ST. LOUIS (AP) — Mike Matheny has zero interest in scanning the daily statistics that show just how efficiently the St. Louis Cardinals are dealing with the opposition.
Matheny prefers that his players ignore all that, too, just as they have the hacking investigation involving the Houston Astros that seems to have quieted down. The players can keep the franchise with the majors’ best record rolling along by grinding out at-bats, grinding out innings, briefly savoring results and moving on.
“I couldn’t say I stuck my head in the sand so much I didn’t know we won 50 games,” Matheny said before the Cardinals raised their record to 51-24. “But it doesn’t really do us any good to focus on that stuff, we’ve just got to go play the game.”
It is best, he added, that contributing kids spend no time fretting about when they might be sent back down to the minors or wondering how they’ll respond to the hard times that might be around the corner.
The manager is not about to throw cold water on rookie Xavier Scruggs, a recent first-time call-up who has nine hits in his last five games and an RBI in each of the last three, helping the Cardinals run their winning streak to six and widen their lead to nine games in the NL Central.
“Oh, this is awesome,” Scruggs said. “It’s everything you dream of, just being part of the best team in baseball. Just being able to able to play a little part is just great for me.”
Some of the reasons behind the Cardinals’ run of success:
The biggest reason, by far, for a start of historic proportions is the pitching minus ace Adam Wainwright, sidelined for the year in April with a torn Achilles tendon. The 2.61 ERA leads the majors by far, and the Pirates are the only other team with an ERA below 3.00.
Over the last five games, the opposition has mustered just six runs, and that’s no isolated stretch. The Cardinals have allowed two or fewer runs an amazing 44 times, going 37-7. Michael Wacha (10-3, 2.77), Carlos Martinez (9-3, 2.80) and Lance Lynn (5-4, 2.84) are all among the ERA league leaders.
The Cardinals had enough confidence in Martinez, in his first year in the rotation, to stick with him after two rain delays in Sunday’s 4-1 victory over the Cubs that completed a three-game sweep. Medical marvel Jaime Garcia, coming off thoracic outlet surgery after years of shoulder trouble, is 3-3 with a 1.69 ERA in seven outings.
Closer Trevor Rosenthal has a 0.52 ERA and one blown save in 24 chances. St. Louis leads the league with 30 saves overall with Carlos Villanueva (1.37), Kevin Siegrist (1.52) and Miguel Socolovich (1.69) all under 2.00.
The Cardinals are 29-7 at home, the best ever in the divisional era that began in 1969 according to STATS, and they lead the majors with 22 come-from-behind wins.
The offense does its part minus Matt Holliday and Matt Adams for long stretches. Scruggs has earned recent time at first base ahead of veteran Mark Reynolds and is not being prepared for the inevitable “rough patch.”
“Mark’s still going to be a big part of what we’re doing here, but Xavier is putting together some at-bats you can’t ignore,” Matheny said. “That’s what a young guy’s supposed to do — you get an opportunity, jump on it.”
Another neophyte, outfielder Greg Garcia, is 5 for 10 with a critical homer.
Holliday is getting closer to returning from a quad injury sustained in early June but feels no pressure to because the team is doing just fine without him.
“They’re obviously playing great, so it’s no hurry,” Holliday said. “They’re finding ways to win and guys are stepping up, and that’s really the way it’s been the last few years.”
Matheny played for Tony La Russa, whose mantra was winning series. The Cardinals have done that admirably, going 18-5-2.
The manager who’s taken the Cardinals to a World Series and two NL championship series in his first three seasons thinks smaller.
“I just can’t help but keep being drawn to this very simplified idea of one pitch at a time,” Matheny said. “We don’t worry about what our record is, it’s what we can do right now. Play today. That’s it.”