The last time we got together, the Cardinals were in first place by 2 1/2 games. It’s not been the most successful week, but at least the placement hasn’t changed.
The Cards are 3-4 over their last seven but the cushion coupled with the fact that two of those wins were over their closest divisional competitor has them one game clear of the Brewers. They’ve shown the ability to make the ninth interesting over that span when they were trailing, but haven’t been able to complete a large comeback. Which is baseball! Overcoming a five run deficit in the last frame shouldn’t be something you see happen all that much. The fact that they have been able to put rallies together is heartening, given how many years we’ve seen the team go flat when down even early in a game.
Last night was a great example of their resiliency. Adam Wainwright wasn’t his normal self in this one. Sure, he kept the Brewers off the board early, only allowing a Rowdy Tellez homer in the first, but the efficiency wasn’t there. On the night, he wound up throwing 101 pitches, which is not unique. What is unique is that it’s the first time this season he’s thrown that 100 pitches and not made it through the fifth. Searching his game log, the last time I can find that he had that combination of events was May 12, 2012, over 10 years ago! In that one, against the Braves, he gave up five runs in 4.1 innings and 108 pitches. And remember, that was only his seventh start after Tommy John surgery.
His lack of command bit him later on, when Andrew McCutchen homered and then, in his next at bat, hit a similar pitch for a ground rule double that ended Wainwright’s night and gave the Brewers their first lead of the evening at 4-3. With the Brewers’ late inning relievers looming, this didn’t exactly bode well.
Then two remarkable things happened. One, Johan Oviedo came in and stranded the runners Wainwright left on. Something has clicked for Oviedo in the relief role. After struggling as a starter in Memphis earlier this season, he had a forgettable start against the Cubs. Since then, though, he’s thrown 10 relief innings over five games and has a 1.80 ERA to show for it, with much better command in there as well (nine strikeouts, two walks). In his last three outings, all over an inning in length, he’s not allowed a run.
That was big, but the Cards still were trailing. Not for long, though. Paul Goldschmidt–who proved his back issue wasn’t a big deal with a homer in the first–walked with one out in the top of the sixth, which brought up Nolan Arenado. There’s nobody that wants to do more in that situation and Arenado swung at the first pitch that darted well out of the strike zone. He was able to keep himself in check, though, and take two more pitches out of the zone before Eric Lauer had to challenge him. That ball never stood a chance.
With a run lead now, the Cardinals just had to hold the Brewers off, knowing that they wouldn’t see Josh Hader and company if they did. Genesis Cabrera made it a little interesting in the ninth, with a walk and a hit by pitch, but was able to get Christian Yelich to ground out and put the Cards back into first place by themselves.
For a while there, it seemed like this team was going to mirror last year’s squad a bit. Strong out of the gate, stumbles in May, bullpen wears out because of the starters and then vice versa. However, this team is better than last year’s, it seems clear. They aren’t going to win 17 in a row or anything, but the middle and back ends of the bullpen are strong and there are enough arms to take multiple innings that people aren’t going to wear down. Heck, at times it seems it’s difficult to get the team’s best reliever, Ryan Helsley, actually into a game! And while I don’t believe they are going to leave the Brewers in the dust or anything of that nature, if they could win today and leave Milwaukee two games up, it might be a sign that instead of keeping pace with the Brew Crew, they are going to slowly pull away from them.
Thursday (6-4 loss vs. Pittsburgh)
Hero: Brendan Donovan. Three hits, two RBI, and a run scored. Donovan continues to be impressive, even if he’s slipped a little since this game.
Notes: Almost went with Tyler O’Neill as the Goat, since he went 0-4 and left five on, including two late, but he also did have an RBI. If you want to unofficially give it to him, I wouldn’t object….Jack Flaherty returned and didn’t have the success he was having in his rehab, which is not unexpected. Giving up four runs in three innings, though, does make for a bit of a hole….a homer from Dylan Carlson, which is good to see. He hit two in this series, the only two he has since his return from the IL….an inning and a third of scoreless work for T.J. McFarland, the last of three straight scoreless outings. Of course, that consisted of the Reds and the Pirates twice, so maybe that played a part.
Friday (6-5 loss at Boston)
Hero: Nolan Arenado. Two hits, including a blast in the first that was the only run the Cards scored until the ninth.
Goat: Nolan Gorman. 0-3 with three left on.
