Your (Basically) First Place Cardinals

We’ve wondered all year what things would look like if everyone in the offense going going at the same time.  If the top four in the lineup all clicked while the bottom half was doing its work.  What a hot Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna would bring to the team.

We saw it last night.  And if that’s any indication, the National League needs to wake up and take notice.

Thirteen runs.  Eighteen hits.  Only eight strikeouts.  The only starter who didn’t get a hit was Ozuna, and he walked with the bases loaded to force in a run, then came around to score himself.  It was everything that we’ve wanted the offense to be.  That it came against the Brewers is even nicer.

Usually, with so much offense, it’s a little tough to pick a Hero.  You have to weigh this contribution against that contribution and try to find a tiebreaker.  Not last night.  Even with four others having multi-hit games, Dexter Fowler truly stood out.  For the second time in the last four games he reached base four times, this time with three singles and his first home run of the year.  He drove in four runs and scored three more.  Since the middle of the Dodgers series, his last 11 games, Fowler has a .415/.467/.585 line with only nine strikeouts in 45 plate appearances.  We haven’t seen Fowler be this strong in a long time.  In fact, while we know how terrible things were last year, even in 2017 he was hitting in the low .200s around this time, This is the best we’ve seen Fowler this early in the season and ranks as possibly the best we’ve ever seen him.

I’m sure that Fowler has made some mechanical adjustments and there’s possibly a little luck going his way for once (he has a .417 BABIP, which would be the highest of his career though he does have a number of .350+ seasons in the past), but you wonder how much unburdening himself over the winter helped.  Dealing with that depression and coming into the season with a different mindset had to help, even through his early struggles.  Now he’s rolling and I don’t think there’s anyone out there that isn’t glad to see him having success.

Like I say, Fowler stood out but he wasn’t the only one with a strong night.  Paul Goldschmidt homered for the second time in three games and had two other hits, driving in three.  We said yesterday that it looked like Goldschmidt was heating up and there’s nothing in that line that would contradict that.  He’s got a nine game hitting streak going now with a slash line of .385/.442/.667 and three homers over that span.  It’s nice to see him rounding into form and it’s probably not a coincidence that we’re seeing that “click” for the offense as he warms.

Matt Carpenter had two hits, including a double.  Paul DeJong had two hits, including a double.  Jose Martinez had two hits, though didn’t have a double.  Lane Thomas pinch-hit and singled, driving in two.  Kolten Wong had a hit, two walks, an RBI and a run.  All in all, it was a great night for the offense and I hope we’ll see more of these going forward.

With that sort of offensive explosion, the Goat has to come from the pitching side.  While Jack Flaherty probably wouldn’t get this tag in any other game, he did turn a 3-0 game into a 3-3 tie quickly in the fifth by allowing a solo homer to Ryan Braun and then a two-run shot to Hernan Perez.  Flaherty gave up another home run an inning later to Yasmani Grandal after the Cards had gotten him two runs of a lead.  However, he did go six innings and he struck out 10, his best strikeout performance of the season.  We’ve seen that keeping the Brewers in the yard is always going to be a challenge and, as I often say, not all Goats are created equal, though until the huge seventh inning his home run susceptibility did threaten the game.

As for the bullpen, John Brebbia, Dominic Leone, and Giovanny Gallegos combined for three innings of two-hit, one-run ball, all of those given up by Gallegos.  The three combined to strike out four of the nine outs and didn’t relax much after the cushion got so large.  Luke Gregerson will be back soon, perhaps even this week, but there’s nobody that’s a clear option to move out to make room for him.  Tyler Webb or Gallegos probably get tapped, but they’ve done some good work in the bigs as well and will probably be back if so.

With the win and Pittsburgh’s loss, the Cardinals sit in a virtual tie (only nine percentage points behind) with the Pirates atop the division.  Daniel Ponce de Leon makes his season debut tonight, replacing Michael Wacha who went on the injured list yesterday.  Wacha is only supposed to miss one start as this is more precautionary than anything, though Cardinal injuries have a way of being more dramatic than they originally appear to be.  Still, it does sound like this was more of a tweak of Wacha’s knee and there’s no real reason to think it’ll linger.  The Brewers will run out Zach Davies, who somehow has four starts this year and none of them are against the Cardinals.  He’s had two good outings against the Dodgers, which is an indication he could be tough.

It’s nice to see the Cardinals start a series with the Brewers by taking home a win.  Now let’s see if they can go out and win it!

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