Bernie’s Redbird Review: After Landing A Knockout Blow At Wrigley, Cardinals Go For A Bigger Prize

The Daily Redbird Review

The Cardinals may have had a sip of champagne, just a wee bit of the bubbly, after sweeping a four-game series at Wrigley Field to clinch their first postseason appearance since 2015. But this wasn’t about celebrating a wild-card spot. The Cardinals held back, striving for a more meaningful accomplishment: the retaking of the NL Central title.

The Cubs (and Brewers) have rented first place for a while. The Cubs won the division in 2016 and ‘17, and the Brewers won the NLC with a late charge last season. The Cardinals want their property back … or something like that.

The division championship is within reach, with the Cardinals’ so-called magic number down to four (Yadier Molina!) … meaning that any combination of St. Louis wins and Milwaukee defeats adding up to four gives the Cardinals the NL Central crown.

That said, I wouldn’t count out the Brewers just yet — more on that later — but the Cardinals obviously are in great shape with a three-game lead over Milwaukee with six games remaining for both teams. According to FanGraphs the Cardinals have a 94.9 percent probability of winning the NLC.

KUDOS: One way or another, this will be the Cardinals’ 14th postseason in the 24 years of team ownership under Bill DeWitt Jr. and partners. If the Cardinals reacted to winning four in a row at Wrigley Field with a smile, some hugs, and then shrugs — as if to reduce the fuss being made over making it back to the postseason — that’s because they’ve been there before. Winning is appreciated. But also expected.

HOWEVER, THERE WAS A REASON TO CELEBRATE: If the Cardinals were inclined to celebrate anything, it would have been their triumph over the Cubs and the agony that it caused for their historical rivals.

Consider:

This four-game sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley Field was the first by a Cardinals team since May of 1921.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Cubs became the second team in MLB history to be swept in a four-game series at home with each loss being a one-run defeat. The last time it happened was June of 1919, when the Cleveland Indians did it to the Boston Red Sox. (Hat tip, MLB.com.)

This was also the first time that the Cubs suffered five consecutive one-run losses since July 1915. Before the Cardinals came to town, the Cubs lost to the Reds 3-2 in the final game of the series. And then the Cardinals added to the pain by winning four in a row by scores of 5-4, 2-1, 9-8 and 3-2.

Most of all, the Cardinals went into Wrigley and eliminated the Cubs from division contention. Now that the division title is no longer possible, the Cubs are scrounging for a wild card spot … and they’re in a horrendous spot — standings hell — trailing the Nationals and the Brewers by four games in the bid for the two wild-card tickets. According to FanGraphs the Cubs have a 2.6 percent chance of making it as a wild-card entry.

Win four in a row at Wrigley? Not only just collect four straight victories, but get it done in the most cruel and unusual way possible — by rallying repeatedly, and staging remarkable and shocking comebacks, and twisting the knife by taking all four contests by one run?

This was absolute torment for the Cubs and their fans. The worst-case scenario, for sure. Take the Cubs down. Knock them out of the NL Central race. Do it slowly, one-run win at a time. Leave them gravely wounded in their lunge for a wild-card, which represents their last chance for survival in 2019.

Remain completely unfazed by Joe Maddon’s 27,000 pitching changes in four games, the Cubs shrieking over every borderline ball-strike call, the theatrical injury returns of Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez … and perhaps most bizarre of all, second baseman Ben Zobrist’s unprofessionalism. Really? Doing jumping jacks in the line of vision to distract STL hitters? What, is this first grade?

THE CARDINALS CONTINUE TO STACK UP THE WINS: Let’s update, shall we?

1. The Cardinals have the NL’s best record (45-23) since the All-Star break…

2. They’re 31-12 since Aug. 9.

3. And 25-10 in their last 35 games.

4. The Cardinals have played 21 series since the All-Star break — winning 15, losing five and splitting one. In their last 13 series the Cardinals are 10-2-1.

5. The Cardinals are 45-28 in games played against NL Central rivals. That has given them an edge over Milwaukee (42-31 vs. the Central) and a huge advantage over the Cubs (only 35-35 in division games.)

DRAMA: Three of the four victories in the series came in STL’s final at-bat: (1) the Matt Carpenter homer in Thursday in the 10th inning on Thursday; (2) the back-to-back, first-pitch homers by Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong against failed closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning Saturday; (3) and the ninth-inning ambush triggered by Jose Martinez, Dexter Fowler, Tommy Edman and Paul Goldschmidt … but let’s not overlook (4) Molina’s two-run single in the sixth inning Friday. The winning hit in a 2-1 victory. A hit delivered not long after Molina got smacked in the private area, causing him to kneel in pain. Molina doesn’t wear armor. He is the actual armor.

HEY, YOU DID GOOD: The list…

1. Yadier Molina went 6 for 17 in the series with a homer, two runs and three RBIs.

2. Paul Goldschmidt had the game-winning double in Sunday’s win and finished the series with three doubles, three walks and three RBIs.

3. Tommy Edman was 7 for 16 (.437) with a double, two triples, four runs, two hit by pitches, and a stolen base.

4. Matt Carpenter went 4 for 11 with a double and that winning homer. He also walked twice.

5. Paul DeJong: two homers, two RBIs, three runs and a .375 OBP in the series.

6. Carlos Martinez blew the save with an unfortunate ninth inning on Thursday but made up for it with money saves on Friday and Saturday … LH reliever Andrew Miller pitched three scoreless innings during the series. Other relievers that came through included John Brebbia, Genesis Cabrera and Tyler Webb.

7. The Cardinals’ pitching staff had a 3.41 ERA in the series.

8. Cards hitters batted .252 with an .800 slugging percentage and 14 extra-base hits in the four games; Cubs hitters batted .248 with a .725 OPS and 12 extra-base hits.

QUOTE OF THE WEEKEND: Shortstop Paul DeJong said it after Saturday’s insane 9-8 victory: “We’re at a point in the year where we smell blood and we’re trying to take what’s ours.”

THE BREWERS WON’T GO AWAY: Milwaukee has won 15 of its last 18 and is 11-2 since losing MVP Christian Yelich. That’s impressive, but we shouldn’t be surprised.

A year ago the Brewers blitzed through the final two weeks, winning 10 of their last 11 games including the final eight contests to wrestle the NL Central title from the Cubs, who went 6-6 down the stretch. So it would be foolhardy to dismiss the Brewers — who jump at any opportunity provided by the Cardinals during the final week of the regular season.

“When you get your back against the wall, you know you have to be darn-near perfect, and when that’s what you achieve, that’s to be commended,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We were dealt a ‘gut punch’ with ‘Yeli’ and they still handled it. You can’t say enough about what they’re accomplishing right now.”

The Brewers are off Monday and open a three-game series at Cincinnati on Tuesday. Then the Brewers proceed to Colorado for their final three games on the schedule.

ON DECK: The Cards begin a three-game series at Arizona on Monday night, 8:40 p.m. first pitch St. Louis time. Adam Wainwright starts for the Cardinals against Arizona rookie lefty Alex Young. Young is 4-3 with a 3.27 ERA and 4.48 FIP. LH batters are hitting only .148 against him with a .542 OPS … the Diamondbacks (80-76) were in the NL wildcard hunt until losing six in a row earlier this month.

GOLDY RETURNS: Goldschmidt’s former teammates are dishing the accolades as the Cardinals’ first baseman has his first Arizona homecoming since the trade that sent him from Phoenix to St. Louis last offseason.

This sampling of quotes is courtesy of The Athletic:

— Manager Torey Lovullo: “I’ve been around him and know what makes him tick, and it’s not the notoriety or the fanfare. He just wants to be a good baseball player who helps teams win championships. He just compartmentalizes all those things.

— Infielder Jake Lamb: “I’ll always be thankful for coming up and having him be ‘the guy’ on the team because some guys come up and the best player on the team might not necessarily be the hardest worker, the best leader, the smartest player. They’re just physically gifted. That might rub off in a bad way to a young guy, but that wasn’t the case with Paul.”

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie