Presenting the Daily Redbird Review for Friday, July 26.
FIRST PITCH: Winning 6-3 on Thursday afternoon at PNC Park, the Cardinals completed a four-game sweep at Pittsburgh to finish a rousingly successful road trip. Venturing onto the road for the first time since the All-Star break the Cardinals followed through on a 4-2 homestand to go 7-1 against the Reds and Pirates.
The Cardinals have won five in a row, eight out of nine, 11 of 13 and 15 of the last 21.
Their 11-3 record is the best by a National League team since the All-Star break.
At 55-47 the Cards are eight games over .500 for the first time since May 3.
WHY, HELLO THERE FIRST PLACE: By sweeping the Pirates the Cardinals moved into a first-place tie with the idle Cubs in the NL Central. Milwaukee, 54-50, is two games behind Chicago and St. Louis.
The last time the Cardinals had a share of first place this late in a season was Aug. 12, 2017. The Cardinals were tied with the Cubs on that day and had a two-game lead over third-place Milwaukee.
Unfortunately for the 2017 Cardinals, Aug. 12 was their high point. With the front office doing nothing to boost the roster at either trade deadline, the Cards slumped to a 22-23 record the rest of the way.
The Cubs went 32-15 down the stretch to finish six games above the Cardinals. The Brewers made a push, winning 26 of their final 43 games to pass fading St. Louis.
The Cards were dumped into third place, three behind Milwaukee.
ACCORDINGLY: Question … after letting the 2016, 2017 and 2018 teams miss the playoffs by remaining passive at trade-deadline time, will president of baseball ops John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch finally acquire significant in-season help to enhance the 2019 Cardinals shot at winning the division, or qualifying for a wild-card spot?
We’ll find out.
BASEBALL HERO: First baseman Paul Goldschmidt went big-bam-boom in the four-game set at Pittsburgh batting .375, clubbing a home run in every game, and driving in nine runs. Goldschmidt homered in four consecutive games for the first time in his career.
In 80 July plate appearances Goldy has eight homers, three doubles, 22 RBIs and 16 runs scored. He has a .354 OBP and .671 slugging percentage this month for a 1.026 OPS.
TURNING POINT: Rather than isolate on Thursday’s game, let’s expand the view and look at the entire 7-1 road trip. No question, the turning point was last Friday’s game at Cincinnati. After trailing 7-0 the Cardinals dropped a 10-run inning on the Reds and prevailed 12-11. And that longshot comeback followed Thursday’s 7-4 victory at Cincinnati made possible by Tommy Edman’s winning grand-slam homer.
HEY, YOU DID GOOD: In going 7-1 at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, Cardinals’ hitters averaged 6.8 runs, blasted 18 homers and 18 doubles, slugged .525, had an .847 OPS, and swiped eight bases in nine attempts.
The splurge was highlighted by Goldschmidt’s huge series at PNC Park. But the power-hitting revival by shortstop Paul DeJong was a substantial development. In 33 PA against the Reds and Pirates, DeJong pounded five homers, four doubles, drove in 13 runs and scored 10 times. He posted a .345 average, .394 OBP, .1000 slugging percentage and 1.394 OPS on the trip.
Welcome back, Pauly.
And let’s not overlook other notable hitting performances on the trip:
1. Second baseman Kolten Wong batted .400 with a .467 OBP and .640 slug.
2. Right fielder Jose Martinez batted .300 with a .462 OBP and .600 slug. He had a game-tying homer in the big comeback win at Cincinnati, and popped the game-winning homer on Tuesday at Pittsburgh.
3. Cards catchers Matt Wieters and Andrew Knizner were outstanding during the road tour, combining for a .286 average, three homers, two doubles, six RBIs, seven runs. They teamed to bat .286 with a .679 slug and 1.022 OPS.
4. In 26 PA, Yairo Munoz batted .320, had a .346 OBP and slugged .640. Over the eight games Munoz and Edman combined for 17 hits, two homers, eight RBIs, 12 runs, six doubles, a triple, and four steals.
5. The Cardinals’ bullpen continued to shine, crafting a 3.82 ERA in 33 innings under extremely difficult circumstances caused by weak starting pitching.
LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: During the road trip the STL starting pitchers had a 5.54 ERA and supplied only 39 innings. When the starters are giving the team only six more innings than the relievers during the entirity of an eight-game road trip, that’s hazardous and unacceptable.
The Cardinals must trade for a starting pitcher.
SECOND-GUESSING SHILDTY: Nada. Nice trip.
GOOD MOVE SHILDTY: The manager stayed with the hot hitters. He kept the young guys, Edman and Munoz, in the lineup. Shildt gave three starts to Knizner, his rookie catcher. And Shildt was outstanding in making maneuvers to get the most from a tired, shorthanded bullpen.
ON DECK: Starting tonight at Busch Stadium the Cardinals begin an 11-game stretch where they’ll be running against much better horses than the Reds and Pirates. In order: three home games vs. Houston, three home games vs. the Cubs, two games at Oakland, and three in LA at Dodger Stadium.
All four are winners:
Astros: 28 games over .500
Cubs, + 8 over .500
The Astros come to Busch Stadium this weekend having won seven of their last eight games. They lead Oakland in the AL West by eight games.
+ Friday: Astros rookie RH Jose Urquidy (1-0, 5.54 ERA) vs. the Cards’ Jack Flaherty (4-6, 4.24).
+ Saturday: Astros RH Gerrit Cole (11-5, 3.0) vs. the Cards’ Daniel Ponce de Leon (1-0, 2.82).
+ Sunday: Astros LH Wade Miley (8-4, 3.18) vs. the Cards’ Dakota Hudson (10-4, 3.61).
TRACKING THE CUBS: With the July 31 trade deadline nearing, the North Siders are aggressively seeking a shutdown LH reliever and want to add a RH releiever to stabilize a problematic bullpen … the Cubs recalled switch-hitting, strikeout-probe Ian Happ from Triple A Iowa to give manager Joe Maddon more options off the bench … would the Cubs consider trading outfielder Kyle Schwarber or Happ to secure the necessary pitching? Maybe …
Infielder Addison Russell was demoted to Iowa after struggling during a homestand in which he missed signs, screwed up on defense and made outs on base-running blunders … and reliever Carl Edwards Jr. — like Russell, a big contributor on the 2016 World Series champion — was also demoted after some poor performances when returning from the IL … lefty starter Cole Hamels will likely return later next week (after the series in St. Louis) after missing nearly a month with a strained oblique …
Begining Friday night the Cubs will play the Brewers or Cardinals over the next nine games: three at Milwaukee, three at St. Louis and then three vs. the Brewers at Wrigley Field.
“This could be a week where it kind of defines our season,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant told reporters. “Playing the Brewers, playing the Cardinals, the trade deadline, everybody’s thinking we’re going to make moves, stuff like that. We might look back on this week at the end of the season, and this’ll tell us a lot about where we are at the end of the year.”
The trips to Milwaukee and St. Louis have taken on added urgency because the Cubs haven’t won a road series since taking two of three in Washington between May 17-19.
After winning seven of nine games at home to open the second half, the Cubs went 1-2 at San Francisco and have a hideous 19-29 road record this season. One issue: Cubs pitchers have a 4.86 ERA on the road.
“The biggest thing we’ve got to do is figure out this road dilemma,” manager Joe Maddon told reporters.
Among the five NL Central teams, the Cubs have the most games remaining, 39, against division rivals. The Cardinals have 33 division games; the Brewers 31.
Taking a closer look at the three NL Central contenders:
— The Cubs and Cardinals play 10 times; six of the games are at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals will meet the Cubs seven times in their final 10 regular-season games inluding a four-game series at Wrigley Field that opens on Sept. 19. And the Cubs and Cards close out the regular season with three games in St. Louis.
— The Cardinals and Brewers have nine games left against each other; six are at Busch Stadium.
— The Cubs and Brewers will go at it 13 times, with seven in Milwaukee and six at Wrigley.
Said Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo: “Pretty much whoever gets the best record within the division from here on out is going to take it. We have an opportunity to definitely separate from both clubs (Brewers and Cardinals.)
“But if it doesn’t happen, we’re not going to throw in the white flag. We have a lot of games left. It starts with Friday, and anything’s possible.”
Thanks for reading … and have a wonderful weekend…