Wednesday turned into one of the best days, and probably the finest day, of the 2019 season for the Cardinals.
In the bright sunshine at Busch Stadium the Cards beat mighty Max Scherzer and the Nationals 5-1 to take a challenging series (winning two of three games) against a proud, playoff-caliber opponent. The victory snapped a two-series losing streak and gave the Cardinals some extra bounce and energy as they moved onto Chicago.
And on Wednesday night the Brewers and Cubs both experienced the frustration of one-run losses that easily could have gone their way.
The Brewers lost to the Padres, 2-1 — with visiting San Diego getting both runs on a homer that first bounced off the top of the wall — then landed on the wrong side … the Padres’ side, inches from being a double instead of a home run.
The Brewers thought they’d scored the tying run in the seventh inning, but the run was disallowed because Milwaukee hitter Trent Grisham inadvertently kicked a ball away from the Padres catcher on a strikeout, which freed Cory Spangenberg to rush home from third base.
Meanwhile, the Cubs went down to the Reds, 3-2, in 10 innings. The North Siders mustered only four hits and went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position, and manager Joe Maddon was borderline manic with his usage of eight relievers.
The tension being felt on the Chicago side was evident at the end of the ninth, when Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber started screaming at Reds reliever Amir Garrett after Garrett celebrated a strikeout of Schwarber.
Give the Reds credit for playing hard, playing tough, and winning two of three at Wrigley Field. After getting whacked 8-2 in the opener, the Reds responded by holding the Cubs to four total runs over the next two games to win 4-2 and 3-2.
The Padres and Brewers close their four-game series tonight at Miller Park. The Brewers need to win this game, and this series, instead of settling for a split.
As the first-place Cardinals venture into Wrigley for a four-game showdown that begins Thursday night, they have a little extra room between themselves and the Cubs and Brewer, leading each of their rivals by three games in the NL Central.
And that’s definitely a positive considering that when Wednesday began, there was a chance of the Cards going to Chicago with only a one-game lead over the Cubs and Brewers.
The Cardinals made it a winning Wednesday by first doing their part: keeping their minds locked into an intense competition to handle a difficult assignment. The home team beat Scherzer by mixing power and so-called small ball, coming up with a a big-play defense, and outperforming the Nationals with their own brand of superior pitching.
It’s the style that gives the Cardinals their best formula for success. It’s the style that’s generated the NL’s best record (41-23) since the All-Star break.
PLAYOFF ODDS FROM FANGRAPHS: Here’s the updated report from Thursday morning …
Winning The Division:
Cards, 74 percent …
Cubs, 19.8% …
Making the Playoffs:
Cards, 92.4 percent …
Cubs, 58.2% …
Brewers, 48.3% …
Mets, 5.8% …
BASEBALL HERO: That would be the kid, Adam Wainwright, age 38 but definitely young at heart — especially at this time of the year. He flummoxed the Nationals through seven innings Wednesday, allowing eight hits and a walk with no earned runs.
In his last five starts going back to Aug. 26, Waino is 4-0 with an 0.88 ERA in 30 and ⅔ innings. In four September starts he’s been scratched for one earned run in 27 innings for an 0.33 ERA.
Wainwright had a wonderful 2.08 ERA in his 90 and ⅔ innings at Busch Stadium this season — allowing a batting average of .236 and an OPS of .660. For the season Waino is 13-9 with a 3.83 ERA. He has been a force for his team down the stretch.
TURNING POINT: With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning this was a tight game very much up for grabs. The Cardinals led 2-1 when Paul DeJong lofted a deep fly ball to left. Surely, Juan Soto would make the catch for the final out of the inning. But Soto lost the ball in the blinding sun, and the disappearing sphere fell for a double that kept the inning going.
“I saw it all the way,” Soto said after the game. “And right after it was coming down, that’s when I lost it.”
And that’s when the game collapsed on the Nats. Tommy Edman singled in DeJong to make it 3-1. Pinch-hitter Matt Wieters followed with a two-run homer to put the Cardinals up 5-1 and knock Scherzer out of the game.
HEY, YOU DID GOOD: We have several honorees:
1. Tommy Edman had a profound impact in this win in a variety of ways. Playing right field, he threw out a runner at the plate to end Washington’s second. He launched a solo homer off Scherzer in the fourth to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. He drove in DeJong after Soto’s fly-ball eclipse in the seventh, and scored on the Wieters’ bomb.
That adds up to two for three, a homer, two RBIs, two runs, and a fabulous defensive play.
