Daily Redbird Review: Loss At Milwaukee Was A Valuable Reminder The Cardinals

The Daily Redbird Review:

FIRST PITCH: For the second time in a week the Cardinals couldn’t capitalize on a chance to sweep a three-game series from the Milwaukee Brewers. And Wednesday’s dull 4-1 loss in Milwaukee gave the Brewers a chance to feel better about their situation as the head into Thursday’s off day.

With a win, the Cardinals would have left town with a 7 and ½ game lead over the third-place Brewers. Instead that margin is 5 and ½ games.

After the Cardinals whiffed through one of their worst days offensively in quite some time, their three-game lead over the second-place Cubs went down to two.

On the positive side, the Cardinals won two out of three games in Milwaukee, and have went 4-2 in their home-and-home series against the Brewers.

That’s a success, as is their 15-4 record since Aug. 9.

The Cards went 12-4 in their stretch of 16 consecutive games without a day off. They get a rest break today before opening a four-game home series with Cincinnati on Friday night.

CARDS KILLER: The Cardinals couldn’t handle Brewers starting pitcher Jordan Lyles, who limited the Cardinals to six hits, a run and a walk in 5 and ⅓ innings. Lyles flummoxed the Cardinas with his curveball, and effectively pounded the top of the strike zone with his fastball.

After the game Cards manager Mike Shildt complimented his team for taking good at-bats in the loss. “Tough, consistent at-bats,” he said.

We’ll have to reject the claim based on the facts: the Cardinals struck out 15 times with just one walk in Wednesday’s game, whiffing on 44 percent of their plate appearances.

And their hitters had a 39 percent chase rate against Lyles, a 71 percent chase rate against pedestrian reliever Junior Guerra, and a 54 percent chase rate against closer Josh Hader.

Add it all up and this is what you have: when the Brewers threw pitches out of the strike zone the Cardinals chased the out-of-zone balls  44 percent of the time.

Good at-bats?

Really?

THE LOSS PRESENTED A VALUABLE REMINDER: Frankly the Cardinals looked like a team that was playing their 16th game in 16 days, and wanted to get to the Milwaukee airport ASAP to go home for their scheduled day off.

Hey, it’s OK to have a clunker … after all, the Cardinals have been on a roll, and at some point a bad day was inevitable. But this loss at Milwaukee was, in my opinion, more mental than physical. Hopefully this provided a valuable lesson for the Cardinals: gotta lock in and focus, because every remaining game is critical. Can’t be fuzzy mentally. Can’t be content to win two out of three when you have Jack Flaherty pitching against a journeyman starter and a struggling opponent that had a losing record since the All-Star break through Tuesday. Can’t give away that opportunity to improve your position and do more damage to a rival. The Brewers were down. The Cardinals let them up . That’s unfortunate.

BASEBALL HERO: I don’t always put this title on a Cardinals player after a loss but will make an exception this time. Second baseman Kolten Wong had three hits Wednesday, including a solo homer for his team’s only run. And Wong also ripped a double off Hader. After entering the series as a pinch-hitter on Tuesday night, Wong went 5 for 6 with two doubles, a homer and three RBIs.

Wong’s only unfortunate moment was his first-inning error on Wednesday that set up a Milwaukee run. But that isn’t why the Cardinals lost this game. And if anyone deserves a mulligan for a defensive miscue, it’s Kolten Wong.

In July-August (combined) Wong is batting .360 with a .434 OBP onbase percentage and .496 slug for a .930 OPS. Based on park-adjusted runs created (wRC+) Wong performed 47 percent above league average offensively over the last two months.

TURNING POINT: The Cardinals had their best shot in the sixth. After Wong led off the inning with his 10th home run of the season to make it 3-1, the Cardinals put runners on first and second on a Paul Goldschmidt single and a walk by Paul DeJong.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell removed Lyles and called in Guerra from the bullpen. And Guerra terminated the Cardinals’ only real threat of the afternoon by getting Yadier Molina to ground into a 5-4-3 double play.

Lyles was appreciative of Guerra’s work. “That was the pitch of the game I felt like to Yadi, who’s the hottest guy in baseball,” Lyles told reporters after the game.

HEY, YOU DID GOOD: Jack Flaherty deserved a better fate. He pitched six innings, giving up five hits and two earned runs. Flaherty issued only one walk and struck out seven.

