Let’s go back one last time to that last day in June. There were your St Louis Cardinals, losers of five in a row, 40-41 on the season and about to tilt out of the pennant race.
It’s the eleventh inning of a 3-3 game. Kolten Wong is on first, but there are two out and Matt Wieters is to the plate to hit against lefty Brad Wieck. According to the percentages, both teams should have started preparing for the twelfth inning. As he stood at the plate, Matt was 0-for-19 on the season against left-handers.
But all the percentages that inform the long baseball season were about to undergo a seismic shift – not just for the St Louis Cardinals, but also for Mr. Wieters himself.
Beginning with that two-run home run that gave St Louis an 11-inning walk-off 5-3 win, the Cards have surged into the lead in their division courtesy of an 18-9 run.
As for Matt Wieters, he has spent the last month exacting revenge for the indignities of the first three.
On July 4, he tied the game against Seattle at one by scorching a third inning homer off of Mariner lefty Tommy Milone. In the first game after the All-Star break, he did the same to Arizona lefty Robbie Ray (that game tying shot coming in the fifth inning).
Apparently, the Cubs haven’t been paying attention.
It’s the sixth inning of last night’s contest against Chicago. The Cards hold a 3-0 lead, but have the opportunity to open things up. They have two runners on, with no one out. With Wieters coming up, manager Joe Madden went to the bullpen and pulled out a left-hander – Derek Holland.
Five pitches later, Matt flicked a tailing fastball from Holland over the wall in right to punch a hole in a game otherwise dominated by Cardinal starter Jack Flaherty.
The most telling hit in St Louis’ 8-0 victory (box score), pushed Matt to 7 of his last 17 against lefties – with 5 of the 7 hits going for extra-bases.
It also helped push St Louis back into sole possession of first place in their division – at least for another night.
It was a night of heroes, but among the most productive was Cardinal secondbaseman Kolten Wong.
You will remember that Wong got off to a searing-hot start in April. Eighteen games into the season, Wong was slashing .316/.437/.614.
Then came the cold spell. From April 19 through May 30, Kolten went 20 for 119 (.168) with only 5 extra-base hits. His season average fell as low as .216.
For the last two months, Wong has more closely resembled the Kolten of early April. Beginning with a single and a double (against Chicago, by the way) on May 31, Kolten has been a .327 hitter (53 for 162) ever since. He has been especially torrid of late. On his way to leading the team in batting average for the month of July (he hit .357 last month), Kolten has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 starts, going 19 for 45 in those games – an impressive .422.
But last night’s story gets even better. His 3 hits last night all came off the lefty Jon Lester. For a left-handed batter, Kolten was always OK against lefties. He entered the season hitting .245 against them, including two years (2014 and 2017) when he hit over .270 against them.
With last night’s hits, Wong is 25 for 81 against left-handers this year, his .309 batting average against them ranking second on the team to Jose Martinez’ .367.
Perhaps one reason is that this year Kolten is getting to play against lefties consistently.
The only starter not to collect a hit last night was Dexter Fowler – now 1 for his last 12 after his 0-for-4 last night. Left-handed pitching has been problematical for Dex this year. He was 0-for-10 against lefties last month, and is 13 for 62 (.210) against them for the year.
In his three-year Cardinal career, Fowler is just 50 for 231 (.216) against lefties.
The storyline of the game, though, was Jack Flaherty, who took a no-hitter into the sixth, and finished seven innings allowing no runs on just the one hit. Jack walked just two while striking out 9.
Over his last 5 starts, Flaherty has been growing every bit into the dominant kind of starter he showed flashes of last year. His last 5 times out, he has tossed 4 quality starts, allowing just 4 runs over 31.1 innings. Jack has given just 15 hits in those innings, just 2 of them home runs, his 9 walks offset by 39 strikeouts.
It all adds up to a 1.15 ERA and a .140 batting average against.
Jose Martinez began the rout with an RBI single in the first. That run stood up for Jose’s fifth game-winning RBI of the season. Martinez now ranks fourth on the team behind Marcell Ozuna (9), Paul Goldschmidt (8) and Paul DeJong (6).
Although his prospects for regular play seemed slight at the start of the season, Martinez has persevered. Last night he played in his 103rd game of the season. He played 152 last year to set his career high.
With his big home run last night, Wieters has reached double figures in home runs for the seventh time in his eleven-year career. He only hit 8 last year in 235 at bats. The shot raises his slugging percentage to .500. The highest slugging percentage Matt has ever sustained over the course of a 200 or more at bat season was .450 in 2011.
The eight-run victory was the Cards’ largest since May 14 when they beat the Braves 14-3. St Louis had trailed at some point in each of its five previous games.
The Cards finished the series allowing just 3 runs to the Cubs. It is the fewest runs the Cards have yielded in any series this year. The previous low (in a three-or-more game series) was 6 runs, given up the last time the Cubs visited Busch. During that series at the beginning of June, the Cards won 2-1, 7-4 and 2-1.
The Cards have now won 5 of their last 6 series, and are now 5-3 in rubber games at home.
The Cubs were the thirteenth team St Louis has faced this year that had lost its previous series. The Cards are 29-11 (.725) in those games, winning 10 of the series and splitting 2 others. The only team to flip its momentum at the Cardinals expense was the San Diego Padres who won 2 of 3 in St Louis’ opening homestand of the season. They had lost 2 of 3 to Arizona the series before.