The St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs began the newest chapter in one of sport’s greatest rivalries on Tuesday. While the Cardinals entered the series with National League’s best record and riding a six-game win streak that ran completely over the Brewers, in series between these two clubs, anything can happen…and it actually did. The Cubs entered with an opposite record and place in the NL Central, yet when the series started everybody was on equal ground as usual between these two teams.
The series played out to show that equality as well, as the two clubs split the mid-week series, and played two intense games that took some timely baseball to work out and win. In the end, both games were won on the backs of each club’s closer-of-the moment, as well as some tight relief pitching, as well as by a grand total of one run in club’s favor. Yet the Cardinals survived their brush with their oldest rivals, and still sit with the best record in baseball. Here are three factors that made that possible:
1. Lynn’s Strange Start: Lance Lynn took the mound on Tuesday night riding more momentum than anybody else on the club. He was the winner of five straight contests, and was looking to win his NL-best sixth contest already. He also entered the start as a beneficiary of just over eight runs of support per game, a league-best level of assistance. After Allen Craig’s second inning home run, the Cardinals failed to score another run. The one run was the lowest amount of support he’d received since September 13th last year, a 2-1 game that ended in his favor.
This time the game didn’t end on his side, as he dropped his first start since April 3rd despite the fact he surrendered only two runs off four hits over seven innings. By not gaining the victory, he failed to match the longest winning streak by a Cardinals pitcher since Chris Carpenter in 2011.
2. Yadi giveth and taketh away: One of the oddest (or at least telling) turns of the Cardinal approach over the past few years is that Yadier Molina is among the most active base runners on the team. Despite his obvious lack of natural deftness, he has managed to steal at least eight bases in three of the last four seasons, including 12 a year ago. His trip to Chicago was a showing in both crapping and cashing out with gambles on the bases for him. In game one, in the midst of an eighth inning comeback, he followed a single up by stealing second with two outs. However, then after nearly being picked off on a long lead based on inducing a balk from the sometimes erratic Marmol, he took too far of a lead was cleanly picked off after the next pitch, ending the inning and the Cardinal hopes for the evening.
The next day, his footwork made the deciding difference. In a similar situation to the night before, Molina found himself back at second, but this time Jon Jay came through with a single into center field, where Molina turned the corner at third and scored the game’s final run. The gambling man continues to pay out…even if it’s just breaking even.
3. Who’s the Man(ess): Recently promoted righty Seth Maness has wasted no time in making an impact with the big club, and has done so under pressure each time out. He has produced game-saving, eighth inning double plays in both of his last two times on the mound, and has taken home the win in two of his first three appearances. He recorded the last five outs of Wednesday’s game, and has retired seven of the eight batters he’s faced. He has been a major factor in steadying the late game situations that sank the club repeatedly over the first month, and is doing a lot to make his first cup coffee up count.