The NL Central’s “Big Three” may be reduced to the “Big Two” sooner rather than later.
After falling 2-1 to the Chicago Cubs last night, the St. Louis Cardinals are now 0-5 against other members of the division’s elite.
In fact, taking away a 5-run outburst in an extra-inning loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in game 2 of the season, the Redbirds have totaled just 3 runs in 4 other games.
The Cardinals still lead the National League in runs scored per game (6.1), but it’s been feast or famine.
Against the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds, they have averaged 8.7 runs per game. They scored 10 or more runs in 4 of their 9 games against the league’s lesser teams.
Against the Cubs and Pirates, it’s just 1.6 runs per game.
Jason Hammel improved to 2-0 for the Cubs (11-3), going 6 innings to give the team a run of 14 consecutive games to start the season in which the starting pitcher went 6 or more innings.
(For all the mythology about how “in the old days, everybody went the distance!” this is actually historic – it’s been over a century since the last time a Cubs team accomplished that feat.)
Hammel also got it done at the plate, with a 2-RBI single off of Jaime Garcia in the top of the 4th inning accounting for all his team’s runs. Cubs’ pitchers now have driven in 7 runs this season, putting up a .660 OPS. That’s better than the Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres teams have hit this season.
Garcia (L 1-1) looked sharp early on, but the Cubs did what they’ve been doing to everybody else – grinding out long at bats and working the pitch count up.
Garcia ended up leaving the game after just 5 innings of work, having thrown 98 pitches already.
That’s an average of nearly 20 pitches per inning, compared to 14 per inning that were offered by Hammel.
The Cards had their chances but were done in by some problems on the bases.
Matt Adams was inexplicably picked off of 2nd base by Hammel with two men on and none out in the 2nd inning. It looked like a run and hit was called with Yadier Molina at the plate, but Adams simply took off well too early and was dead.
In the 4th, Matt Holliday was thrown out at the plate by Jason Heyward at the back end of a fly out/throw out double play. (Heyward nearly had two assists on the day, but Addison Russell dropped a throw at 2nd base earlier in the inning.)
St. Louis put the tying run at 2nd in the bottom of the 8th, but the Cubs intentionally walked Adams to set up slider-happy reliever Pedro Strop to face the slider-weak Randal Grichuk.
Even with the bad match-up, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny allowed Grichuk to bat and the result was predictable.
84 mph slider – called strike.
84 mph slider (again) – fouled off.
85 mph slider (again) – swung on and missed.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but even watching the game in real time you were thinking Matheny had to get Grichuk out of the game in that situation. He’s not hitting well and the deck was stacked against him given Strop’s bread and butter is the slider.
Although St. Louis would get yet another lead-off man on base to start the 9th, Cubs closer Hector Rondon was still able to buckle down, throwing for the first time in eight days and ending the game with a strikeout of pinch-hitter Jedd Gyorko.
The game had a real playoff atmosphere and we’re right back at it again in just a few hours.
The Cubs – now the only team in the division who is above .500 – go for a sweep shortly after noon.