Before we get too far down the way, let’s acknowledge that the answer to the title of this post is probably “no”. Two wins in a row is a nice thing, don’t get me wrong. The last time the Cardinals won two in a row against a team that wasn’t really bad (Arizona, Miami, Pittsburgh, Arizona again, Colorado) was against the Mets at the beginning of May, when they won the first, had a rainout, then won the first game of the doubleheader. They don’t string wins together very often and to do it against a team that was (and, given the Dodgers losing, still is) at the top of a very competitive division is very heartening.
It’s also great to see some offense. This team is contradictory enough to score more in two games in a difficult hitting environment than they scored in regulation in four games at Coors Field. Lose against the worst, beat the best. No wonder we have some trouble really putting our finger on this team.
The wins, coupled with an atrocious losing streak by the Cubs, have also pushed them into third place and now are 8 1/2 behind the Brewers, who were rained out from their matchup with Jacob deGrom last night (though he goes today against Corbin Burnes, so it’s not an automatic Milwaukee loss). They are one game under .500, meaning even with a loss tonight, a series win against the Cubs this weekend brings them to the All-Star Break even up. The Brewers have four with the Reds, so the Cardinals could either get closer to the top or perhaps slide into second, depending on the results. So there’s some hope and some optimism.
The rotation has been very good over the past couple of weeks, so if that holds (or is shorn up a bit), you could talk yourself into the Cardinals finding a consistent bat and making a second-half run. It’s possible.
That said, it could also be a false positive. We’ve seen signs of life from them before, only to have it dashed away immediately. Having Adam Wainwright start last night went a long way toward having a “winning streak”, even if Waino wasn’t at his top form. Now you are asking Johan Oviedo to complete a sweep. If he doesn’t, does anyone trust a series in Wrigley, no matter what the situation?
So we don’t want to get carried away. That said, last night (at least the six innings I watched before calling it a night) was a good one. If we had more games where Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado combined for five hits and four RBI (and a stolen base from Nolan!), there’d be a lot higher number on the left side of the record. Toss in three hits from Yadier Molina, re-elevated to the cleanup spot when Tyler O’Neill had a reaction to something he ate, and you are looking good.
I’m going to give the Hero to Nolan Arenado, who had three hits but his two-run homer in the first really set the tone. It gave Wainwright something to work with, a cushion he needed fairly quickly. Goldschmidt gave him another with his two-run single and held on to enough of that to wind up with the win when he left after five innings. That was the first time he hadn’t gone six innings since May 29, which is just remarkable given where he is in his career. Wainwright wasn’t dominating (the Giants hitters were a better quality than some others he has faced, which played a role) but he got the job done.
Also, we have to give props (as the kids say….they do say that, right?) to Edmundo Sosa. His first two hits probably didn’t travel 90 feet, as he went right back to the pitcher only to see Johnny Cueto unable to handle it, then a swinging bunt that he beat out. The third, from what I see, went a lot farther. His eighth-inning home run proved to be the difference. Those were Sosa’s first hits in July, but he had a strong series against Arizona at the end of June and I think that we’ll see him pretty regularly the rest of the way, rotating with Paul DeJong and Tommy Edman depending on matchups.
Speaking of Paul DeJong, he edges out Dylan Carlson for the Goat tag. Both of them went 0-4 with three strikeouts (and a couple of Carlson’s were pretty painful) but Carlson also drew a walk. DeJong originally received an error for not catching a popup off Cueto’s bat, though it was eventually ruled a hit. He should have had it, though. It might have cost Wainwright another inning, because instead of the third out Wainwright threw a number of pitches to two more batters before escaping.
The bullpen was kinda hit or miss, though I’m mainly going by the box score and the wrapup. I did see Andrew Miller give up a hit and then hit a batter, retiring just one person and leaving a mess for Ryan Helsley to clean up. Helsley did, though, and got through the next frame clean as well, which was good to see. Helsley is on that second tier of the bullpen, not the big guns but right close to it. If he was a little more consistent, he’d be right there with Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes. That said, that’s now five innings over six appearances without a run scoring on him.
Again, this was after I was asleep, but it’s interesting to see that John Gant came in and just faced three batters. I’m sure that Mike Shildt liked the matchup of Genesis Cabrera against Mike Yastrzermski, especially with a runner on (Gant can’t help but walk someone) but Cabrera has been shaky as of late and Gant did get lefties out as a starter. He walked them a little more regularly, but lefties actually had a lower batting average against him than righties.
It blew up on Shildt as Cabrera allowed an RBI single, then an RBI double before getting the final out. Then he started the ninth, in a one run game, with a single and a walk. Shildt somehow left him in and he got a groundout from Stephen Duggar, but that put the tying run at third with one out. With both Reyes and Gallegos needing rest, new acquisition Justin Miller got the call and put out the fire with a popout and a flyout.
Over his past four outings, Cabrera has thrown a total of three innings. He’s allowed six hits, five walks, four strikeouts, and five runs of his own, not counting the inherited runner allowed in this one. That’s a 15.00 ERA in the small sample size. With Reyes and Gallegos struggling recently as well, I think the All-Star Break can’t come soon enough for those guys.
No matter what happens tonight, St. Louis leaves San Francisco with a series win. Winning series is how they’ll get back into the race, so you have to be happy with that. However, it’d be really nice to grab a broom……