Bernie’s Daily Redbird Review: Thanks To Pitching And Defense, The Cardinals Are Winning The Marathon

Here’s your Daily Redbird Review…

FIRST PITCH: The Cardinals are rolling like the river. Rivers never stop flowing. The Cardinals never stop playing, or so it seems. Monday the Birds on the Bat defeated the Giants 3-1 on a gorgeous Labor Day afternoon at Busch Stadium.

It was the Cards’ fifth game in 51 hours, and they handled their task in exemplary fashion. The Cardinals played the Reds in back-to-back, day-night doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday, then headed back to Busch for an early Monday start. The Cardinals have won four of the five games during this unusual baseball marathon.

The first-place Cardinals, tied with the Astros for MLB’s best record (33-16) since the All-Star break, maintained their three-game lead over the Cubs in the NL Central standings. The third-place Brewers have fallen into a ditch; they trail the Cardinals by seven games and are four games out of the second wild card spot.

PLAYOFFS? According to Monday morning’s Playoff Odds report at FanGraphs, the Cardinals have a 64.4 percent shot at winning the division and a 91 percent probability of making the playoffs.

Your favorite baseball team has won 13 of its last 16, and is 19-5 since that winless road trip at Oakland and Los Angeles.

SECOND-HALF STANDINGS: We mentioned how the Cardinals and Astros were tied for the best MLB record since the All-Star break. Here’s how the NL looks since then; I’ll just list the Cardinals’ “lead” over the other top NL teams in the second half (through Monday.)

Cardinals, best record at 33-16

Atlanta, minus 1.5 games

Mets, minus 2.0

Nationals, minus 2.0

Dodgers, minus 2.5

Cubs, minus 5.0

Diamondbacks, minus 7.0

Phillies, minus 7.5

Giants, minus 7.5

Brewers, minus 8.5

BASEBALL HERO: Adam Wainwright pitched seven excellent, shutout innings to lead the Cardinals past the Giants. Wainwright is almost always exceptional at Busch, and we enjoyed watching him play King of the Hill again Monday. Waino has a 2.43 home ERA In 77 and ⅔ innings this season. Since the start of 2016, he’s crafted a 3.09 ERA in 274 innings at Busch.

TURNING POINT: After two wearying days of baseball, it was important for the Cardinals to jump the Giants early. And that’s exactly what happened, with the Cards taking a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first on an RBI triple by Kolten Wong, who then scored on a groundout by Paul Goldschmidt.

HEY, YOU DID GOOD: Let’s talk about the Cardinals’ pitching, shall we?

1. The Cardinals are second in the NL to the Dodgers in run prevention, allowing 4.12 runs per game.

2. Since the All-Star break the Cardinals overall ERA of 3.43 ranks fourth overall, and second in the National League.

3. The starting rotation has a 3.60 ERA since the break; that ranks sixth overall and fourth in the NL.

4. The starters combined for 3.41 ERA in the team’s busy, 4-1 record during the long holiday weekend of ball against the Reds and Giants.

5. The Cardinals’ bullpen has the best ERA in the majors, 3.16, since the All-Star break.

A NOTE ABOUT RUN PREVENTION: You can’t do a great job of limiting runs without a stellar defense. The Cardinals’ defense is a big part of their success at suppressing runs. The Cardinals rank third in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved this season and are also No. 1 in the bigs for defensive efficiency on ground balls. It’s a huge factor in the pitching-staff success.

SHOUT-OUT TO KOLTEN WONG: He’s tripled in three consecutive games, the first Cardinal to achieve that since Luis Alicea in 1992. Wong is one of the best players in baseball since the All-Star break, batting .377 with a .456 OBP, .551 slug and 1.007 OPS. He’s simply been amazing in every way — defense, offense, and baserunning. Wong made two nifty plays in support of Wainwright in Monday’s win. Wong has at least one extra-base hit in his last six games. He’s the team’s best player.

LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: Left fielder Marcell Ozuna is 0 for his last 21 with seven strikeouts. He’ll break out of it. This is actually a positive reflection on the Cardinals: they’ve won four of their last five games despite Ozuna and Goldschmidt going a combined 3 for 30.

Also:

1. The Cardinals have scored four or fewer runs in five of the last six games, and three runs or less in four of the six.

2. Reliever Giovanny Gallegos has been a masterful, dominant presence coming out of the STL bullpen this season. But he may be running a little low on petrol. In his last seven appearances Gallegos has a 4.76 ERA with only four strikeouts in 5 and ⅔ innings. Through the end of July, Gallegos racked strikeouts at a rate of 38 percent.

3. Jose Martinez shouldn’t be playing right field except in case of emergency. Defense is of the utmost importance for this team; run prevention is the No. 1 reason why the Cardinals are clicking.

SECOND-GUESSING SHILDTY: Nothing. All good.

GOOD MOVE SHILDTY: I don’t see how a manager can handle a pitching staff better than Shildt during this jam-packed schedule. Just a superb job of making many decisions and almost always putting the right pieces in place.

RUNNING REDBIRDS: With pinch-runner Edmundo Sosa stealing a base Monday, the Cardinals have 18 players with at least one steal this season. They rank fifth in MLB and second in the NL with 94 stolen bases. And the Cards are third in MLB (and the NL) with a stolen-base success rate of 80 percent.

BREATHLESS: Remember when the Cubs had a dominant homefield advantage that put the Cardinals and Brewers (and most other teams) to shame?

Don’t look now, but take a look at these home records for the season:

Cubs, 46-24
Cardinals, 44-25

Much closer than we assumed eh?

SUMMING IT UP: A money quote from Wainwright: “This is getting ready for October, but you’re not in October,” he said after Monday’s win. “You’ve got to get there first. Every day — every single day — you’ve got to show up and be motivated to win a game. That’s going to be my message to this team this week. This whole month, every single day is the most important day you’ll ever play. When we get into October, it will be that way, too.”

ON DECK: Jack Flaherty goes for the Cardinals on Tuesday (6:45 p.m.) He’ll face Giants’ RH Dereck Rodriguez (5-7, 5.49.)

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie