In many ways it was a signature loss in what – at the time – looked like it was a season-defining spiral. The date was May 28, and the Cards were in Philadelphia. The birds had just come off a disappointing home stand, in which they had lost 3 of 5 to Kansas City and Atlanta. Once 20-10, they had now fallen to 26-26, already 4.5 games back in the division.
Against the 31-22 Phillies, the offense got to work early.
Seventeen pitches into his evening, Phillie starter Nick Pivetta had already served up 3 runs on home runs by Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna. But, as happened all so often in the season’s early days, the offense checked out after they put their early 3 on the board. For the entire rest of the game, St Louis batsmen bounced two singles and drew two walks – and, of course, scored no runs while striking out 11 times.
Philadelphia began its comeback against Adam Wainwright in the third. A two-run double from Bryce Harper brought them to within one. In the fourth inning, a two-run homer by Cesar Hernandez gave Philadelphia the lead. And concluded the scoring for the evening. Not yet a legend, Giovanny Gallegos worked a six-up, six down seventh and eighth (striking out three). But with no more offense coming, the effort availed nothing. The Cards lost 4-3 (box score). Philly would push them around the next night, 11-4, to complete St Louis’ 6-18 collapse, and drop them to 26-28, five games in arrears in the division.
The interest in this particular game – other than the fact that it was a general blueprint for most of their losses in May – was that it was their seventh consecutive loss in one-run games.
And that provided a very convenient storyline for 2019. The team that was almost good. That competitive little bunch from St Louis that’s almost good enough to win. One-run games are one measure of a club’s character. At that moment, the Cards were 5-15 in one run games – almost all you would need to know about a team that was two games under .500.
The season then began to turn ever so quietly. St Louis managed to claim the finale against Philly, and braced for a visit by their rivals/nemeses from Chicago.
With the confidence of Cardinal Nation somewhat compromised, a first-inning 1-0 Cardinal lead wasn’t overly inspiring. And sure enough, Cub pitcher Yu Darvish settled in. St Louis only pushed one more runner into scoring position in Darvish’s six innings.
Luckily, Cardinal pitcher Miles Mikolas was as good – he held the Cubbies to 1 run over his seven innings.
The bullpens took over in the bottom of the seventh, and did so in dominant fashion, combining to retire the next ten batters.
Now, there was one out in the top of the tenth inning, and Daniel Descalso worked a walk from then closer Jordan Hicks. A wild pitch promptly moved him into scoring position, with Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant coming up. With the Cardinal offense looking like it would never score again, this seemed to be that moment that this game would slip away.
But Hicks stood up to the moment. He struck out Schwarber and got Bryant on a routine grounder.
One out into the bottom of the inning, Kolten Wong stung Chicago lefty Mike Montgomery for a double. After two walks loaded the bases, Matt Carpenter beat the Chicago shift with a looping fly ball into the wide open space down the left field line. And St Louis had a surprising 2-1, ten-inning win (box score).
As the Cardinals’ route back into the heart of the division race has been more than a little serpentine, it is hard to call this the moment when the season turned. However, from the moment that Carpenter’s fly ball touched down in left field through last night’s win, St Louis is 40-30. Including, now, wins in 10 of their last 13 games, this has become the most sustained stretch of solid baseball we have seen from this club this year.
As far as one-run games go, that evening against Chicago did change everything. Last night’s 6-5 victory (box score) was the twentieth one-run game St Louis has played since the Philadelphia loss. They have won 13 of the 20, bringing their season record in one-run games to 18-17. The pace has accelerated in the second half. Since the All-Star Break, the Cards are 7-3 in one-run games.
The one sustained constant in this turnaround is the sparkling Cardinal bullpen. Last night – in support, again, of Mikolas – the Cardinal pen closed out the last three innings giving no runs on no hits and two walks.
Over the last 20 one-run games, the bullpen has pitched to a 2.68 ERA, allowing 52 hits over the 74 innings they’ve pitched in those games – a .200 batting average against. Only 12 of those hits have been for extra-bases (7 doubles and 5 home runs) for a slugging percentage of just .285.
This bullpen has also been central to the recent 10-3 streak. They have worked 42.2 innings over those games with a 2.32 ERA, a .193 batting average against, and a .247 slugging percentage against.
