It began in the very first inning of the homestand.
After 17 days in quarantine, the St Louis Cardinals re-started their season with 8 games in 5 days in Chicago (playing the White Sox and Cubs). Now they were finally coming back home, for what would be nearly half of their home games for the whole season. They had played three home games in July before the shutdown. They will play 12 more games at home over two homestands later on this month. But on that August 20 evening they took the field to begin a 12-game homestand, hoping for the things one usually hopes for at home – to find a little rhythm and make up some ground.
And then, five pitches into the first game, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto reached on a throwing error. It would be a harbinger. Before that very first inning was in the books, the Cards had committed two throwing errors (one on a should-have-been double-play ball that would have ended the inning) and before they would come to bat for the first time – before the cardboard fans had settled into their seats – Cincinnati had two unearned runs on the board.
As heroic as Adam Wainwright was in salvaging the final game of the homestand, he was just as heroic in game one. Shrugging off the shaky first inning, Waino went seven innings that first night and the Birds (not for the last time on the homestand) profited from some shaky relief pitching to eke out a 5-4 win (boxscore).
And the errors, at that point, were easy enough to overlook. It was one shaky inning. No big deal.
This evening, the Birds will begin an eight-game road trip. During the 12 games spent at home – even figuring in a 14-2 pounding they received at the hands of the Indians on Saturday – the Cardinal pitching staff concluded its homestand with a 3.00 ERA – including a 2.59 mark from the starters, who tossed 5 quality starts during the 12 games. The offense was up and down, but at the end of the stand, they had put 48 runs on the board (4 per game). Not an outstanding number, but good enough, considering the quality of the pitching they got – enough to have given them, say, an 8-4 record over the stand.
Yesterday – on this 39th birthday – Adam Wainwright authored his first complete game since 2016 as the Cardinals claimed the final game of the homestand, 7-2 over the Indians (boxscore). That win salvaged a 6-6 homestand.
How did it get away? As much as anything else, it was the defense and the bizarre rules that govern this COVID season of 2020. Between defensive hiccups and free runners to start extra innings, St Louis allowed 11 unearned runs over the course of the 12 games. Unearned runs figured prominently in half of the losses.
The next night against the Reds, St Louis took a 2-0 lead into the sixth inning, when with two outs, two errors put a runner at third. The fourth out of the inning proved elusive, as the errors were followed by a walk, a hit batsman, and a grand slam home run by Matt Davidson that flipped the 2-0 lead into a 4-2 loss (boxscore).
On August 27, Pittsburgh was in town for a double-header. Game one was still scoreless as it headed into the fourth, but Pittsburgh broke on top after leadoff hitter Cole Tucker reached second on another throwing error by third-baseman Bill Miller. That would be Pittsburgh’s only run during the 7 innings of regulation. The Cards, themselves, could only muster a single run, so the game proceeded into the eighth under extra-inning rules, and free runner Jarrod Dyson was the first of three Pittsburgh runs scored that inning. One of the others scored on another Miller throwing error. The Pirates won the game 4-3 (boxscore), with only one of the runs being earned. (Miller, by the way, hasn’t played third since).
The final unearned run to score against St Louis was another free runner – the Indians’ Mike Freeman started the twelfth inning on Second base Saturday night. An excuse me swing from Tyler Naquin produced the run and the 2-1 victory (boxscore).
The Cards were very glad to get shortstop Paul DeJong back among the actives. He had a big series against the Indians (6 for 13), and has hit in 5 of his last 7 games. Paul has 3, three-hit games during that streak, and is hitting .407 (11 for 27) during the seven games.
The other regular who missed time with the virus is Yadier Molina – who has also bounced back strongly. He has hits in 7 of his last 9 games, getting multiple hits in three of them. Over the nine games, Yadi is hitting .364 (12 for 33).
At 4:06, Saturday’s game was the second longest of the season so far. It took 4:09 for the Cards to lose a 6-3 game in Chicago on August 18. Even though the final game was quick at 2:24, the series itself averaged 3:27 per game – the longest series by average time this season. St Louis’ previous long was the three games against KC that averaged 3:18.
The twelve runs they lost by on Friday constituted the Cardinals deepest deficit of the season. They had previously trailed the White Sox by 7 runs on August 16, on their way to a 7-2 loss.
With Cleveland scoring first in all three games, St Louis’ opponents have put up the first run in 7 consecutive games. The Cards have scored first only 6 times in their last 22 games.
My Designated Hitter Rant
As the DH seems to be a real threat in the near future – and many expect it to be universal and permanent by 2022 if not sooner – I am going to include the link to my DH rant at the bottom of all my baseball posts this year (and next, probably). If you have already read it, you should know that I added a section on July 30 after the Cards first five games with the DH. Here is the link. If this idiocy is to become law, I want to do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible understand why this is wrong.