No one in the Cardinal organization was willing to call Thursday’s series finale a ‘must-win’ game. It sure felt that way. Although they have 6 games remaining with Milwaukee, potentially having to make up 6 games with only 43 to go presented a daunting task. Basically if the team played even with the Brewers for the other 37 games, then won all six head to head, they’d finish tied. A hard road to walk. St Louis absolutely had to have last night’s game. Thankfully their two biggest stars of the last decade rose to the challenge and delivered.
In retrospective, what did we learn from these recent games with Milwaukee?
It’s hard to win when you’re behind. Self-evident, I know, but still true. St Louis did not have a lead in this series until Berkman knocked in Jay with one out in the third inning last night. Here’s an interesting tidbit – the Cardinals led after 7 of the 28 innings played in this three game series. The previous series in Milwaukee? They led after 7 of the 29 innings played. At least in Milwaukee they led in every game (albeit it early in both the 1 and 2 August tilts), something they were not able to do at home. However, leading for less than 1/3 of the total innings played makes it tough to win more than one game.
Milwaukee starting pitching is better. Most folks suspected that would be true after the Brewers acquired Grienke and Marcum, and Wainwright went down for the season. Through 119 games, both clubs sport an identical team ERA with St Louis’ starters slightly better (3.88 to 3.90). Remove Milwaukee’s slipshod fielding and their starters rise well above (3.61 xFIP to 3.76 for St Louis). Even with the addition of Edwin Jackson the Brewer 5 are better top to bottom than the Cardinal hurlers. This became painfully clear during the series.
Milwaukee relief pitching is also better. A somewhat surprising result to this correspondent, because Milwaukee has self-detonated so often late in games in recent years. Before the addition of Francisco Rodriguez the Brewers bullpen had posted better fielding independent numbers than St Louis (3.53 to 3.94). K-Rod, despite his high pitch numbers, makes them that much better. In this series the Brewer bullpen threw 8 scoreless innings; Cardinal relievers allowed 4 runs in 6 innings. Bullpen performance decided Tuesday’s game.
Albert Pujols will not decide the NL Central. The cries are becoming increasingly more shrill – Pujols has to step up and produce! Four-hundred-sixty plate appearnaces of .284/.348/.539 and one broken arm later, it is unrealistic to think he’ll hit .400 over the next 2 months. Albert’s best month (by average) was June; he’s hit under .300 the rest of the season. Besides, it’s not as if Pujols morphed into Jason Bartlett for the 2011 season. His SLG places him in the NL top 10 – it’s tenth, but still. By comparison, Berkman is first and Holliday third. The Cardinal offense remains lethal.
After being out-played over six games by the hottest team in the NL, St Louis lost only 2 games in the standings. They are also the only team to beat Milwaukee during their current hot streak. Both of those facts are encouraging; if the Cardinals can beat them while their white-hot, they can beat them when they cool off. Milwaukee is not going to win 13 out of every 15 from now until the end of September. Overcoming a 4-game deficit in mid-August is entirely doable. Not easy, but doable.