The starting rotation has shown occasional flashes, and literally every other game the offense comes through with a handful of runs. But the constant through it all has been a mostly dominating bullpen.
Gallegos’ evening last night was brief. He took the mound to start the eighth inning, holding a one-run lead, and facing Rockie slugger Nolan Arenado as the tying run. Giovanny tossed 3 pitches, got a fly out, and turned the ball over to Miller.
Gallegos has now pitched 18 innings over 15 second half games. He has given just 1 run on 6 hits (4 singles, 2 doubles), while striking out 20. Gio holds an 0.50 ERA, while holding batters to a .100 batting average and a .133 slugging percentage.
This just in. Gio is pretty darn good.
Gallegos has also been a big part of the bullpen dominance in one-run games. He has pitched in 12 of the 35 with a 1.35 ERA in 13.1 innings.
Miller finished up the eighth throwing 7 pitches. All of them were strikes – an uncommonly sharp outing for the lefty who has walked 9 batters in the last 10.2 innings. Andrew now has a 3.00 ERA and a .140 batting average against in his 15 second-half innings.
Andrew has now pitched in 23 of the 35 one-run games this season. Like last night, these have been some of his better efforts, as he holds a 2.95 ERA across 18.1 innings in these games. While striking out 25 batters, Miller has allowed just 12 hits – 10 singles and 2 home runs.
After beginning the second half with a series of strong performances, Mikolas has gotten back off track. Last night’s starter lasted six innings, giving up 5 earned runs for the third game in a row. Over his last 16 innings, Miles holds an 8.44 ERA, and has allowed 5 home runs. In 4 August starts, Miles is 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA and a .308/.337/.538 batting line against.
Last year, 11 of Miles’ starts ended up as one-run games. He was 6-0 with a 2.91 ERA in those games. He is 1-3 this year in 7 starts that have ended as one-run games, with a 4.71 ERA.
Goldschmidt has been one of the key cogs in the Cardinal resurgence. With his two singles last night, Goldy is hitting an even .300 (15 for 50) over those last 13 games.
Tommy Edman has also been hot. After his two hits last night, Edman is hitting .354 (17 for 48) with 2 doubles, a triple and a home run over the last 13 games.
Edman has been scorching in the one-run games played in the season’s second half. He is 16 for 37 (.432) with 4 doubles and a home run – a .622 slugging percentage.
Now in his seventh season, Carols Martinez has never pitched an entire big league season without making at least one start. That seems more and more likely to happen this year. After posting a total of 7 saves in his first six season, Carlos nailed down his fifteenth of this season last night. It was his thirty-second game of the season. Last year, he pitched in 33 games (18 starts, 15 relief games). That total is the second most games he has pitched in in the majors. In 2014, he pitched in 57 games (7 starts).
Lost in his miserable 2018 season (when he posted just a .576 OPS) was the fact that during the two previous seasons, Dexter Fowler OPSed .840 and .841. The slump-dominated season was also the third straight season that his health was compromised. Both of those issues seem to be behind Dexter this year.
Last night was Fowler’s 116th game of this season, leaving him with 363 at bats. Since 2015 he hasn’t played in more than 125 games or collected more than 456 at bats. His home run was his ninety-first hit of the season. He has never had more than 111 during his time in St Louis.
Meanwhile, that home run was his fifteenth of this season. His career high is the 18 he hit in 2017. He also drove in a career high 64 runs that year. He is up to 52 already this year.
After hovering just under 4 for the past few games, giving up 5 runs to the Rockies has pushed the team ERA back up to 4.00.
The Cards have now won the first game of four of the last five series.
Fall probably isn’t truly on its way yet, as it’s still late August. But last night’s game temperature of 72 degrees was the second time in the last three games that the official temperature was below 80. At 72 degrees, last night was the coolest game in St Louis since June 26. They lost to Oakland 2-0 that evening in 70 degree weather (box score).
Of course, another sign of autumn is the starting of the school year. Possibly, the combination of it being a school night (Thursday) and the visiting team sporting a losing record contributed to a disappointing attendance total of 36,465. That constituted the sparsest crowd at Busch since only 35,819 showed up to an April 22 game against Milwaukee. The folks who stayed away missed a good one – a 13-5 Cardinal win (box score).