Bernie’s Redbird Review: Behind Masterful Pitching, Cardinals Win Fifth In A Row, Roll Into Cincinnati

Here’s your Daily Redbird Review:

FIRST PITCH: To stay in the NL Central race, the Cardinals had to feast on a schedule that offered a menu of losing teams. For about a month starting Aug. 9 the Cardinals would take on a winning team in only two of their next 10 series. (That team: the Brewers. Another opponent, the Giants, are at .500.)

That means the Cardinals would play seven of 10 series against teams with losing records. And they absolutely have to maximize the opportuniy.

Wednesday night’s 6-0 win at Kansas City wrapped up a two-game sweep of the Royals, with both victories coming on shutouts by the St.Louis pitching staff.

After a successful visit to the other side of the state, the Cardinals moved into first place in the NL Central — one percentage point (.534 to .533) ahead of the Cubs. The Cardinals have erased a four-game deficit in a week’s time.

They did it by rebounding from an 0-5 road trip, winning five in a row against the Pirates and Royals … opponents that are a combined 55 games under .500.

Hey, you collect wins and stack them high when you have a chance to pile on, and pile up.

And that’s been a season pattern. In 2019 the Cardinals are 30-35 against winning teams and 33-20 when playing opponents with losing records.

BASEBALL HERO: Let’s go with Cardinals starting pitcher Dakota Hudson, who blanked the Royals over six innings, giving up only five hits and two walks with four strikeouts. This was a terrific bounce-back performance by Hudson, who had struggled with a 5.56 ERA and an inflated walk rate in his previous seven starts.

Hudson’s ground game worked swell in this one; he got 11 of his 18 outs on grounders including two double plays.

With the Cardinals’ offense unable to get a hit — let alone a run — through the first six innings, Hudson stood up to keep the Royals in check until his teammates could break through. And that happened in the Cardinals’ five-run seventh.

TURNING POINT: I’ll pick Matt Carpenter’s at-bat in the seventh. After Marcell Ozuna and Paul DeJong opened the inning with singles, Kansas City predictably shifted its infield to set up the defense to block a ground ball, or line drive, to the right side. But after Carpenter faked a bunt to give the Royals something to think about, KC moved the infielders back into a more conventional alignment. Carpenter exploited the open space between second base and shortstop with a line single up the middle to drive in the Cards’ first run. Just a very nice piece of hitting by Carpenter.

HEY, YOU DID GOOD: Hudson led the way. Now let’s acknowledge some others:

1. Hudson got assists from Tyler Webb, John Gant and Junior Fernandez, who combined for three scoreless, hitless, walkless innings of relief to seal the win.

2. The Cardinals now have seven shutouts this season. And by winning Wednesday, the Cardinals posted two consecutuve shutouts for the first time since pitching three straight shutouts in early August of 2015.

3. With pitching as their foundation the Cardinals are 19-11 since the All-Star break. Their overall team ERA of 3.62 ranks fifth in the majors and third in the NL since the break.

3a. Related note: this is a stat that, for some reason, remains largely ignored by Cardinals fans and media. The Cardinals continue to move up the charts in run prevention — a positive reflection of their pitching and their defense. After the two shutouts of the Royals, the Cardinals rank fifth in the majors and second in the NL with their runs-allowed average of 4.25 per game. The Dodgers (3.75 average) are No. 1.

4. Congrats to rookie center fielder Randy Arozarena, who had two hits and an RBI in his first major-league game. The dude had a quick bat. He can play.

5. Kudos to Pauly DeJong, who propelled his 20th homer of the season in the eighth inning to complete the Cardinals’ scoring. This is kind of a big deal … as Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch pointed out, DeJong is the first Cardinals shortstop to crank out multiple 20-homer seasons. He had 25 as a rookie in 2017, and barely missed getting to 20 homers last season, when he finished with 19 after missing six weeks with a broken hand. DeJong is still trying to establish more consistency, but he’s slugging .454 for the season and a .472 career slug as a Cardinal.

6. How crazy was that five-run seventh inning? The Cardinals opened the frame with six conecutive singles — for the first time since Aug 6, 2007. (Hat tip, Mr. Hummel.) Just for kicks, I thought I’d augment Commish Hummel’s note by providing the sequence of singles in that game.

The Cards were playing the Padres at Busch Stadium and trailed 3-0 going into the bottom of the fifth inning.

Up to that point the Cardinals had been shut out by the rotund lefty, David Wells. And then this happened:

  • Single by Cards pitcher Braden Looper.
    Single by second baseman Aaron Miles.
    Single by shortstop David Eckstein, scoring Looper. 3-1 Padres.
    Single by center fielder So Taguchi, scoring Miles. 3-2 Padres.
    Single by Albert Pujols, scoring Eckstein. Game tied 3-3.
    Single by right fielder Juan Encarnacion, scoring Taguchi to give the Card a 4-3 lead.
    Three-run homer by Scott Rolen. Score: 7-3 Cardinals.

At that point the Padres pulled Wells and replaced him with reliever Mike Thompson. But the Cardinals were about to have more fun.

  • Solo homer by left fielder Ryan Ludwick, 8-3 Cardinals.
    Yadier Molina walks.
    Braden Looper bunt single, with Molina advancing to third, and Looper scooting to second on a throwing error by the San Diego pitcher, Thompson.
    Single by Aaron Miles, scoring Molina, 9-3 Cards.
    Sac fly by Eckstein, scoring Looper, 10-3 Cards.
    So Taguchi hits into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

What a weird rally; how about those names?

For the Cardinals in the fifth: 10 runs, 10 hits, one error.

The home team would go on to win, 10-5, in a game watched by 42,743 at Busch.

LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: Just a quickie … the Cardinals had scored only two runs in the series through first 15 innings until going with the death-by-singles attack in the seventh inning last night … the Cardinals did not score for a 12-inning stretch that began with six scoreless innings in Tuesday’s game — and carried over through the first six innings Wednesday.

In the series the Cardinals’ top five lineup spots batted .114 with a 414 OPS and the bottom four spots batted .321 with a .760 OPS.

SECOND GUESSING SHILDTY: Nothing.

GOOD MOVE SHILDTY: I liked that the Cards manager started Arozarena. I heard/saw some people crabbing over Shildt choosing back to Arozarena batting ninth. Why? That makes no sense. In the American League game the guy batting ninth is an important piece. If he comes up early in an inning, he has a chance to set the table for the top of his team’s lineup and instigate a rally. It really is like having a second leadoff man. And Arozarena can run, giving the Cardinals more ways push the action if Randy A. reaches base.

BREATHLESS: The Cubs lost again at Philadelphia on Wednesday, getting smashed 11-1. The Cubs are 2-4 six games into their current road trip with one game left at Philly followed by three at Pittsburgh.

Update: the Cubs are 23-37 on the road this season … since winning their last road series May 17-19 in Washington, the Cubs are 0-10-2 in their last 12 sets away from Wrigley Field … the Cubs have lost 26 of their last 36 road games.

Quote: “If I had an explanation I’d give it to you,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I promise you, I don’t have one. Except that you have to keep coming out, you gotta get back in the huddle and keep playing.”

ON DECK: The Cardinals open a four-game series at Cincinnati tonight at 6:10 pm STL time … pitching matchup: Michael Wacha vs. Reds RH Sonny Gray … when Wacha makes a start on normal rest (four days) this season, he has an ERA of 9.82. When he makes a start after five-plus days of rest, the ERA is 4.16. Wacha hasn’t made a start in 10 days … on Friday night it’s Adam Wainwright vs. Reds RH Luis Castillo at 6:10 pm STL time… It’s Miles Mikolas vs. Reds RH Anthony DeSclafani on Saturday at 5:40 pm STL time … and finally, at 12:10 pm STL time Jack Flaherty goes against Reds lefty Alex Wood …

TRACKING THE REDS: Coming into the series vs. St Louis the Reds have lost four in a row, with their pitchers getting strafed for 33 runs and nine homers in the last 33 innings … Cincinnati pitching has absorbed some hard, heavy punches since the All-Star break. In the first half of the season the Reds ranked third in the majors with an overall ERA of 3.77. SInce the break, the Reds’ staff has a 5.37 ERA that ranks 23rd … since the All-Star break Reds starting pitchers rank 20th with a 5.08 ERA — and their bullpen is 26th with a 5.84 ERA… since being promoted to the majors following the Reds’ trade of Yasiel Puig, rookie outfielder Aristides Aquino has nine homers and 17 RBIs in his 13 MLB games … the Reds rank 21st in the majors with their scoring average of 4.58 runs per game … Reds third baseman Eugenio Surazes has 13 homers in only 112 at-bats since the All-Star break … the Reds recently claimed veteran shortstop Freddy Galvis on waivers from Toronto; in his first two games with Cincinnati Galvis is 4 for 6 with a homer. In 115 games with the Blue Jays this season Galvis had 18 homers, 54 RBIs and slugged .444. Galvis, 29, could be the Reds’ starting shortstop next season; Cincinnati can do so by exercising a contract option that pays Galvis $5.5 million in 2020.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie