PHOENIX -- Late Saturday night, Albert Pujols was posed with this question: Are the Cardinals currently playing their best baseball of the 2022 season?
The 42-year-old slugger has played his fair share of MLB games -- 3,042 regular-season games, to be exact -- so his opinion comes in high regard.
“That’s for you guys [the media] to decide,” Pujols said. “I don’t go by analytics, that’s you guys, that’s your job.”
Let’s decide then. With Sunday’s 6-4 victory at Chase Field, St. Louis completed a three-game sweep of Arizona and extended its winning streak to a season-high-tying seven. The Cardinals (69-51) have won 16 of 19 and are a season-high 18 games above .500. Their .833 winning percentage this month (15-3) would rank as the franchise’s second-best August behind only the 1944 club (23-4, .852).
The Cards are also capitalizing on the Brewers’ recent struggles. With Milwaukee dropping 12 of its past 19, St. Louis is up by five games in the National League Central, its largest division lead since Sept. 18, 2015.
So, yes, the results indicate the Cardinals are playing their best baseball of the season. But it’s also the way they’ve been winning these contests. There have been some blowouts, but they’ve had a knack for pulling out victories in the close nail-biters, too. Like Sunday, for example.
José Quintana pitched a season-low 2 2/3 innings. The defense didn’t help him out, committing a pair of errors. After three runs in the first, the Cards’ bats were held scoreless from the second through the sixth by D-backs starter Merrill Kelly, who departed with his team ahead, 4-3.
Then, St. Louis rallied back in the seventh, loading the bases with one out against right-hander Kevin Ginkel. At that point, Nolan Arenado delivered the key knock -- a go-ahead two-run single.
And the Cardinals got 6 1/3 scoreless innings from a quartet of relievers, as Giovanny Gallegos notched the save with a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out Ketel Marte to cap the comeback win.
“The guys are just continuing to compete regardless of situation, regardless of score,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “And that’s what you want at this time of the year, is just that embracing competition mindset.”
“We’re playing tough,” Arenado said. “If we lose a lead, we still fight back. It’s great to see those things from us, because I feel like early in the year, if we got down, it was hard for us to rally. And right now, it’s not. I think it’s just because we have confidence in ourselves that we can win any game.”
St. Louis’ lineup is at its best when Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, the current front-runner for the National League MVP Award, are both raking in the heart of the order. That was the case this weekend.
Arenado went 7-for-15 with six RBIs during the three-game sweep, while Goldschmidt went 7-for-14 with two homers and six RBIs. Goldschmidt’s 22 RBIs in August are the most in MLB, while Arenado ranks second with 21.
But it isn’t just The Arenado and Goldschmidt Show right now. Lars Nootbaar had three hits Saturday and opened Sunday’s game with his first career leadoff homer. Brendan Donovan had two hits in the series finale, while Tommy Edman contributed an RBI single for an insurance run in the eighth.
“There’s a few guys that probably aren’t as comfortable up in the box as they want, and I feel like we’re starting to see people come out of it a little bit better,” Arenado said. “The guys are starting to swing the bat better, and we’re going to need that down the stretch. We can’t just rely on Goldy, we need everybody to play a part.”
As Arenado put it, “winning makes everything fun.” And considering the Cardinals indeed seem to be playing their best ball of the season thus far, they’re having a blast as they embark for Chicago, where they’ll play a five-game series against the Cubs over the next four days, starting Monday.
“Things are clicking right now, all cylinders, right when we want it to,” Pujols said. “Hopefully, we can carry this through the next six weeks that we have left in the season, and hopefully, get a chance to get into the postseason and do the same thing.”