In 23 plate appearances during the Cards’ six-game homestand, Edman batted .400 with three homers, a double, five RBIs, six runs, three walks and two stolen bases.
2. Dexter Fowler made an elbows-high leap at the wall in right to make a fantastic catch-and-theft … denying what would have been a three-run homer by Asdrubal Cabrera.
3. The Cardinals excelled in their demonstration of intelligent small-ball in the fifth inning. Here’s how it went: a double by Matt Carpenter; an intentional ground ball to the right side by Yadier Molina to advance Carpenter to third; DeJong getting a piece of a Scherzer slider to tap it to the first-base side of the mound, giving pinch-runner Harrison Bader enough time to sprint home for a 2-0 lead.
Scherzer offered a compliment after the game: “That’s what happens when you play playoff-quality teams. It comes down to the little stuff,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how good the big stuff is. Everyone can execute the big stuff at this point. It comes down to the fine details.”
4. How about Wieters? That was his first at-bat since straining a calf injury on Aug. 31 … and the first pinch-hit homer of his career, coming in his 83rd career at-bat as pinch hitter.
5. The Cards’ rotation has a 2.99 ERA at Busch Stadium this season. And in the three-game series against Washington, Cards’ starters Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas and Wainwright combined for a 2.25 ERA in 20 innings.
6. Carlos Martinez got four ground-ball outs to rack a four-out save. Martinez has been outstanding in his last 11 appearances: 10.2 innings, no earned runs, nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings, and a heavy ground-ball rate. Martinez has saved 21 games in 24 opportunities. But since moving into the designated closer’s role after Jordan Hicks was lost to elbow surgery, Martinez has converted 19 of 20 save opps with a 2.70 ERA. And opponents have batted only .211 with a .552 OPS against him.
LOOK, YOU NEED TO DO BETTER: The Cardinals were 3 for 28 with runners in scoring position during the series including 1 for 7 on Wednesday … Matt Carpenter’s defense at third base was, shall we say, rusty.
SECOND-GUESSING SHILDTY: Some fans are were going into conniptions because of Shildt’s decision to use Carpenter at third and Edman in right field.
GOOD MOVE, SHILDTY: (A) Using Bader as a pinch runner to steal a run; (B) moving DeJong to No. 7 in the lineup; (C) the manager also took a considerable risk by leaving Waino in the game (after a mound visit) in the seventh. Waino had given up a two-out double, and the LH-swinging Adam Eaton was up next. This was no small matter; in his career Eaton was 6 for 10 with a double and a homer against Wainwright. But the salty pitcher made his skip look by retiring Eaton on a deep fly ball to Fowler in right.
BREATHLESS: Cardinals vs. Cubs at Wrigley. Four games. Need we say more?
ON DECK: Here’s are the scheduled pitching matchups for the four-game, full-tilt series at Wrigley Field:
⊗ Thursday night at 6:15 = RH Jack Flaherty vs. RH Kyle Hendricks.
⊗ Friday afternoon at 1:20 = RH Michael Wacha vs. LH Jose Quintana.
⊗ Saturday afternoon at 1:20 = RH Dakota Hudson vs. LH Cole Hamels
⊗ Sunday afternoon at 1:20 = RH Miles Mikolas vs. RH Yu Darvish
WHAT THE CUBS ARE SAYING:
Kyle Schwarber: “I think guys are ready to go. We’re in a good spot. We can control where we end up.”
Cole Hamels: “I think our philosophy all along has been to win the division. That’s just where our focus needs to be. We all saw what happened in the wild card (loss) last year to the Rockies and it’s not very fun. That’s what we’re truly focused on, is not putting ourselves in that situation again. It’s 100 percent to win the division; beat the Cardinals and go from there.”
Joe Maddon: “I was indoctrinated in ’15. (His first season as Cubs manager.) I was so American League, and then you get here and you get the feel and sense of it. And now it’s exaggerated more based on what’s going on. It’s great. When you look at that schedule at the beginning of the year, you’re hoping you have like an eight-game lead by the time it occurs. But then you get in the position we’re in and you’re thankful that you have to play them that many times.”
Kris Bryant: “We’ve got our work cut out, but I think we’ve got the right attitude right now and with the people that are here, I just think everybody has the right mindset and is ready to take this on.”
Jon Lester: “We all know what’s in front of us. We all know where we’re at … We obviously know who’s coming in this weekend and what lays in front of us. We’ve got to play good baseball this weekend.”
Thanks for reading …