Fresh off a feast on the lowly Cubs and Astros, the first-place St. Louis Cardinals arrived in Milwaukee on Friday for a three-game series against the surging Brewers. It was a series that was an exercise in frustration for Cardinal Nation. For the second time this season, the Cardinals traveled to the home park of the division's second-place club and were swept out of first place.
The series got off to a brutal start with the Brewers trouncing the Cardinals 8-0 in a game started by former Cardinal farmhand Chris Narveson, who scattered six hits over eight shutout innings. Wearing uniforms that hark back to 1982, the year in which the Cardinals defeated them in the World Series, the Brewers chased Lohse after five innings by scoring four runs before lighting up Ryan Franklin and Brian Tallet for four more.
Saturday's contest featured an intriguing match-up of former Cy Young winners Chris Carpenter and Zack Greinke. Only one looked the part. A 1-1 pitchers duel entering the sixth, Milwaukee unloaded on Carpenter for four runs in the inning's bottom frame and then held on for a 5-3 victory on the strength of Greinke's seven innings and nine strikeouts.
Today, the Cardinals saw a 3-0 lead evaporate almost instantly in the sixth inning. The Brewers hit back-to-back doubles off of starter Jake Westbrook to cut the St. Louis lead to 3-1. Ryan Braun then received a fortuitous bounce as his groundball single cut the Redbird lead to one. The first pitch from Westbrook to Prince Fielder after a visit from pitching coach Dave Duncan was deposited over the wall for what would be the deciding plating of runs on the day.
The Brewers are an excellent team and especially so when playing at Miller Park, owning a 25-9 home record after the sweep. Their lineup, rounding into form, is a potent one, with Prince Fielder setting a torrid pace in this, his final year with the club. Fielder has an OPS over 1.000, a wOBA over .430, and an fWAR total already in excess of 3.0. Today's go-ahead and eventual game-winning homer was his nineteenth of the season.
Despite a first place vs. second place match-up, the result was not entirely unexpected. The St. Louis Cardinals limped into Milwaukee atop the National League Central standings, a status that came with heavy casualties. Lost in the first-place effort were All-Star slugger Matt Holliday, starting third baseman David Freese, second-baseman-of-the-future Allen Craig, back-up catcher Gerald Laird, utility infielder Nick Punto and fifth starter Kyle McClellan. For some perspective, the Cardinals have already used the disabled list 12 times in 2011, compared to 13 times in 2010.
To give you a rough estimate of the production the Cardinals have shelved on the disabled list for mending, here are the fWAR totals: Holliday, 2.4; Craig, 1.4; Freese, 1.2; Punto, 0.8; Laird, 0.2; and, McClellan, -0.2. (For those of you dead-set on recognizing McCellan's results over his process, his bWAR is 0.8.) The Cardinals have 6.0 fWAR worth of position players on the disabled list. That is not an insignificant number.
It was a frustrating result for the Cardinals, to be sure, but it is not the end of the world or even the season. Holliday is eyeing a Thursday return from the DL, which will be a nice shot in the arm to a lineup leaning heavily on the resurgent Albert Pujols and steady Lance Berkman. In a few weeks' time, Freese may also be activated. Craig's return ought to be not much later than early July, as well. Even if the Cardinals do not make a trade, when these two clubs next face one another--August 1-3 in Milwaukee--the Cardinals will have a much different and more potent look to their lineup.
The first-place Brewers head to Wrigley Field for a four-game set against the sinking Cubs before continuing their antique ballpark tour by jetting to Boston for a three-game weekend series against the Red Sox at Fenway. The Cardinals head to D.C. to face the Nationals before returning home to play host to the Royals this weekend.