Bernie’s Daily Redbird Review: Cards Defeat Brewers 3-0 On Great Pitching, Smart Strategy

The Daily Redbird Review:

FIRST PITCH: Your Cardinals defeated the Brewers for the fifth consecutive time on Monday night, this time 3-0, with the home team using shutdown pitching from Dakota Hudson and the bullpen to defuse a dangerous Milwaukee lineup.

On offense the Cardinals used smart baseball to concoct a 2-0 lead in the fifth, and put some smoke into the air an inning later on a rocketed solo homer by Paul DeJong.

With the W, the Cardinals moved to 66-57 and have a half-game edge on the Cubs for first place in the NL Central. The Brewers, 64-61, are 3 games behind St. Louis.

The Cardinals are 35-23 at Busch Stadium this season. That includes an 11-4 home mark since the All-Star break. If the Cardinals can grab one more win from the Brewers in this three-game set, they’ll be 6-2 in the last eight series played at Busch.

QUICK STAT TO SHARE WITH YOUR PEOPLES: In their first six games against the Brewers this season Cardinals’ pitchers got pulverized for 37 runs; that’s an average of 6.16 runs per game. But in winning the last five against from the Brewers, Cards pitchers have allowed only 14 runs in the five games — an average of 2.8 runs.

TRENDING POSITIVELY: Since the All-Star break, here are the records for the three leading contenders in the NL Central:

St. Louis, 22-13
Chicago, 19-15
Milwaukee, 17-17

PLAYOFF ODDS REPORT: As of Tuesday morning FanGraphs gave the Cubs a 58.2 percent chance of winning the division, followed by the Cardinals (32.1%) and Brewers (9.3%.) At the All-Star break the FanGraphs estimator listed the Cardinals with only a 10.1 percent shot at winning the Central.

BASEBALL HERO: Young Mr. Hudson owned the Brewers for 6 and ⅔ hitless innings, walking four with seven strikeouts. The walks did push his pitch count to 111, and Hudson was clearly fatigued after yielding an eight-pitch walk to Eric Thames in his final encounter of the evening.

Hudson hasn’t allowed a run in 12 and ⅔ innings over his last two starts. The turnaround follows a difficult six-start stretch in which Hudson had a 5.63 ERA, 7.57 FIP and a much lower ground-ball rate (47.7 percent.) And Hudson’s heavy sinker is the the key to his success. In the last two starts, Hudson has a 63.3 percent groundball rate — and it was an outstanding 70 percent against Milwaukee on Tuesday night.

TURNING POINT: Bottom of the fifth.

First let me say that I dislike the term “small ball” because the term is overused and misapplied. I just prefer to call it “smart ball” which isn’t snazzy and doesn’t get everyone all steamed up about a possible return of Whitey Ball and the Way Baseball Oughta Be.

I’ll just take smart baseball from a Cardinals offense that’s among the worst in the majors this season.

Here’s how it’s done:

— A patient, intelligent walk by Matt Carpenter to lead off the fifth.

— Manager Mike Shildt putting on the run-and-hit play, with Carpenter in motion and advancing to third base when Yadier Molina slapped the ball through the open right side of the Brewers infield.

— Kolten Wong putting the ball in play and speeding down the line to deny Milwaukee a double-play grounder. Yep, it was just a ground ball, nothing special, but still effective. Better than a strikeout. Better than a fly ball that doesn’t carry. Better than a popup. Better than many other outcomes. Carpenter scored for a 1-0 lead.

— Hudson dropped a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt that advanced Wong to second. It’s such a plus when a pitcher can handle the bat.

— With Wong running on the pitch to get the Brewers’ infielders moving, Dexter Fowler cashed in with an RBI single through a vacant middle infield. Wong scored for a 2-0 lead.

The Cardinals do not have much power, ranking 25th in the majors in slugging. They have an alarmingly low onbase percentage (.315) that rates among the poorest in the last 51 seasons of St. Louis baseball.

So rather than flail away in a desperate bid for homers and further escalate their increasing strikeout rate, the Cardinals their managers used their minds to concoct a couple of runs. Well done, gentlemen. Very well done.

HEY, YOU DID GOOD: Hudson and relievers Giovanny Gallegos and Andrew Miller limited the Brewers to one hit, a double by Yasmani Grandal (off Gallegos) in the top of the eighth.

1. Miller was especially valuable in this game. After Shildt smartly ordered an intentional walk to Christian Yelich to load the bases after Grandal’s double, the lefty Miller got the Cardinals out of the jam by inducing a ground-ball out from LH batter Mike Moustakas to end the inning. Miller then breezed through a 1-2-3 Milwaukee ninth.

2. Carpenter reached base twice in three plate appearances and set up the Cards’ two-run breakthrough in the fifth.

3. Fowler:  this isn’t getting much chatter, but in 44 plate appearances as the Cards leadoff hitter since the All-Star break, Fowler is batting .324 with a .409 OBP and .514 slug. That’s a .923 OPS. He has a terrific walk rate of 13.6 percent in his role as the team’s No. 1 hitter since the break. Only complaint? It’s shame that Shildt waited too long to install Fowler at he top of the lineup.

4. DeJong made a diving stop on a scorched ground ball, then made a strong throw to get the out and keep Hudson’s no-hit bid alive. The homer, DJ’s 22nd of the season, was a smash that damaged the Big Mac Land sign. Turn out the lights on the Brewers.

5. In July-August combined, Wong is batting .360 with a .439 OBP and .482 slug for a .922 OPS.

LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: I could holler about the offense but what’s the point? It is what it is. Not very good. But at least the boys backed up their pitchers by finding a way to get a few runs across.

And if they can do that more often, great. Because St. Louis is second in the NL in run prevention, allowing only 4.21 runs per game. The Cardinals have given up three runs or fewer in 57 games; in the NL only the Dodhers have done that more frequently. The pitchers just need some decent run support.

SECOND-GUESSING SHILDTY: If you’re looking me to blast him for removing Hudson to end the possibility of a no-hitter by the rookie starter, you won’t like me very much. He did the right thing. You don’t overextend a rookie pitcher and burn him out. You want to keep Hudson safe and sound and fresh. You’re trying to get back into the playoffs for the first times since 2015.

GOOD MOVE, SHILDTY: The smart-ball approach was fantastic. But I really like the way Shildt has adjusted to dealing with Yelich. He’s having his pitchers work around Yelich, who walked three times in Tuesday’s game. Perhaps overdue, but I digress…

BREATHLESS: In silencing the Brewers, the Cardinals held an opponent to three runs or fewer for the 57th time this season. In the National League, only the Dodgers have more games of allowing three-or-less runs. The Cardinals continue to prevent runs in an impressive, excellent manner.

Through Tuesday night, here are the five best teams in the MLB at preventing runs:

1-LA Dodgers, 3.83 runs allowed per game.

2-Tampa Bay, 3.89 RA/game.

3-Cleveland, 3.98 RA/game.

4-Houston,  4.06 RA/game

5-St. Louis,  4.21 RA/game.

It’s the most overlooked statistic of the Cardinals’ season. And this is truly bizarre considering that exceptional run prevention is by far the No. 1 reason behind the Cardinals’ success this season. It’s keeping their division hopes alive.

TAMING YELICH: In his first six games against  the Cardinals this season, Yelich boomed eight homers, drove in 18 runs, scored 10 runs, batted .524, and had an astronomical OPS of 2.357 … but in his last five games against STL pitching, Yelich is batting .091 without any extra-base hits. He’s knocked in one run. He’s drawn plenty of walks in the last five games vs. the Cards — but that strategy works in the Cardinals’ favor.

ON DECK: Michael Wacha vs. Milwaukee LH Gio Gonzalez tonight at 6:45 p.m.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie