The first tense moment of a fairly interesting series between the Cards and the Brewers came in the top of the very first inning. Cardinal starter Dakota Hudson had retired the first two batters to bring up Christian Yelich. Mr. Yelich – as you might remember – was quite the trouble-maker when these two teams bumped into each other ten times in the early weeks of the season.
Now, with Hudson falling behind in the count, 2-1, the next four pitches of the game would send a series of clear messages to the visiting Brewers.
Behind in the count, Dakota threw his change-up. The message sent: even behind in the count, these Milwaukee mashers shouldn’t expect to get fastballs. The change dropped low, bringing the count on one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters to 3-1.
Three batters into the game, and Hudson had gone to his first three-ball count. It would not be the last time. Hudson would face 24 Brewers on the evening. He would pitch behind in the count to half of them – and 10 of the 24 would work their way into three-ball counts.
Behind, now, 3-1, Dakota still didn’t bring the heat. Yelich got a perfect 3-1 curve that dropped in for a strike. That pitch sent two early messages. First was that Dakota Hudson can throw that curveball for a strike at any point (both strikes in the at bat, so far, had come on curves). The second message was that Mr. Hudson would not be caving in. He was clearly more concerned about serving up home runs than he was the occasional walk.
On 3-2, Christian did get that fastball – that very heavy, sinking 96 mph fastball. Throughout the bulk of the evening, Dakota would pound the low strike zone with this pitch, but this one was elevated and inviting. Yelich took his best hack, but could only foul it off.
The seventh pitch of the at bat was the only slider that Dakota threw him this time up – and he bounced it in the dirt – ball four. These would also be trends. The Milwaukee at bats against Hudson would be long and grinding enough that he would walk four Brewers and expend 111 pitches to work his way through the 24 batters.
On the surface it would seem a near-perfect scenario for the Brewers. Grinding at bats that would result in a lot of walks and eventually some damaging shots.
But the damage never came.
Stubbornly and relentlessly pounding the low strike zone, mixing his pitches fearlessly, and killing a lot of worms, Dakota Hudson stayed a step ahead of the Brewers all evening. When he had thrown his last pitch to the last of those 24 batters, Dakota had given 4 walks and struck out 7 others. Of the other 13, 9 hit the ball on the ground, and only 4 batters got the ball into the air.
And none of them managed a hit. When manager Mike Shildt came to get Hudson, with a runner at first and two outs in the seventh inning, there were only zeroes showing across the board for Milwaukee.
If there was to be a no-hitter tonight (and no Cardinal pitcher has thrown a no hitter since about a week before 9/11) the bullpen would have to finish it off. That didn’t happen, although they did come close as St Louis took game one of the series against their division rivals, 3-0 (box score), allowing just one hit.
At one point earlier this season, Dakota Hudson tossed 8 consecutive quality starts. In those 50.2 innings, Hudson allowed just 1 home run and pitched to a 2.49 ERA while getting 62% of hitters to hit the ball on the ground.
Over his next 8 starts, though, Dakota began to get away from that. Hitters started taking that sinker, trying to get him to elevate it. Over his next 35.2 innings, Hudson served 9 home runs and allowed a batting line of .319/.415/.582 to go along with a 5.55 ERA. Most telling, only 47% of the batters hit the ball on the ground.
Over his last two starts, the ground ball has come back (67%), and with it a 0.00 ERA over his last 12.2 innings. And last night, a near no-hitter.
Right-hander Giovanny Gallegos would eventually give up the hit. A fairly soft fly ball off the bat of Yasmani Grandal dropped just fair down the right-field line in the eighth. Gallegos would give nothing else over his inning. Gio thus continues a remarkable second half that has seen him work 17.2 innings over 14 games allowing just 1 run on 6 hits (4 singles and 2 doubles). He holds a 0.51 ERA over those innings.
Giovanny had Grandal backed up in the count 1-2. The hit that ended the no-hit bid was the only hit (in 13 at bats) off Gallegos this month when he has been ahead in the count, and just the second in 27 such at bats in the second half.
Offense Still Off its Feed
Overlooked due to the outstanding pitching was another uninspiring offensive effort. The Cards finished with 3 runs on 5 hits. The runs scored on a groundout, a flared single into left, and a towering home run off the bat of Paul DeJong.
Over their last 20 games, the Cards are scoring 3.6 runs per game, with a .241/.301/.380 batting line.
Andrew Miller finished up last night’s game – his fifty-sixth game of the season. Already appearing in more games than his injury-plagued 2018 season (37), Andrew is one appearance behind the 57 games he pitched for Cleveland in 2017.
His intentional walk of Christian Yelich was Andrew’s twenty-first walk of the season. That is his most in any season since he became a full-time reliever in 2012.
Dexter Fowler is now up to 113 games played and 353 at bats this season. In his two previous seasons in St Louis, he played in only 118 and 90 games, getting just 420 and 289 at bats respectively.
His RBI single was his eighty-eighth hit of the season. His first season in St Louis he finished with 111 hits.
With his two strikeouts last night, Fowler has now gone down on strikes 102 times this season – his most as a Cardinal and the most since his 124 strikeout season with the Cubs in 2016.
When Kolten Wong played 127 games last year, it represented the second highest total of his major league career (he had played 150 in 2015). Last night was his 121st game of this year.
The run he scored last night was Wong’s forty-fifth of the season. He scored just 41 times all last season. The 55 runs he scored in 2017 are the second most of his career – second to the 71 he scored in 2015.
Kolten was also plunked by a pitch for the twelfth time this season – the third consecutive season he has been hit by at least 12 pitches. He was plunked 14 times last year.
With the shutout, the team ERA dips back below 4.00 (to 3.98).