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Cardinals sweep Pirates with third straight 2-1 win behind Fowler home runs

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Previously slumping Dexter Fowler wanted to make it clear he was not slumping anymore with two home runs.

Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals
Fowler after the home run
Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images

I’m guessing for a few of the people who missed today’s game, you’ll look at the 2-1 score and instinctively think “Oh that was yesterday’s game.” It’s certainly unusual to win three straight games by the same exact score. Hell, it’s unusual to sweep a team by winning three straight one-run games in general. At the risk of sounding like a Cardinals fan convinced that luck isn’t on their side, this seemed like something that would happen to last year’s team - except they would be on the losing side of the sweep (especially at home.)

Of course, outside of the outcome of the game, this felt exactly like something out of last year. The Cardinals scored both of their runs via solo homer, ran into a couple outs, and displayed what can generously be called questionable defense. They also failed to score any runs outside of the home runs despite having a healthy number of baserunners.

Michael Wacha started the game for the Cardinals and he looked good, though perhaps not as good as a 6.2 IP, 1 ER performance would lead you to believe. He started the game strong at least. He got the first 10 batters he faced out, inducing four groundouts, striking out one, and getting weak flyballs. The only hard hit ball was hit by Jordy Mercer, inexplicable Cardinal killer.

The Cardinals themselves weren’t able to muster much offense either, though they at least raised Gerrit Cole’s pitch count quite a bit. In the 2nd, Jose Martinez continued his hot streak with a one-out single. He hit in his weird loopy sort of line drive, sort of fly ball way that drops before it reaches the centerfielder. Jedd Gyorko took four straight balls to make it first and second for Kolten Wong. Wong found himself in an 0-2 hole quickly (which always seems to happen to him) and got good contact on a ball hit the other way, but it was right at David Freese. Still, 38 pitches after two innings is nice.

In the 3rd, Dexter Fowler waited for his pitch as the count tilted in his favor on 2-0. He saw a pitch on the outside corner - honestly not exactly what I would consider an ideal pitch to drive. Nonetheless, it was probably thrown higher than Cole intended and Fowler seemed to be waiting for it and he sent it into the stands for a 1-0 lead.

The 4th is when Wacha starting struggling. With one out, he couldn’t find the strike zone against Josh Bell. If Bell has a weakness, it’s probably that he doesn’t have as much power as you’d like in a first baseman. But he has an excellent batting eye - projections call for a 10.3 BB% and a 14.8 K%. So when he’s ahead in the count, he’ll be patient with what he swings at. On 2-1, Wacha threw a pitch down the middle and Bell hit it dead center to tie the game back up. Wacha fell behind the next two batters 3-0. Announcers mentioned that the home run frazzled him, but honestly he didn’t look good against Bell either so I don’t think that’s to blame. He escaped the inning with two flyouts.

Wacha also pitched through the 5th with a bit of luck. John Jaso singled to lead off the inning, thus ending Jaso’s 0-18 streak to start the season (though he did walk twice in that span). Mercer then hit a soft lineout to Wong. Thankfully, Jaso apparently got a terrible read on the ball, never even once considering that it would be caught. He got thrown out easily for a double play. Chris Stewart made good contact the other way, but it went right into Stephen Piscotty’s glove.

Fowler again homered in the 5th, but this time he swung at the first pitch. I don’t put a lot of stock in batter versus pitcher matchups, but Fowler seems to have Cole’s number. Before this game he was batting .364/.417/.545 against him. That was BEFORE this game. Carpenter later singled with two outs, but got himself picked off at first, which is just inexcusable.

Wacha had more success in the 6th. He struck out Cole to begin the inning and then allowed a one-out single to Josh Harrison. Bell then hit a soft grounder to Gyorko, who made a quick turn, but Bell was able to beat out the potential double play ball. Then Bell jumped at a ball in the dirt, but Molina got to it quickly and made a perfect throw to end the inning. In the 7th, Wacha got two out quickly, but couldn’t finish the inning. David Freese hit a one-out single and Wacha couldn’t put away Jaso after getting ahead in the count 1-2. Jaso walked by looking at the next three pitches for balls. Matt Bowman came in and struck out Mercer on three straight strikes. The third strike was an excellent pitch choice and poor location. Mercer was really not expecting a change (I think) and swung badly at a pitch right smack in the middle of the plate.