Flaherty has a 1.01 ERA in his last 10 starts.

In six August starts Flaherty allowed only three earned runs and 19 hits in 38 innings for an 0.71 ERA. For the month he averaged 11 strikeouts and only two walks per nine innings and held opponents to a .145 batting average and puny .444 OPS.

LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: Let’s crank out the list:

1. In Wednesday’s loss, Cardinals 3-4-5 hitters Goldschmidt, Marcell Ozuna and Paul DeJong combined to go 1 for 11 with a walk and eight strikeouts.

2. The Cardinals went 0-4 with runners in scoring position.

3. The STL offense got only one runner to second base over the first five innings, and that was Flaherty — who beat out a bunt for a single and advanced to second on a two-out single by Wong. But Goldschmidt struck out to strand Flaherty and Wong.

SECOND-GUESSING SHILDTY: Nothing to speak of, except for his customary and relentless spreading of the Happy Talk fertilizer after a loss. (We kid you, Shildty.)

GOOD MOVE, SHILDTY: Nothing comes to mind. When a team carelessly chases balls out of the strike zone and whiffs 15 times, the manager’s strategical impact on the game is minimal.

THE BREWERS CAN EXHALE: Well, at least for a day. After taking a break Thursday the Crew heads to Chicago for a three-game weekend series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“We won one,” Counsell told reporters after Wednesday’s victory over the Cardinals. “Obviously, your goal is to win series and that’s what we’re going to need to do the rest of the way. But it was a nice game today and we go in with a good start and a rested bullpen. It’s a good thing.”

The Brewers are 21-21 since the All-Star break and 11-13 in August. Though they’ve fallen off the pace in the NL Central, they aren’t out of the division race. And the Brewers are within 3 and ½ games of a wild card spot.

TRACKING THE CUBS: The Cardinals’ pursuers blasted Noah Syndergaard and the Mets 10-7 on Wednesday. The Cubs have taken the first two games at Citi Field, and will go for the sweep tonight. They’ll presumably encounter some resistance from Mets’ starter Jacob deGrom.

— First baseman Anthony Rizzo (sore back) is still out of the lineup after leaving Saturday’s game against the Nationals …

— After being acquired from the Tigers at the trade deadline for virtually nothing, corner outfielder Nick Castellanos is batting .365 with a .400 OBP and .712 slug in 25 for the Cubs. His damage count includes nine doubles, nine homers, 22 runs, 16 RBIs and a 1.112 OPS.

— As they go into the series finale against the Mets this evening, the Cubs have won four in a row on the road. And they’ve won back-to-back road series after going 0-11-1 in their previous 12 series away from Wrigley Field. “It’s huge,” Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks told reporters after Wednesday’s win. “It feels great. We’ve been fighting our tails off, and finally to have results come through just validates the work we’ve been doing.”

— The Cubs have 30 games remaining and trail the Cardinals by two. But the teams will play each other seven times in the final 10 days of the regular season.

“We have a very good ballclub,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We have tried and true, tested playoff kind of guys.”

— The Cubs should have starting catcher Willson Contreras (hamstring) back from the IL next week … about to resurface from a lengthy personal leave, super utility man Ben Zobrist is nearing completion of his prep work in the minors; it’s expected that he’ll be added to the Cubs’ roster after Sept. 1.

LATEST STATE OF THE CUBS ADDRESS BY THEO EPSTEIN:  “We’ve been waiting to put it all together and be the best version of ourselves, and I think we all know in this clubhouse it has to happen really soon for us to get to where we want to go,” the Cubs president of baseball operations told the Chicago media on Tuesday. “It’s that time of year. It’s on us to make that happen.”

Epstein challenged the Cubs’ hitters.

“We have it in us to be multi-dimensional, locked in and really grind our at-bats and get on base,” he said. “But using last year as a guide, we were susceptible to these long stretches where we lose our identity and were a little more one-dimensional, more vulnerable to certain kinds of pitching. It’s hard to explain, but we have to be the best version of ourselves. It’s within us. It’s not as if it’s not. I don’t think April and May were a mirage. At the same time, we just can’t show up and assume that’s who we are. Because you are what you do. And the last couple months haven’t been (what) we’re looking for.”

ON DECK: Off today. Dakota Hudson starts for the Cardinals against the Reds on Friday.

Thanks for reading…

–Bernie