wrigley back into funeral mode for the moment, until Kimbrel settled enough to get rid of Goldschmidt and Steve Cishek came in to get rid of Marcell Ozuna and get the Cubs one more chance. Which Giovanny Gallegos—the guy the Cardinals surrendered Luke Voit to the Yankees to obtain—had no intention of giving them in his first-ever Cardinals save situation.

Late game Cub insertions Ian Happ (fly out to center) and David Bote (swinging strikeout) were dispatched almost in a blink. And Nicholas Castellanos, the Cubs’ midseason acquisition from the Tigers, who’d been nothing but solid and beyond for the Cubs since, flied out to center to end it.

The 5-4 win pushed the Cubs four behind the Cardinals in the National League Central and one behind the Brewers for the league’s second wild card, the Brewers having flattened the Padres earlier in the day. The Cubs have to win a mere three straight against the Cardinals this weekend to keep pace with them and maybe re-claim their second card grip.

Flaherty’s evening ended after a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth, 118 pitches, eight strikeouts, a lone walk, three hits overall, and one rudely-interrupting home run, keeping the Cubs otherwise unbalanced with a blend of breakers, changeups, and fastballs a barista would have envied for its smooth richness.

He walked off the mound for the final time of the game so collected he could have been forgiven for saying, quietly, “Well, I guess I’d better be shoveling off.” Even if he knows about as much about the old friendly radio undertaker Digger O’Dell, whose catch phrase it was, as this year’s American League East-and-100 game-winning Yankees know about avoiding the injured list.

And he got a nice respectful hand from even enough Cub fans and he’d earned every finger of it. Even that was just respectful, low-keyed applause and cheering. The real noise came after the Cardinals brought in former starter Carlos Martinez to open the bottom of the ninth, and Martinez opened with a walk to Nicholas Castellanos before Kris Bryant, who’d been kept quiet by Flaherty all night, smacked a single up the pipe.

With Kyle Schwarber and his 37 home runs so far checking in at the plate with the potential tying run. With Martinez falling behind to him 3-0 before striking him out, but with Ben Zobrist doubling home Castellanos, putting the tying runs into perfect position, and with Javier Baez—whose thumb is still balky but who can still run swiftly—pinch running for Zobrist.

It took eight and a half for Wrigley to come back to life. And when Contreras flicked a squirty grounder up the short third base line with Bryant tearing home as if it was supposed to be an unintentionally intentional suicide squeeze, only with all hands safe and first and third, the Confines became as unconfined as you imagine when the Cubs re-awaken from the dead.

Then Cardinals manager Mike Schildt brought in Andrew Miller, whose formidability as an Indian the Cubs remembered only too well from 2016, but who’s been worn down since by health issues stemming from his former bullpen overwork, to face the lefthanded Jason Heyward. Heyward smashed a grounder to second that pushed home Baez to tie things at four.

You got the idea early that even with the Flaherty factor hitting was going to be a challenge thanks to the notorious Wrigley winds, when Nicholas Castellanos skied one that might have flown out elsewhere but hung up for a right field catch in the first, and Jason Heyward hit a cannon shot liner that died a shuttlecock into Wong’s glove playing second ending the second.

And you also got the idea early and often that both sides weren’t exactly going to be in a big hurry to blow plate umpire Bill Welke to a steak dinner any time soon. Welke called so many pitches strikes that didn’t even graze the floor or the outside edges of the zone it’s a wonder neither Cardinal nor Cub decided to serenade him whistling the ancient television theme from The Outer Limits.

But you also knew the delight Cub Country took in Anthony Rizzo deciding to test his recently-sprained ankle by playing first base would be matched only by a sense that it would do a bigger favour to the Cardinals. And in the top of the third, it was.

Flaherty batted with first and second with Rizzo ambling down the line, a la Keith Hernandez, slowly but surely, and practically in front of the mound, aiming as has become a Cubs mainstay to choke off the bunt even if it went near the third base line. Flaherty dropped the bunt, all right. Right up the short third base line. And on his still-balky wheel Rizzo couldn’t get the ball in time to keep the bases from loading.