Notes: Between last night’s game and this one, you wonder how much Adam Wainwright is going to miss having Yadier Molina behind the plate. We’ve seen the BSMW graphic about how good his numbers in his career are with Yadi compared to anyone else. He’s thrown to Andrew Knizner 11 times in his career and has a 4.90 ERA to show for it. (Those 11 games are third on the list of non-Yadi catchers, following Gary Bennett (29 games, 3.81 ERA) and Tony Cruz (19 games, 3.72 ERA).) It has to be hard to reconfigure your thought process to someone that you aren’t as intimately in tune with. Wainwright went 6.1, allowing three runs before T.J. McFarland allowed one of his runners to score….old friend Michael Wacha did very well facing his former team (and mentor) for the first time, allowing just one run in 5.1 innings….a great two-out rally in the ninth, with four extra-base hits only broken up by a hit by pitch, but Paul Goldschmidt uncharacteristically didn’t come through, striking out as the tying run….two hits for Tommy Edman, Harrison Bader, and Dylan Carlson.
Saturday (11-2 win at Boston)
Hero: Tyler O’Neill. Three hits, including a home run, and three runs scored.
Goat: Brendan Donovan. In all that scoring, he went 0-5 with three strikeouts and four left on base, though he did reach on a fielder’s choice and score in the big sixth inning.
Notes: Dakota Hudson walked five batters and gave up four hits in five innings, but was able to limit the damage to two runs and had a 4-2 lead before the Cards put up six in the sixth. He’d have probably left the game at that point anyway given he’d thrown 93 pitches. We’ll see today if that was a blip on the emerging efficiency he had been showing (three straight seven inning starts with around 100 pitches) or if he’s slipping back into the Dakota Hudson that was so frustrating….two hits for Nolan Arenado, including his second straight game with a homer….three hits for Harrison Bader, who was hitting .308 for the month after this game….another excellent outing by Zack Thompson, who went three innings and allowed no runs. A recent article said that he’s moved ahead of T.J. McFarland (who finished this game with a scoreless frame) as the guy they want facing lefties and that makes a lot of sense. However, I hope they don’t start limiting him to just an inning here or there but continue to let him have these lengthy outings.
Sunday (6-4 loss at Boston)
Hero: Juan Yepez. His three-run, pinch-hit homer made things a little interesting and would have been more so had the Red Sox not scored three in the bottom of the eighth.
Notes: Genesis Cabrera still has that little bit of “you never know what you are going to get” around him. He gave up two hits and two walks in his inning of work, letting the Red Sox add a run to their small (at the time) lead….Andre Pallante continued his strong season, going 5.1 and allowing two runs to a dangerous team….three more hits for Tyler O’Neill, but he injured his hamstring on the last one, requiring him to be removed from the game (and placed on the IL)….Harrison Bader drove in the only run the Cards had until the ninth….0-5 for Brendan Donovan and 0-4 for Nolan Arenado, the guys that have been big factors recently.
Monday (2-0 loss at Milwaukee)
Goat: Tommy Edman. A lot of 0-4s so we’ll go with the leadoff man.
Notes: Nolan Gorman had it particularly rough, striking out all three times he came to bat….the only other hit was a Brendan Donovan single in the ninth, meaning the tying run came to the plate with nobody out, but Donovan tried to advance on a ball that didn’t get far enough away and was thrown out at second….Mikolas had a solid follow up to his no-hit bid, going 6.1 innings and allowing just four hits and a couple of walks. One of those hits was a two-run homer by Tyrone Taylor, though, and that was enough for the Brewers.
Tuesday (6-2 win at Milwaukee)
Hero: Nolan Gorman. Easy call here, what with the rookie getting two homers among his four hits. He drove in four of the six runs to boot.
Goat: Jack Flaherty. Another rough outing for the rehabbing ace. Three innings, three hits, five walks. He was fortunate that 1) he only allowed two runs and 2) Gorman had his back.
Notes: Zach Thompson picked up his first major league win with 1.2 scoreless innings. Drew VerHagen got the last out of the fifth after Thompson walked Andrew McCutchen, then Giovanny Gallegos (who hadn’t pitched since the first game of the double header the Tuesday before) and Ryan Helsley (same) both pitched two innings to lock it all down….two hits for Brendan Donovan and Nolan Arenado….Juan Yepez had an RBI, but went 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on.
Wednesday (5-4 win at Milwaukee)
Hero: Johan Oviedo. He came into a tough spot and stopped the Brewers from adding on. He was rewarded with his first win in the major leagues, almost exactly a year after his best game in the bigs and 11 months after he should have picked up a W.
Goat: Adam Wainwright. Four runs in less than five innings. Not your typical Uncle Charlie outing.
Notes: Albert Pujols went 0-2 and now is hitting under .200 for the season….Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado both homered, only the fifth time they’ve done that….matching 0-4 with three K lines for Nolan Gorman and Harrison Bader….two hits for Juan Yepez but he badly misplayed a fly ball that led to the Brewers taking the lead. It’s not the first time he’s struggled out there and you wonder how often they will continue to put him there rather than DH.