Miller + Craig + Molina = 60

How many ways can you say “The Cardinals are good at baseball?” Because I’m starting to feel like a broken record (it’s my favorite record, though!).

The Cardinals welcomed the Phillies to town last night. The Phills may be a little battered this season, but there are no small victories when the slimmest of margins separates the Cardinals from the rest. This was also the perfect way to see how rookie Shelby Miller would react to some extra time off.

He embraced it.image

Shelby was back to the Shelby who wowed us early this summer. He confused and frustrated the visiting hitters, throwing down a three-hit shutout through six innings of work, striking out six and walking just one for his 10th win of the year.

Let the doubters doubt. Miller wants that Rookie of the Year award.

Mike Matheny is (or at least was last night) being a bit more careful about how long his young star pitches. Shelby faced 21 batters and threw 85 pitches, but was suddenly bothered by a cramp in his right calf. Not willing to take any chances, Miller then was relived by Randy Choate, then Seth Maness, followed by Trevor Rosenthal, and Edward Mujica.

Speaking of other pitchers, Choate has not given up a run since July 9. Before that, it was June 5. Remember at the start of the year when we wondered if he was going to make it? I’m sure glad he turned it around! Maness, though, did the unthinkable and gave up a run. Doesn’t he know he’s not allowed to give up runs? Rosenthall did his fancy Rosenthal thing, getting three outs on 13 pitches. Easy money.

Mujica once again made it interesting. The drama that he’s anchored the last few outings is starting to worry the Cardinal Nation faithful. Maybe he’s not closer material after all? Maybe the Mujica Magic is fading back to an annoyingly human level? What is management going to do about this?!? (Well, probably nothing yet. He did just earn his 29th save in 31 chances. Those aren’t bad odds. And, if you remember, Jason Motte had a real knack for making things interesting in the 9th inning, and he led the NL in saves last year. I’m not saying the Chief is (or is not) the long-term answer. Just that we don’t need to pull the plug quite yet.)

Pitching keeps teams in games. And, five guys giving up just one run gave the Redbird bats as good a chance as ever. Once again, there were a few unlikely heroes along the way.

All eight starting position players had at least a hit off of Philadelphia’s pitching staff. Three players added multiple hits. One, of course, was Allen Craig. Because that’s what Allen Craig does. The others, though, could be good signs for the offense heading into tougher matchups later this week and next.

The usual suspects, though, once again proved their worth. Craig had two hits and two RBI on the night. That tied him (momentarily) for the league lead in RBI with 79 (Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt added one later against the Cubs to retake the lead). It also tied him with teammate Yadier Molina for the best average in the NL. …Molina would go to get the third RBI on the night. Talk about a dynamic duo, eh?

But then there were Jon Jay and Pete Kozma. Yes, they both had two hits on the night. For Koz, this is his third multi-hit game in the last five. Impressive, considering that epic hitless streak he was working on for a while there. (Oh, he also did THIS. Which was awesome.)

Now, I’ve said all season that if an offensive lineup featuring Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, and Matt Carpenter was going to make it or break it based on Pete Kozma’s batting stats, there were likely other issues at hand. That said, if the Cardinals can produce some kind of offensive threat 1-8 in the lineup, their odds against tough teams go way up. If Koz and Jay can find a level of consistency, Holliday can stay healthy, Beltran, Craig, Molina and Marp just keep on keepin’ on … this lineup can go from really good to exceptionally good. That’s the kind of good they’re going to need to be to hold off the Pirates, the Red, and this week, the Dodgers.

Only one team in baseball has more wins, and the question circulating Cardinals camps remains: is this sustainable?

“Sure, they won, but they were 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position.”

“Mujica is clearly not closer material. He let two guys get on base in the ninth.”

“Pete Kozma can’t play baseball.”

“The David Freese story is over.”

Maybe. Maybe not. Last night the Cardinals secured their 60th win. They’ve sustained pretty well so far, even managing to come out of slumps and still climb their way to the top. So, what happens in September? I have no idea. No one does. That’s why we watch 162 games a year. And, like Allen Craig said post game, right now, it’s a fun thing to be a part of.

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