On September 5, 2004, the Cardinals won in walkoff fashion against the Los Angeles Dodgers. St. Louis actually had a 5-2 lead in the ninth, but Jason Isringhausen put two on, struck two out, then gave up a single and a double that scored Shawn Green, Robin Ventura, and Jayson Werth. The winning run came when Hector Luna tripled and scored on a Reggie Sanders single. Jim Edmonds had three hits but nobody texted him after the game. Jeff Weaver started that game….for the Dodgers. John Mabry played first with Albert Pujols getting a day off and Mike Matheny was behind the plate, leaving Yadier Molina to watch from the bench. That was the last time the Cardinals won their ninth straight game.
The 2021 team isn’t going to be confused with one of the best teams ever in Cardinal history but they’ve earned the right, in this specific case, to be mentioned in the same breath. This stretch of games has gotten them firmly into the playoff picture–FanGraphs has their odds at 79.3%, FiveThirtyEight at 77%, Baseball Reference at 80.3% (an increase of 77.7% in the past 30 days!)–and have given us a picture of what this team is capable of when everything is clicking. The Cardinals have gotten solid starting pitching, reliable bullpen work, and an offense that hasn’t stalled out. Over the nine games, they’ve averaged over six runs a game and averaged giving up three. That’ll win you a lot of games!
And while many of the same names pop up each night, it does feel like this has been a team effort. Last night, for instance, Nolan Arenado got it started with a two run homer, which immediately gave some breathing room to everyone, especially Jon Lester, going for his 200th career win. Turned out the Cardinals needed it, because two of the three hits Lester gave up left the yard. Not that they were terrible pitches but the Brewers are a good team with good hitters.
However, just like the 2004 team, this team employs Yadier Molina. Even back then, Yadi seemed to have the ability to come through in big situations and he’s only refined that tool in the 17 years since. He drove in the tiebreaking run in the sixth when he singled in Tyler O’Neill with one out. He gave the Cardinals more of a cushion in the eighth when he brought in Arenado with another single, bringing the tally to the final 5-2. Molina might not have the overall game that he used to have but I don’t know if there’s anyone better when you need a hit with a runner on second.
Molina and Arenado were the only players with multiple hits but one of the bigger hits came from the bench. Matt Carpenter, determined not to go out with another 0-for-whatever, doubled for the second time in three games when he pinch-hit in the seventh and wound up scoring on a Paul Goldschmidt sacrifice fly. That was key because the bullpen is worn and having as much of a cushion as possible is a very good thing.
Not that they terribly looked worn, in truth. Kodi Whitley looked sharp in the seventh and the walk he issued to lead off the eighth finished with a couple of pitches that, while they were balls, they were close to the zone. Not wanting to risk anything, Mike Shildt went to T.J. McFarland, who is kinda being used as a latter day Seth Maness, a person that the manager expects to be able to get a double play on command. So, of course, McFarland gets a double play and then a flyout. Luis Garcia, a guy we’d talked about yesterday as maybe hitting a wall, pitched the ninth and went through the top of the Brewers lineup with no trouble, so maybe Sunday was just an off day rather than the start of a trend.
We need a Goat for this one and we’ll go to the top of the lineup for it. Tommy Edman went 0-5 with two strikeouts and three left on, the only Cardinal starter not to get a hit besides Lester. That’ll get you tagged here most every time.
Before the game, the Cardinals designated Daniel Ponce de Leon for assignment and brought up Brandon Waddell. This was an unexpected move for me, honestly. My Musial cohost Allen Medlock and I had talked about this at least once since the incident between Ponce and Yadi in New York and my feeling was that, even though Ponce was out of options, he was pre-arbitration and I could easily see them tendering him a league minimum contract, bringing him to spring training as depth, and if they didn’t need him letting him go. The Cardinals don’t usually like to just let resources get away from them like that.
That said, Ponce has been–it’s hard to say anything other than bad this year. His 6.21 ERA wasn’t exactly a fluke, since his FIP was 6.10. His BB/9 rate was the highest of his career and his K/9 rate the lowest. He’d not pitched that much better since returning from the injured list–an ERA of 4 but a FIP of 6.05. You couldn’t trust him in anything but a blowout and even then, as we saw against the Mets, it could become dicey. Michael Girsch wouldn’t say that the Yadi thing had nothing to do with the release, but it seemed like the organization didn’t factor it in a lot. If Ponce had done that with a 3 ERA, for instance, he’d still be on the team.
Waddell was an interesting choice to bring up, not that I’m going to complain about the Patron Pitcher TNG showing back up on the roster. The bullpen is fairly full of lefties already–Waddell is the fifth behind Genesis Cabrera, Kwang Hyun Kim, McFarland, and Andrew Miller–and he didn’t overwhelm in his first stint with the club. He was doing well at Memphis but he had only 10 innings there. It wasn’t someone that they just had to bring up or hole that really needed filling. I’d be surprised if Waddell pitches more than two innings the rest of the way.
Jake Woodford, who was originally expected to go yesterday before it was discovered that Lester is on the same “every fifth day no matter what” schedule that Adam Wainwright is on, goes tonight against Brandon Woodruff. The names are similar, the pitchers are not. It would not be a surprise if the winning streak stopped tonight, but even if it does, it’s been a great ride!