With their win against Washington last night, the Cardinals clinched their sixth straight series. Talk about a serious run! Let’s look a little bit at this stretch of games:
Two of the six series have been of the four game variety.
Four of the six series were against teams over .500.
They haven’t lost a series in August.
They haven’t lost a series since the bullpen remodel, making this a renovation even Chip and Joanna Gaines are envious of.
They’ve gone from 51-51 and 9/4.5 games out of the division and wild card to 66-55 and 4/1 games out over this stretch.
That last note shows that they are an incredible 15-4 since the revamping. I don’t remember the last time the Cardinals had a stretch this strong, but we do know they haven’t been 11 games over .500 since the end of the 2015 season when they were 100-62. We’ve said the last couple of days that there’s no telling when this run will end, but no matter if they lose tonight or soon after, the fun and the excitement of Cardinal baseball is back.
There’s a ton of reasons for that but one of the biggest ones has been the play of Harrison Bader, who definitely was the Hero last night. We’ve always known that Bader was going to be an excellent defensive outfielder. He proved that again last night with a remarkable catch when he robbed Bryce Harper of a hit, a play that probably turned the inning and very possibly the game. However, there’s always been the thought that he was going to be a fourth outfielder type, a guy that could play semi-regularly. Instead, whether it’s because the league hasn’t adjusted to him or he’s been able to adjust to it better, he’s putting up some great offensive numbers as well, which helps keep him in the starting lineup.
Last night, in the bottom of the sixth, Kolten Wong singled with two outs, stole second, and Bader drove him in with a single. That was just one of three hits the centerfielder had on the night. Since the trading deadline, when Tommy Pham was moved and he’s been able to play center almost every night, Bader is hitting .348/.392/.565 with four doubles and two home runs (and three steals, showing that remarkable speed). His glove is good enough that even if he hit .250, he’s an asset to the team, but when he can get clicking like he is now (last night was his second three-hit game this month), he’s outstanding.
There was a lot of goodness last night, though. We saw the Whiteyball era represented with Wong and Bader. We saw Marcell Ozuna connect for his 14th home run (most of the time this season Ozuna has bunched his home runs, so maybe he’s about to go on another little run). We saw remarkable defensive plays from Jedd Gyorko and Paul DeJong.
Offensively, the Cardinals did just enough (only seven hits as Jeremy Hellickson kept them mainly off the bases) and that was acceptable because the pitching, as it usually does, led the way. Austin Gomber worked out of a jam in the fourth by striking out Michael Taylor with the bases loaded, then put up two more scoreless frames before handing it over to the bullpen. Gomber had a very solid game even though he walked four batters. He only allowed three hits and struck out six, showing a good mix of pitches and getting Joe Schwarz excited.
Before the game, Mike Shildt had said they were looking at possibilities to use Daniel Poncedeleon in shorter outings now that Tyson Ross is out in the bullpen as another long man. However, Poncedeleon entered here in the seventh and, had things gone according to plan, would have gotten his second three-inning save in a few weeks.
Things didn’t quite go according to plan and there was a curious bit of managing here, one that I’d like to hear the explanation for (and I’ll read some more game stories to see if anyone asked Shildt about it.) Poncedeleon’s seventh was uneventful, but he gave up two hits in the eighth before getting Ryan Zimmerman to hit into a 6-4-3 double play. Poncedeleon’s spot then came up in the bottom of the eighth with two on and two outs, but Shildt allowed him to hit for himself in a 4-0 game.
Now, there were a few extenuating circumstances. Matt Carpenter had left the game after being hit on the hand, so Patrick Wisdom had come in to pinch-run and stayed in the game to play first. Greg Garcia had pinch-hit for the pitcher in the bottom of the sixth. Tyler O’Neill had come in as a defensive replacement for Jose Martinez in the seventh. The only “bat” was Francisco Pena and even though he’s hitting 1.000 this month, the fact that he has only the one at bat probably means that you aren’t increasing your odds all that much to bring him in. Poncedeleon did hit a sharp liner but it was right at Zimmerman at first, ending the frame.
Poncedeleon then allowed a home run to Daniel Murphy in the ninth, followed by a flare double to Taylor, so Bud Norris came in and locked the game down without much incident. Still, given Shildt’s sometimes itchy trigger finger and a bullpen that is fairly rested, I’m surprised that he stuck with Poncedeleon and didn’t go to Norris to begin with.
Really tough to know who to go with as the Goat here. Gyorko and DeJong both went hitless but made fine defensive plays. Carpenter also went 0-2, but drew an intentional walk and, as noted above, got plunked. Thankfully he could open a jar of salsa after the game, which is basically what I Tweeted at the time:
Rub some salsa on it and it will be fine.
— Cardinal70 (@C70) August 16, 2018
In all honesty, though, that was a pretty scary situation. We saw what happened to DeJong when he was hit with a pitch earlier in the season and losing Carpenter for a month would have been very possible. It also probably would have been a crippling blow to any playoff chances, though this team has weathered a number of injuries already. I think Carpenter might have been a bridge too far, though. Hopefully the soreness and bruising doesn’t slow the NL MVP down for very long.
I still think I’ll go with Jedd Gyorko in this one, but again, his defensive prowess shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s really amazing how this defense seems to have stepped it up a notch or two almost overnight, to the point where we are actually surprised when a ball gets booted or a play doesn’t get made. I don’t know if it’s better positioning, more practicing, more drills, or just a better focus, but things have been so much better in that department.
The Cards try for nine tonight and go for the four game sweep, which is a really difficult thing to come up with. However, the way this team is playing, nothing seems impossible!