The pillows stayed stuffed long enough for Dexter Fowler to dial Area Code 4-6-3 with Edman (a leadoff walk) scoring on the play. And Rizzo atoned for his ankle’s betrayal in the bottom of the inning, sending Flaherty’s first pitch to him the other way into the left center field bleachers to tie things at one. Smartly, Rizzo he didn’t run it out any faster than he absolutely had to or could.

The tie held up long enough for Edman to open the top of the fifth with a triple into the right field corner and for Harrison Bader, who’s been as much a struggler at the plate as reliable in the outfield this season, to smack a single up the pipe to break the tie.

The Cardinals got a scare when Wong had to leave the game after ending the top of the fifth with a ground out to first. He fumed over leaving the game and the Cardinals may have fumed quietly with him, since he’s their best player this season by wins above replacement-level.

Then they sent Carpenter out to play third and moved Edman to second. And Flaherty went back to work as though nothing short of an undetected tornado could interrupt his quiet pleasure in his work. You might feel that kind of quiet surety, too, if you took the fifth-best post All-Star break earned run average (1.07) of all time out to the mound to start your evening’s work of play.

Flaherty was so composed and efficient that the Cardinals didn’t even think about getting a reliever up until Martinez got up to throw in the bottom of the eighth, after Flaherty reached 108 pitches on the night. Don’t even think about it: Flaherty doesn’t look like a pure hard, grunting, thrusting thrower; he relies on mechanical soundness to provide the fastball’s power and the command of the breakers.

He nailed the Cubs’ impressive rookie call-up Kyle Hoerner (eleven runs batted in in his first ten games worth of impressive) on a called third strike that looked under and not on the floor, and while Hoerner objected mildly to the call Flaherty simply walked around the mound and went back to work.

Then he struck out his counterpart Hendricks swinging, and Hendricks to that point was working with equivalent composure, not letting the quirky Wrigley elements get as far into his head as a two-run deficit ordinarily might, though he engaged a long yet civilised-appearing discussion with Welke after that swishout before returning to the mound.

He was probably a little more miffed when Goldsmidt opened the St. Louis sixth with a sharp double down the left field line. The Cardinals must have wondered about his ump conversation when Ozuna was rung up on a pitch that didn’t even graze the outer strike zone before Hendricks nicked Paul DeJong on a runaway inside pitch.

But Yadier Molina, the Cardinals’ wise old man behind the plate, lined a single to left that Schwarber played on the carom off the heel of his glove before throwing home. Goldschmidt waved home from second should have been a Deadbird, except that he eluded Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, abetted by Contreras inside the baseline seemingly unable to get the handle on the tag.

Which ended Hendricks’s evening and gave the Cubs more reason to be miffed, when Bader stroked a liner to left center off Hendricks’s relief Rowan Wick, right after Wick turned Edman aside on a swinging strikeout. Then Schwarber opened the bottom of the seventh with a single up the pipe. And Flaherty in a momentary lapse of soundness wild pitched Schwarber to second while working to Ben Zobrist, before Zobrist grounded to second to push Schwarber to third.

And the Cubs’ basepath issues reared up and bit them flush on the fanny, when Contreras bounced one right back to Flaherty and Flaherty bagged the Schwarbinator in a 1-2-5-6 rundown out before Heyward grounded out for the side.

The Cardinals didn’t really look all that much better going 4-14 with men in scoring position in the first seven innings, but what matters is how you make it count when you do it and how you hang in there when the other guys decide it’s party time at the ninth hour. And Carpenter spoiled the party in the top of the tenth.

Leaving the Cubs to resist the temptation toward counting the days and accept the temptation to counting the ways they might keep both feet from their seasonal graves. They’d rather not be shoveling off just yet.

The Gas Bill Gang

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs

They called Brooks Robinson at third The Hoover? They ought to call the Cardinals’ Kolten Wong at second the Electrolux.

It’s tempting to say don’t look now, but it’s hard to resist more than a look. While the Cubs took advantage of Yu Darvish’s almost unblemished start and the continuing slumber of most Mets bats Tuesday night, the Cardinals continued their takeover of the National League Central.

Not even a slightly odd seventh-inning rain delay in Miller Park could interrupt them. It took nine minutes and at least one playing of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic “Who’ll Stop the Rain” before the park’s crew got the roof closed.

It took another two and a third innings for the Cardinals to finish their 6-3 win over the Brewers, the final blow coming when Cardinals right fielder Dexter Fowler took a likely two-run homer away from Brewers late first base insertion Hernan Perez for the last out.

The Cardinals will take their wins any way they can get them. They’ve been getting a lot of them lately. They’ve overtaken the Mets with a 29-14 second half as far as that goes. They’ve shaken away their own 22-31 two-month spread over June and July.

And if you thought last year’s edition wasn’t exactly crawling with star power, this year’s could make last year’s look like the red carpet at the Oscars. The Retiring Redbirds. The Unknown Soldiers. The Gas Bill Gang. You choose.

On Tuesday night the prime damage was done by aging catching mainstay Yadier Molina, sure, but considering he took six multi-home run games into the game with three of them happening in Miller Park, maybe the least surprising thing was Molina going long twice, a one-out solo in the fifth and a two-run shot off the left field foul pole in the seventh, two hitters before the odd rain delay.

“Everyone knows this is a good hitter’s park,” said the Cardinals’ grand old man after the game. “With the background, you see the ball pretty well here. I feel good hitting here.” He wasn’t the only one Tuesday night.

Maybe the strangest part of the Cardinals’ run is that the star they did import last offseason, Paul Goldschmidt, isn’t even one of their top three players on the season to date. He hasn’t been terrible, by any means, not with 29 home runs and an .801 OPS, but neither has he been the player who averaged 6.1 wins above replacement-level in 2017-2018 and finished sixth in last year’s Most Valuable Player voting.

Who’d have thought they’d awaken Wednesday morning to see second baseman Kolten Wong leading the Cardinals with 4.0 WAR, shortstop Paul DeJong right behind him with 3.7, pitcher Jack Flaherty with 3.4, and left fielder Marcel Ozuna with 2.4, right ahead of Goldschmidt’s 2.3?

Baseball Reference‘s WAR definition puts Wong a little past the middle between a qualified starting lineup player and an All-Star. DeJong was the Cardinals’ only All-Star this year. Goldschmidt missed out after six straight selections. And Matt Carpenter still  hasn’t become the bona-fide star he looked to be in the making when he finished sixth in the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year vote and fourth in the next season’s MVP vote.

These are definitely not the heirs to such star-striking Redbird teams past as those of the Rajah, Dizzy and the Gas Housemen, Stan the Man, Hoot Gibson and El Birdos (import star Orlando Cepeda hung that one on them in 1967-68), the Wizard of Oz and the Runnin’ Redbirds, or El Hombre.

And after the Dodgers humiliated them in an early-August sweep that kept them to two runs in three games, leaving them three and a half out in the Central, you could have been forgiven if even the most stubborn of Cardinal Country nationalists were ready to prepare for the season’s funeral.

But they’ve won fifteen out of eighteen since, including Tuesday night making for a six-game winning streak.

They’re getting the kind of second base defense from Wong that they got in ancient times from the late Red Schoendienst and better, Wong leading every second baseman in the Show through this writing with +14 defensive runs saved and nobody else at the position showing better than +6. They used to call Brooks Robinson the Hoover at third base? They ought to call Wong the Electrolux at second.

They’re finally getting the Cy Young Award-level performance expected of Jack Flaherty, even if his rocky first half won’t put him in the award conversation at season’s end. He’s had an 0.80 earned run average in his last nine starts (five runs in 56 1/3 innings, ladies and gentlemanpersons) and the slash line against him (.144/.221/.222) makes Mario Mendoza resemble Mickey Mantle.

And while it seems everyone else’s bullpen has added arson to injuries, the Cardinals’ bullpen snuck in through the service entrance to sport the Show’s second-best bullpen ERA (3.64) behind the Indians’, and the Tribal pen hasn’t been a model of consistency of late. And this was despite Jordan Hicks going down for the count and the season in late June with an elbow demanding Tommy John surgery.

