A Crazy (But Sweet) Sixteen

On Monday, August 27, 1951, in the second game of a doubleheader, the New York Giants defeated the Chicago Cubs in the Polo Grounds.  Eddie Stanky and Monte Irvin homered.  Whitey Lockman had three hits.  Both starters, Al Corwin for the Giants and Bob Rush for the Cubs, went the distance.  That was the last time a National League team won sixteen in a row.

Until yesterday afternoon.

There have been many moments in the last week where I’ve thought that the streak was over.  We talked about how it seemed like it was done in the game against the Brewers when they were down 5-0 in an Adam Wainwright start.  There were times on Saturday, when Jon Lester spent so much time nibbling the corners and rallies fizzled, that it seemed like things were done.  Sunday was more of the same.  With two outs in the eighth, down one with all sorts of chances going by the wayside, I felt like this was probably it.  Sweeping a four game series is hard.  Sweeping two of them, back to back?  The odds were not with the Cardinals.  It was a good run, but all runs end.

Then Harrison Bader happened.

My Meet Me at Musial co-host Allen Medlock has a Cubs fan friend (but don’t hold it against him) that thinks that we undervalue just what Bader brings to the table.  When Allen told me that a couple of weeks ago, I looked up Bader’s numbers against the Cubs and realized that might be why Cub fans are more enamored with him than we are, as he was already hitting .300 for his career against them (if I remember correctly).  This weekend didn’t change any minds in Chicago, though I imagine there are some fans that really, really don’t like him after this.

Bader’s home run that tied the game was remarkable but it was just a continuation of a remarkable series for the center fielder.  In the four games, Bader went 10 for 15, scored eight runs, hit three doubles and three homers, drove in five, stole two bases, and played his normal outstanding defense.  Sunday was actually his least impressive game, with the home run (as important as it was) his only hit.

It would seem the Cardinals are going to have back-to-back Players of the Week, with Tyler O’Neill getting it last week and Bader, who over the eight games of the week went .517/.548/1.000, a clear choice for this week.  When you have multiple players going out of their mind, it really helps you paper over any possible weaknesses.

Speaking of on fire players, Paul Goldschmidt isn’t winning the MVP, but he’s going to get a lot of consideration lower in the ballot.  His home run in the third yesterday was his 31st of the year and was yet another example during this streak of Goldy striking early to give the Cards a lead.  He went 0-8 in the first two games against the Brewers, but since then he’s hit .500/.571/1.208 with five home runs.  Actually, maybe Bader’s going to have some competition for that Player of the Week award after all!

I have not been a huge supporter of Jake Woodford, finding him to be a fine back of the rotation guy but not someone you really want to rely on.  That said, he’s been outstanding in September.  Counting the long relief outing he had at the beginning of the month, he’s thrown 23.2 innings and has a 1.90 ERA to show for it.  He’s not dominating, of course, which is part of the issue with him (just 14 strikeouts in that span) but he’s doing what Lester and J.A. Happ have done–trusting his defense and letting them make plays.  By and large, they are going to do that.

I’m not entirely comfortable with the whole #CardinalsDevilMagic term, given my faith background, but its mystique is about the only explanation you can have for the ninth inning yesterday.  To score two runs, two vital runs, without the ball leaving the infield?  Are you serious?  While there were some questionable decisions in the mix, they all wound up paying off.  I’m not sure I’d have bunted with Lars Nootbaar, but he did such a great job that he moved Andrew Knizner, who had walked, over to second and reached himself.  So I definitely wouldn’t have bunted with Tommy Edman, knowing that they would walk Paul Goldschmidt (which they did) and give themselves a chance at the double play, but Codi Heuer channeled his inner Carlos Marmol (10 years to the day from the Adron Chambers game) and then muffed a double play ball back to him by Tyler O’Neill.  Two runs, with Giovanny Gallegos coming in, felt huge.

As I said last night on Gateway, the one downside to this winning streak is the fact that the bullpen arms are getting used and used often.  I think for the last month, you could track Gallegos’s usage and he’s basically pitched five out of every seven days.  It helped that he didn’t pitch Saturday, but it seemed like he was a bit hesitant to really go after people.  He went 0-2 on David Bote then ran the count full before striking him out.  He went 0-2 on Austin Romine before walking him.  He then walked Rafael Ortega after being even 2-2.  All that then set up the wildest ending we’ve seen in a while when Frank Schwindel popped up.

First of all, if any team has a familiarity with the infield fly, it would be the Cardinals.  Second of all, can we take a moment to appreciate how ironic it would have been had the team lost because Nolan Arenado, all-world defensive player, slipped trying to get a popup?  Third of all, what in the heck was the umpire doing calling the play dead?  If the Cardinals had lost after getting three outs because the umpire didn’t know what was going on, I would hope they would have protested.  (And can you imagine how the other fanbases would have reacted had the Cardinals had a loss overturned?)

The whole thing seemed to focus and fire up Gallegos, who then had no problem going after Ian Happ and striking him out to end the whole thing.  Thankfully, the infield fly craziness was just a footnote on a streak that has stories aplenty.

We need a Goat for yesterday’s game and I guess we’ll have to go with Paul DeJong.  I was hoping, when we saw him bang a couple of home runs this week, that maybe he was starting to find some sort of productive groove.  Instead, starting with Edmundo Sosa still nursing that wrist, he went 0-4 with a strikeout and three left on base.  I don’t know what DeJong needs to be more consistent and be better at the plate but I hope he finds it in the offseason.

The Brewers clinched the division yesterday so the Cardinals, with their magic number of 1, can focus completely on the wild card (not that they weren’t doing that anyway).  You get an Adam Wainwright start tomorrow in Busch Stadium in front of what will likely be the largest crowd of the year.  Seventeen doesn’t feel that crazy, at least no crazier than the fact this streak is still going.  Let’s see how far it rides!

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