With the fifth pitch of the first game, Chicago starter Alec Mills plunked Cardinal leadoff hitter Kolten Wong with the pitch. It would be an auspicious beginning to another 14 inning afternoon of baseball in Chicago.
Wong would be the first of four batters hit by pitches on the afternoon. Two batters later, Paul Goldschmidt would draw the first of 16 combined walks between the two teams. Both would score moments later on Matt Carpenter’s grand slam.
The Cub starter would walk another before he left the game after 3.2 innings, and two relievers would walk 3 more. One of those walks (Wong, again) would come home to score one of the final runs in St Louis’ opening game 9-3 victory (boxscore). For their part, Cardinal pitchers Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber and Ricardo Sanchez would combine to walk 6 and hit two others (remember, this was a 7 inning game). Remarkably, only one of those free runners scored.
There were 5 more combined walks and another hit batsman in the second game – a 4-2 Chicago win (boxscore). The Cubs – who totaled just 6 hits in the night-cap – managed to bunch 4 of them together in the seventh to produce the winning rally, but their first two runs in the second were set up by back to back walks and a wild pitch to open the inning. Of the three Cardinals to walk, only Dylan Carlson scored (at the time it was the tying run in the sixth), although the other Cardinal run of the game reached on an error and scored on a fly ball. After bouncing out 11 hits in game one, St Louis managed just 3 singles in game two.
For the pitching staff, this has become a recurring theme. Restarting their season from a standing start after a 17-day layoff, nearly the entire staff has struggled to regain its pre-COVID command. The eight games just played in Chicago saw Cardinal hurlers issue 35 walks (2 intentional) while hitting 4 other batters in just 58 innings – a figure that works out to 5.43 unintentional walks per nine innings.
The Cubs and White Sox only combined to hit .183 against the St Louis staff, but with the free baserunners maintained a .314 on base percentage.
The issue was particularly telling against the Cub lineup, strewn as it is with veteran hitters who are in no rush to help out a scuffling pitcher. In 36 innings in Wrigley, Cardinal pitchers issued 28 walks. Four others reached after being hit by pitches. Of the 19 runners Chicago scored in the 5 games, 7 of them reached base without virtue of a hit.
Starting the second game, Johan Oviedo became the final Cardinal pitcher in the series to make his major league debut. Johan walked the first two batters in the second. But in an encouraging sign, that was the last walk surrendered by the Cards in the game. Oviedo worked through the fifth without allowing anymore free runners. Thereafter, Genesis Cabrera, Andrew Miller and Giovanny Gallegos faced a total of 9 batters with no walks.
Whether it’s a turning point for this rotation or not remains to be seen. But 6 essentially walk-less innings is certainly encouraging.
If there is a small silver lining to come out of the whole COVID thing, it might be that the crush of games and innings has forced Mike Shildt to go to his bench more, I’m sure, than he would like to. This has provided Brad Miller an opportunity to open some eyes. After hitting two home runs in the second game on Monday, Brad wrapped up a 6-for-12, 8 RBI series with a 3-for-5 doubleheader that included an RBI double. Since the season reboot, Miller has earned 22 plate appearances resulting in 3 singles, 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 5 walks and a sacrifice fly. He is slashing .438/.545/.938 (a 1.483 OPS) in 7 games (6 starts). His 9 RBIs include 1 game-winning hit and 2 late, game-changing hits.
He is also 3-for-3 when batting with runners in scoring position.
Tyler O’Neill was one of the big bats in the lineup when the season resumed. He went 3-for-7 in the first doubleheader against the White Sox with a double and a game-winning home run. Since then, Tyler, fighting to establish himself as an everyday presence in the lineup, has gone 1-for-15 over the last five games. His overall average has slipped to .189 and Shildt dropped him from fourth to sixth in the lineup.
During Yadier Molina’s absence, the catching duties were roughly split between prospect Andrew Knizner and veteran Matt Wieters. Neither took advantage of the opportunity presented (Molina has returned to the roster and will be in tonight’s lineup). Wieters has begun his season 0-for-12. Knizner saw his first action of the season in the first game of the White Sox doubleheader – and went 2-for-3 with an RBI. He is 0-for-10 with 5 strikeouts and a double-play grounder since then.
The Cards have now scored first in a game only 3 times in their last 10 contests.
The five games in Wrigley averaged 77.6 degrees, making it the coolest series of the young season. The previous low for a series was 81 degrees for two games in Minnesota in July.