You want to talk about star power or the lack thereof? Once upon a time there were Hornsby, Dean, Harry Brecheen, Gibson, Steve Carlton, and the injury-compromised John Tudor on the mound. Not to mention men like Lindy McDaniel, Bruce Sutter, and Lee Smith out of the bullpen. Flaherty hasn’t established his star power yet. But Giovanny Gallegos makes him look positively charismatic by comparison.

Gallegos is the reason everybody thought the Yankees fleeced the Cardinals in the dead of broad daylight in the Luke Voit deal. But with Hicks gone until some time in 2020, Gallegos is the Cardinals’ stealth bullpen bull. He’s doing what the Cardinals hoped Andrew Miller, a free agency signing over the winter, might revive enough to do once more.

He may have been pried for a run Tuesday night, surrendering a leadoff single to Perez in the eighth before his successor, Miller, let Perez home on a two-run homer (Yasmani Grandal), but he has a 2.07 ERA with 80 punchouts in 61 innings. And his slider does now what Miller’s used to do: enemy batters hit only .133 with a 43 percent strikeout rate when he goes to it.

Gallegos could be called one of the Cardinals’ Little Big Three out of the pen. There’s John Brebia with his 2.94 ERA and 2.91 fielding-independent pitching rate, not to mention 78 punchouts in 64 innings. And there’s John Gant, whose 2.97 ERA is a little deceptive against his 3.60 FIP, but Gant seems to pitch to his defense as much as anything else, which isn’t necessarily a terrible thing.

At least there isn’t anyone out of the Cardinals’ pen who’s liable to make a postseason game resemble a Craig Kimbrel appearance from last fall—yet. They won’t be keeping the crash carts and ambulances on call when these guys come out of the pen. Even Miller, who’s having his ups and downs this year after looking like something resembling his old self in the final third of last year, still has 11.9 strikeout per nine and a respectable if unspectacular 2.5 K/BB rate.

Let’s be fair. The Cardinals came back from three and a half down after that Dodger sweep to three games up in the NL Central with a little help from their fiends—er, friends. Nothing wrong with that, but discredit where due.

The Cubs have three times the star power but they’re only five games over .500 since the All-Star break and fighting for . . . the second National League wild card. They now hold a two-game edge over the Phillies and three over the Mets, and the Phillies and the Mets are showing their vulnerabilities again.

The Phillies’ pitching woes keep betraying their offense; the Mets’ offensive woes, which boil down to nobody else stepping up consistently anymore to support Pete Alonso (who smashed the team’s single-season home run record Tuesday night with number 42) and, lately, a surprising Wilson Ramos (the rockpiling catcher has a 20-game hitting streak as of this morning), hold hands with their continuing bullpen problems to betray their mostly stellar starting pitching.

The Brewers have been done in by pitching that can be called broken, underachieving, spent, or all the above. It’s reasonable now to call the Brewers Christian Yelich and a cast of several. It’s also reasonable to ask how long they can survive with a middle infield (second baseman Keston Hiura, shortstop Orlando Arcia) that could be tried by jury for treason, as good as they are turning double plays: together they’re -9 defensive runs saved this year.

But none of that help would amount to anything if the Cardinals weren’t grateful recipients. Until they hit the 15-3 run they’re on now, their postseason odds at all were a somewhat generous 25 percent. As of this morning, their postseason odds overall are 86 percent, and they have a 57 percent chance of winning the NL Central as compared to 10.5 percent before the current run.

Ladies and gentlemanpersons, catch the paper stars. Meet your Retiring Redbirds. Your Unknown Soldiers. Your St. Louis Swiffers. Your Gas Bill Gang. Take your pick. Baseball’s cliches include the name on the front of the uniform out-ranking the name on the back. But these Cardinals may be taking that to the opposite extreme.

Don’t be shocked if their postseason breakout becomes someone we haven’t even discussed here. These Unknown Redbirds seem capable of the most unheard-of things anyone ever heard of. Come to think of it, and even with Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa, that’s practically how they won their last World Series rings eight years ago.