Kevin Siegrist came out for the 8th and boy am I worried about him. Not specifically for this performance, but because he seems to maxing his fastball at 91 mph. Siegrist who can’t throw 95 is probably a bad pitcher. However, this outing wasn’t his fault. Like at all. With one out and in his second appearance of his career, Jose Osuna hit a ball right back to Siegrist. He didn’t make a great throw to Carpenter, but that’s caught 99% of the time. Carpenter just dropped it. The next ball was hit hard right at Greg Garcia, who booted it. That right there should have been the end of the inning.

He fell behind on Bell 2-0, but Bell flew out to deep left field for the second out. He got Andrew McCutchen to a 2-2 count (after falling behind 2-0 again), and then threw a near perfect pitch on the inside corner. It was called a ball. It was not a ball. He walked him on the next pitch. Gregory Polanco came up and it was at this point I asked myself if I would survive the season if every possible win featured a one-run lead and the bases loaded for the opposing team. Polanco hit a ball right down the first base line, but Carpenter made a slick play and beat Polanco to the bag for the final out. So that was the 8th.

After the Cardinals went down easy against former Diamondbacks pitcher Daniel Hudson, Trevor Rosenthal had a comparatively stress-free ninth. A stress-free ninth for Rosenthal includes giving up a seemingly unlucky hit and throwing a million pitches, but I’ll take that over the 8th inning. He struck out the final two batters to get his first save of the season.

Notes

  • Wacha final line: 6.2 IP, ER, 4 hits, 3 Ks, 2 BBs, HR, 31.6% GB - I thought Wacha looked decent. He didn’t walk many guys considering he struggled with control midway through the game. But typically 3 Ks, 2 BBs, and lots of flyballs won’t lead to good starts.
  • To be the resident wet blanket of VEB, everything about Martinez’s hot streak screams “this is a bad player who is simply having a lot of hits fall his way” to me personally. At the very least, he’s not striking out. He got taken out after a hit-and-run that never materialized due to a foul ball. He was removed immediately after, so I figure he may have tweaked something. So he probably won’t start tomorrow at the least.
  • To Molina, Diaz, Carpenter, and all who are struggling: feel free to bust out of your slump in Dexter Fowler fashion. Just hit a couple of dingers in one game.
  • The poor baserunning continues. In addition to the Carpenter pickoff, Aledmys Diaz pinch-hit and singled, but then got caught stealing second. He should not be stealing second. Diaz stole four bases last year and got caught four times. In his minor league career, he stole 13 bases and got caught eight times. This is not even in the realm of an acceptable ratio to make stealing worth doing. Note to Cardinals staff: Being aggressive is not an inherently positive thing.
  • I suppose Matheny had planned for Bowman to only get the last out of the 7th all along, but he missed an obvious double switch in my opinion. I only mention this because he seems to have a lot of questionable double switches, so when he misses a clearly obvious one, I wonder if he even understands what an effective double switch looks like. The obvious double switch is to put Diaz in the game, move Greg Garcia over to 3rd, and move the pitcher’s spot in the 7 hole, right before the leadoff hitter of the next inning. Diaz ended up pinch-hitting anyway and Garcia bothced a play that Diaz probably makes. Just my two cents.
  • Credit where credit is due though: Matheny took Wacha out after just 88 pitches. I could quibble and say I’d take him out earlier, but 95 percent of managers don’t take him out earlier either. Also, Jonathan Broxton started warming up immediately when Siegrist allowed his first baserunner (which was actually an error). I wish it wasn’t Broxton, but the fact that he did that was good since Siegrist has been pretty awful this year.

Tomorrow, the Cardinals begin a four-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers are currently winning 4-2 in the 7th and could take the series over the Cubs. So they aren’t an opponent the Cardinals should take lightly. (Hell, the Reds series proves that already) Carlos Martinez faces the struggling Zach Davies. Here’s to continuing the winning streak.