Bernie’s Daily Redbird Review: The Return of Harrison Bader, And Bad Times For The Brewers

Good morning. Here’s your Daily Redbird Review:

FIRST PITCH: The Cardinals downed the Brewers again on Tuesday night, overcoming a brief 2-1 deficit for a 9-4 win at Busch Stadium.

POSITIVE TRAJECTORY: Let’s update the upward-trending Cardinals:

+ This was their sixth consecutive win over Milwaukee, who are 0-5 at St. Louis this season. During their six-game winning streak against the Brewers, the Cardinals have outscored the Crew 40-17.

+ The Cardinals (67-57) have won nine of their last 11 games overall to climb to 10 games over .500 for the first time since being 20-10 after a win at Washington on May 1.

+ St. Louis has the third-best record in the National League (23-13) since the All-Star break. Only the Mets (25-10) and Dodgers (23-12) have done better.

+ With the win, the Cardinals are 36-23 at home this season and have won 12 of their last 16 games at Busch.

+ The Cardinals already have won this series from Milwaukee and have a chance to complete a three-game sweep on Wednesday night. The Cards have won five of their last six series at Busch. Or, if you prefer, six of their last eight series at Busch.

+ The first-place Cardinals maintained their half-game lead over the Cubs in the NL Central. It’s imperative for the Cardinals to stack as many wins as possible over the next two-plus weeks; on Tuesday the Cubs began a stretch in which they’ll play 11 of 14 games at home. And that matters given Chicago’s dominance at Wrigley Field. With a 5-3 win over the visiting Giants on Tuesday, the Cubs improved to 42-19 at Wrigley this season.

BASEBALL HERO: Multiple options to choose from here, but the selection is center fielder Harrison Bader. In his first game back from a reset at Triple A Memphis, Bader was a tremendous source of energy for the Cardinals. He reached base four times, three via walks, with one of the walks coming with the bases loaded to produce a run. Bader scored twice, including his exciting dash from first to home on a bloop double by Dexter Fowler. And Bader made two dynamic catches in center field. Speed, defense, action.

If Bader can hit respectably, he’ll play a lot, and he’ll make a positive difference. There’s no reasonable way to predict his performance — as a hitter — over the rest of the season. Bader made an inspirational return to the big club, but it’s only one game.

TURNING POINT: There were two; both occurred in the sixth inning:

1. Less obvious turning point: the Brewers had scored twice to take a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth, and had a chance to add on. But with two on and two out, and LH-swinging Mat Gamel coming up to pinch hit, Cards manager Mike Shildt brought in lefty Tyler Webb, who terminated the threat with an inning-ending strikeout. Webb didn’t face another batter, but this effective cameo earned him official credit for a “win” — the first of his MLB career.

2. The more obvious turning point: with the game tied 2-2, Fowler’s two-out, floating, air-balloon double that somehow found a safe landing spot between three three Milwaukee defenders.

Three runs scored, and the Cardinals had a 5-2 lead and control of the game. Fowler’s double wasn’t a lightning bolt, or even a soft line drive. But give Fowler credit for putting the ball in play to culminate a tough seven-pitch at-bat.

Left Fielder Ryan Braun, third baseman Hernán Pérez and shortstop Orlando Arcia converged on the blooper but no one tried to make the catch. It was Braun’s play to make, but hesitated and peeled off in an apparent attempt to avoid a collision.

“Somebody has to call that ball,” Perez told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “It could be Arcia, Braun or me – somebody has to call it. I think we were scared to crash on that ball, but we have to make that play.”

HEY, YOU DID GOOD: We’ve already saluted Bader. Here’s the rest of the list:

1. Michael Wacha was good in his four-inning start, holding the Brewers scoreless and allowing only three hits and a walk with five strikeouts. Yeah, it was only four innings but it would be asinine to downgrade his performance. Wacha could have gone longer but Shildt lifted him for pinch-hitter Lane Thomas with two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth. Shildt wanted to take a shot at cracking the game open, and his decision was no reflection on Wacha’s pitching. In his last two starts (combined) a fresher Wacha has given up two runs in nine innings.

