After a tough end to the weekend on Sunday night in Philadelphia, the Cardinals rebounded nicely a day later and haven’t let up yet. The club pulled off its first series sweep of the season against the Washington Nationals in DC, wrapping it up against their ace Stephen Strasburg on Wednesday afternoon. It was the club’s first return back to DC since the improbable end of their Division Series matchup in the city last October. All in all, the longest road trip of the season ended with an impressive 6-3 record, with one game lost to rain. And as the club returns back home a half game ahead in the NL Central, here are three things to take from tilt with the Nationals.
1.Fear the Koz: Clearly Nationals fans have not forgotten the last time Pete Kozma made an appearance in their city. Kozma was routinely booed through the series each time he stepped to the plate, as an after effect of the two run single he plated to complete the Cardinal comeback in the decisive game of the 2012’s Division Series. Kozma, who is rather stoic even on a regular day, was also unflappable at the plate for the series. Despite the constant outpour of boos, he had four hits in nine at-bats for the series, and played his usual hard nose style on the basepaths. On the year, he’s turned in a respectable .262/.306/.675 effort thus far, and has been one of the most consistent everyday performers on the club.
2. Missing in Action: Jon Jay, who has been knees deep in a major slump, was sat down the last two games of the series. With lefty Ross Detwiler on the mound on Tuesday, it seemed to be a matchup move, yet when he sat again versus Strasberg on Wednesday, it became clear that the intention perhaps is to let him get all the way relaxed and back in Busch Stadium (where he is a career .329 hitter, yet only .250 in 2013) before putting him back in the mix again. His prolonged slump has dropped his season total at the plate to .205, which is tough to stomach out the leadoff spot. While a drop down to seventh didn’t help him much to start the series, he did manage a crucial sliding grab in the 8th inning of Monday’s victory.
3. Mujica makes a way: For now, the Chief is in charge. Edward Mujica, who was really turned to as the last reasonable resort in the bullpen for the closer position, turned in series that has (for the time being) fanned the flames on much maligned closer role. He saved each game in the series, without surrendering a hit in the process. He pitched to contact, striking out only one batter, but has maintained the impeccable control that’s made him the exception in the late inning mix all year (one walk in nine appearances). While he doesn’t have the track record or the stuff that Boggs and Rosenthal boast, there’s nobody else that’s even gotten close the effectiveness he’s shown thus far.