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5 Cardinals with the most pressure to come through down the stretchPosted Wednesday, September 26, 2012, at 10:38 AM
As the season nears its end, the St. Louis Cardinals are making the final push to make their way into the playoffs via the new second Wild Card position.
While the position might not be their preferred way of entering the playoffs, with the Cincinnati Reds having clinched it's the only remaining option--and certain things need to happen for the Cardinals to seize the opportunity.
Throughout the season, players have stepped up at the right times and kept the Cardinals in the hunt. At this point it's going to take more than that.
If the Cardinals plan to push deep into October, several key players need to step up for the occasion.
Following is a list of the players who will be under the most pressure to come through down the stretch.
Catcher Yadier Molina has had the best offensive season of his career in 2012. He's hitting .319 on the season and has piled up 20 home runs, 28 doubles and even 12 stolen bases.
While he has cooled down in his last three games, Molina is still on a decent clip over his past 10 games. Over the stretch he is batting .333 with two home runs, five RBI and seven walks.
Molina has been the catalyst of the injury-marred 2012 Cardinals and any playoff run will have to involve him playing up to the best of his ability.
Matt Holliday, despite struggling through the first two weeks of April, has put together a fine 2012. He's batting .298 with 27 HR, 98 RBI and has managed to pile up 69 walks in the process.
With that said, he seems to have slowed down a bit in September. Over his last 10 games he's hitting only .250, his season average now having dipped under the .300 plateau. Over the stretch, he is nine-for-36 at the plate with 14 strikeouts.
Holliday's ability is as good as ever, but he has always tended to be somewhat streaky.
The last week and a half of baseball would be a very important time for Holliday to get hot again.
Sure, he's only pitched one game in 2012, but the Cardinals are expecting nothing short of the best from Chris Carpenter.
His first start of the season came on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs and, shy of one troublesome inning, he put on a nice showing for his team.
In five innings, he gave up two runs on five hits with a pair of strikeouts and only one walk.
Normally, in a situation like Carpenter's, I would encourage readers not to be too optimistic at first. In this particular case I don't believe that.
Was he not believed to be fully recovered, they never would have given him the opportunity to return. The front office expects him to not only contribute, but to contribute at the elite level of which he is capable.
In the playoffs, the Cardinals will need that.
The biggest bat for the Cardinals in early 2012 was without a doubt Carlos Beltran.
Most expected he still had some good baseball left in him, but to have expected his impressive first half would be a stretch.
After returning from the All-Star break, Beltran wasn't the same. He labored and dealt with some minor leg issues--nothing warranting a disabled-list stint, but enough to keep him out of the lineup on occasion.
On Sept. 13, Beltran found his stroke.
Over the past 10 games he is batting .433 (13-for-30). He's only hit one home run in the period, but the fact that he is getting hits in late-September is very important.
If Beltran can stay hot through the postseason, he has the ability to carry the Cardinals all the way.
Freese, who is playing his first non-injury interrupted season as a Cardinal, has been a solid piece of the lineup.
He's had his ups and downs, but has showed that the October heroics from last year were more than just a great month of baseball.
Freese is playing good in the month of September--not his best, but very respectable.
Does he have what it takes to be the Cardinals' hero as the season winds down? To expect to see anything as monumental as what he did in October 2011 is unreasonable, but if he can crank his game up a notch, anything could happen.
As Cardinals fans learned in 2011, once you get to October, anything is possible.
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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.
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