2. Fowler had two walks, the double, and a four-RBI game. Dex is having a superb August that includes a .382 onbase percentage, .464 slug, two homers, five doubles, 12 RBIs, eight runs, and a 14.7 percent walk rate. That’s a lot of offense packed into 68 plate appearances this month. And in 49 PA as the Cards’ leadoff hitter this month, Fowler is batting .325 with a .429 OBP and .525 slug.

3. As mentioned earlier, Tyler Webb notched the most important out of the game from the St. Louis standpoint — whiffing Gamel to deny the Brewers a larger lead.

4. Yadier Molina had two hits — both with runners in scoring position — walked twice, scored a run, and drove in a run.

5. Marcell Ozuna went 3 for 5 and scored two runs.

6. Kolten Wong had a two-run single in the seventh to push the Cards lead to a more secure 7-2.

7. Paul DeJong: 1 for 3 with a walk and two runs.

8. STL hitters had a season-high nine walks in this game.

LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: The bullpen was asked to cover five innings, which is never easy. And I don’t want to be too hard on these guys; the bullpen has been the strength of this team in 2019. But three of the relievers — Ryan Helsley, John Gant, John Brebbia gave up four earned runs in their combined 3 and ⅔ innings. But the Cards’ lead was never in jeopardy. So this wasn’t a big thing. This stout bullpen has me spoiled.

SECOND-GUESSING SHILDTY: Nothing here.

GOOD MOVE SHILDTY: I liked the aggressiveness in deciding to pinch-hit for Wacha. The gamble didn’t work this time; Lane Tomas hit the ball hard but right to center fielder Lorenzo Cain. But I respect Shildt’s reasons for taking a shot there. There was another benefit that no one has mentioned: Wacha threw only 73 pitches. Those who have actually paid attention know that a fresher Wacha is a more effective Wacha. So with the 73-pitch night, Wacha should have plenty of fuel in the tank for his next start.

THE BREWERS ARE IN BAD FORM:  Milwaukee’s negative trend continued with Tuesday’s loss. The Brewers have a losing record (17-18) since the All-Star break and are 18-23 since July 2. More recently, they’ve lost six of their last eight.

Milwaukee’s team ERA is 5.20 over the last 41 games, 5.17 since the All-Star break, and 6.90 during the current 2-6 slide.

And don’t ignore the inconsistent ways of the Milwaukee offense. The Brewers may have plenty of firepower but can be stopped. They’ve scored four or fewer runs in nine of the last 17 games.

Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell: “We’ve got to play better. We’re not winning games at a good enough clip to think about the playoffs right now. That’s what has to change. We’re still well within striking range standings-wise. That’s really not a concern with this many games left. But we’ve got to play better.

“We’re (two) games above .500. That’s not good enough. We’ve got to figure out a way to win more baseball games. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to do a lot of things better to expect to be a playoff team and expect to be in this thing until the end and play some meaningful games.

“Standings-wise, for me, we’re in good shape. We’re within striking distance. But I think we all need to increase our level of productivity to get things moving in the right direction.”

The Brewers trail the first-place Cardinals by four games and are 3 ½ games out of the second wild-card spot.

Ryan Braun: “Last year, we entered September down 5 and ½ games in our division and found a way to come back (and win the NL Central.) We have the ability to go through a stretch of playing really good baseball. We just haven’t done it yet.”

ON DECK: Adam Wainwright for the Cardinals tonight at 6:45 p.m. The Brewers will start Adrian Houser. He’s been an asset out of the bullpen with a 1.47 ERA in 31 innings. But when utilized as a starter for the rotation-depleted Brewers this season Houser has a 5.28 ERA in 46 innings. Waino loves pitching in his baseball house. He has a 2.19 ERA in 65 and ⅔ innings at Busch this season. And since the start of the 2016 season, Wainwright has a 6.50 ERA in 227 road innings compared to a 3.06 ERA in 262 innings at Busch.

Milwaukee is 28-36 on the road this season. A Brewers’ defeat tonight would leave them five games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie