The Cardinals, returning back home after completing their first sweep of the season, experienced another set of firsts this weekend, of the less positive variety. After taking the opening game of the series and reaching a season-high five game winning streak, they dropped the final two games of weekend series versus the Pittsburgh Pirates and in the course also surrendered their lead atop the NL Central.
The team will now move into a second consecutive series with a divisional rival that is coming to town a game behind them, in the Cincinnati Reds. But before the Cardinal rebound effort comes to the forefront, here’s a look back at three points to take from the series that was:
1. Picking their spot: The Pirates showed a flare for the big moment in pulling out the series win, which a suddenly anemic Cardinal offense (three runs over the last 18 innings) could not match. Of the 14 runs scored to win the series, they hit five home runs (four of which were solo shots on Sunday) including three from Russell Martin. For the series, the Pittsburgh catcher hit .461 and drove in five runs, with four extra base hits.
Overall, they managed to hang around long enough to win, and for the second time in a week’s time, won a crucial series over their prime contention in the Central so far this year. And did so with Andrew McCutchen both slumping and out of the lineup on Sunday, and second baseman Neil Walker out of the series completely with a lacerated hand.
2. Late Inning Woes Continue: While the Cardinal bullpen received some encouraging news regarding the potential improving situation regarding Jason Motte, in the mean time it continued to struggle to find outs without damage weaved in-between. In 7.1 series innings, the pen surrendered 10 earned runs, with Mitchell Boggs on the hook for three and Marc Rzepczynski another three in two appearances totaling 2/3rds of an inning. Joe Kelly was credited with the four decisive runs in Saturday’s loss, but a Trevor Rosenthal bases loaded walk to Andrew McCutchen is what pulled Pitt ahead for good. The ninth inning is currently looking good, and potentially looking better, but there’s no sign of an upturn ahead of it in sight as of yet.
3. Miller’s Maturation: Shelby Miller’s streak of 14 scoreless innings in Busch came to an end on Sunday. He didn’t pitch badly, striking out seven over 5.2 innings and allowing three runs. However, he did give up seven hits, including two home runs. Part of Miller’s success this season has been his ability to work at a quick pace, control the zone, limit walks and win with his fastball with regularity. However, as he sees teams repeatedly, he’ll have to start making the adjustments to overcome them. The Pirates waited him out in many situations to get a fastball they could hit, and they did so with success. These are the scenarios that will call for his off-speed repertoire to develop, so that good fastball hitting teams such as Pittsburgh aren’t able to linger for him pitch to their favor.
The season high seven hits he allowed, coupled with the three walks he surrendered (which is the sum of his previous three starts combined), put him in his toughest spot of the season, and produced his second shortest start. However, he has also pitched in rough situations in his two starts versus Pittsburgh this season as well; the Cardinals have been shut out in both of his starts, limited to just three hits in both contests.