Back on July 25, the Cardinals dropped a 7-3 game in Cincinnati, meaning that they lost two of three in Great American Ball Park. Mike Shildt was 3-5 in the start of his career and while we were still excited about the changes that were happening, it still felt like the best we could hope for as Cardinal fans was a better second half and a winning record in 2018.
Today, a month plus later, the Cardinals are two games clear of missing the playoffs. If things ended today, they’d host the Milwaukee Brewers for the right to go play the Cubs at Wrigley Field in the NLDS. The way they’ve done that is a return to the old Tony La Russa mantra–just keep winning series.
Last night, the Cardinals took care of the Pirates 5-0, securing their 10th straight series win. That’s ten opponents in a row that have either come into Busch or have hosted St. Louis and have come away worse the wear. Even at a minimum, that means you’ve gone 20-10 in that stretch, but some were sweeps and some were four game series so it’s a remarkable 25-8 stretch. 21 of the wins came in August, making this tied for the most wins in a month in Cardinal history with a chance to break that record tonight when those Reds come to town.
It’s tough not to give the Hero tag to John Gant. Not only did he get 5.2 innings of scoreless ball under his belt, but his second big league hit was the same as his first, a home run. Keith McDonald is the only other person I can think of with his first two hits being home runs, though McDonald did it in consecutive at bats. John Gant may not have another hit this entire season–given that the Cardinals are talking about going to a six man rotation, he’d probably only have just four more starts–so that’s going to be a heck of a line for him to wrap up with.
Gant did walk three, which is really the only blemish on his record. He got two outs in the sixth, but then he walked Josh Bell and Colin Moran reached when Greg Garcia bobbled a ball. While I imagine Shildt would have liked to see Gant get through the inning, he didn’t run the risk even with a five run lead, going to the bullpen to get Dakota Hudson, who got Jordy Mercer to ground out.
People getting other people out of jams was kinda the theme of the night. Hudson continued to pitch in the seventh and struck out the first two batters, but Starling Marte singled and then Adam Frazier and Gregory Polanco walked to load the bases. Carlos Martinez came in and got Francisco Cervelli to fly out, saving Hudson’s bacon. Or salsa, maybe, given this clubhouse.
Hudson’s numbers are skewed by that outing in Colorado, but I’ve gotten the general impression that the league may be starting to get to him. Over his last five outings–which does include Colorado, so bear that in mind–he’s thrown 4.1 innings and allowed 11 baserunners (five hits, six walks) while only striking out four, two of which came last night. That was always my concern with Hudson coming up, that he was going to allow too much contact to be really effective, especially out of the bullpen. It worked last night and Shildt obviously knows his personnel better than I do, but my personal preference would be for Hudson to start clean at the beginning of an inning. Of course, the clean inning was the one that got away from him last night, so maybe that’s not as much of a solution as I thought.
Chasen Shreve then came in for the eighth and allowed a double and a walk with a strikeout in between. Jordan Hicks came in and struck out the next two batters to bail out Shreve. Luke Weaver had no such drama in the ninth, thankfully, getting a slick 1-6-3 to wrap things up.
Kudos to Harrison Bader for getting his 10th home run of the season and leading off the most unlikely back-to-back homer barrage that we’ll probably see this season. The offense was a little quieter than it could have been, but it seemed to congregate together to put up runs, such as in the fifth when Matt Carpenter walked, Yadier Molina doubled, and Jose Martinez drove them both in with his second hit of the night.
We need a Goat for this one and I think I’m going to go with Greg Garcia. He was the only starter that didn’t contribute offensively (Paul DeJong also went hitless but was able to manage a sacrifice fly) and made the error that led to Gant not getting through the sixth. (That error also cost me points in The Cardinal Six, which only adds to my aggravation.)
The Braves couldn’t take down the Cubs last night and the Brewers edged the Reds late, but both NL West teams that are in this mix (Colorado and Los Angeles) lost, so the Cardinals may only be 1/2 game ahead of the Brewers for the top spot but they are 2.5 ahead of the Rockies and 3 ahead of the Dodgers. Fangraphs has the playoff odds at 64.4%, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some that are higher than that. That feels low and I would bet doesn’t fully take into account how this team has played for the last month.
It’s the final day to get a player to be eligible for postseason which means everyone is watching to see what happens with Josh Donaldson. John Mozeliak said after the Jedd Gyorko injury that he didn’t plan to go outside the organization for a player. Couple that with the gauntlet of teams that have to pass on him before the Cards could have a shot and I don’t think you’ll have to worry about Donaldson wearing red this time tomorrow. It’d be intriguing and a heck of a lottery ticket, but I feel safe in saying it’s not going to happen.
Cards get a chance to do a little payback on the Reds tonight, the last team that beat them in a series. After running up that nice 9-0 mark to start the year against the team from the Queen City, the Cards are 2-4 in their last six against them. You’d think that they’d be able to run the winning streak to 11 with the Reds being as, well, not good as they are, but baseball is such a strange thing. Hopefully we’re talking about another win whenever we get back together!