The Cardinals won their third consecutive series over the weekend, and second consecutive against a division foe, by taking down the Milwaukee Brewers. In a series that was consistently spectacular early, yet ended in a manner that’s becoming quickly familiar in a not so positive way, the Cardinals finished their first home stand with a 4-2 record, and in sole possession of first place in the NL Central. While it was (nearly) a completely smooth ride, here are three things to pull away from the series, as the club heads out to tough 10 game road stretch.
1 .Big Inning Birds: The Cardinals are living, and dying, by the big inning thus far. When it works in their favor, it’s been potent. On Saturday, the Cardinals exploded for seven runs in an inning to put down Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo. This marked the fourth time in a week that the team topped at least four runs in an inning to put itself ahead for good. This has been by and large the way that the offense has worked, as it has hit a MLB-best .400 with runners in scoring position. However, the lineup has struggled to produce otherwise, has the team’s average falls to .208 with no runners on, 13th best in the National League.
What does this say? Considering they are winners of their previous three series and atop the National League Central, at face value, not much. However, digging deeper it is clear that this trend cannot keep up. The team has to start producing more steadily. This can be achieved by getting Jon Jay going better at the top of the lineup (.245 average) and Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran (both at .222) getting more sporadic hits, over just clutch production.
On the flip side, the bullpen is becoming prone to the big inning as well. Mitchell Boggs blew his first save of the season on Sunday, while watching his ERA rise to 9.95. He split his save chances in the series, and didn’t make easy work of the one that went over. Torches are beginning to spread for his head amongst the town people. Overall on the season, the bullpen is sporting an NL-worst 6.09 ERA, along with three losses and supporting a .278 batting average against. While it is early, it’s never too soon to figure out how to stop a leak before it sinks the boat.
2. They went streaking: Until Ryan Braun’s two-run, eighth inning homer, the Cardinals held the Brewers scoreless for the first 25.1 innings of the series, and it was due to a remarkable three start effort from Shelby Miller, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia. If Jake Westbrook’s shutout of the Reds on Wednesday is factored in, Cardinal starters are currently on a 32-inning shutout streak.
The back-to-back efforts of Miller and Wainwright were the two of the most masterful starts of the season, overall. Miller tossed seven shutout innings of one-hit baseball, retiring 17 consecutive at one point and running his record up to 2-0. Wainwright followed the next afternoon by throwing as dominant of a shutout as possible, striking out 12, surrendering only four hits and finishing what he started to seal the series win for the Cardinals. Garcia had a more laboring effort, surrendering seven hits over as many innings, but still kept the Brewers off the board as well.
3. The long and winding road: Friday brought an appreciation of the life (and musical acumen) of Stan Musial, but it also brought back Kyle Lohse, who opposed the club for the first time since his much discussed foray through free agency. In what was sure to be a mixed emotional start, Lohse took the mound against the Cardinals less than a month after finding a new home within the division he has spent the majority of his career.
On his first at-bat, he received roughly a 30 second standing ovation from Cardinal fans, appreciative of both his work for the club from 2008 to 2011 (55 wins, 3.90 ERA) and his difficult road to finding a new home. He fared well against his former teammates, throwing seven innings, surrending only six hits and two runs. He completed the cycle of closing out his moving on process, by visiting with his former teammates and manager before Saturday’s game in the Cardinals clubhouse.