What an exhilarating six months of baseball.
The Cardinals were ten games over .500 on the first day of May, with a 20-10 record. Subpar months of May and June led to a 44-44 record at the All-Star break. Then, the Cardinals began to fly.
With a National League-best 47 wins after the Midsummer Classic, the Cardinals won 91 games in the 2019 regular season and were champions of the Central division for the first time since 2015. And later today, the Cardinals will take on the Braves at SunTrust Park in the first game of the National League Division Series.
So, how did we get here?
The Cardinals opened the 2019 season on the road, beginning in Milwaukee with a four-game series against the Brewers. St. Louis dropped three of four, but Paul Goldschmidt made us all smile when he launched three home runs in the second game of the season.
The Cardinals dropped their home opener against the Padres but pulled off a four-game sweep of the Dodgers. Harrison Bader made his first of several great catches of the season in the opener, and Paul DeJong scored eight runs over the last three games; DeJong became the first Cardinal to do this since Ray Lankford back in 1996.
On April 13-14, the Cardinals and Reds played at Estadio de Beisbol in Monterrey in the Mexico Series. The teams split the two games; in the St. Louis victory, Marcell Ozuna crushed two long balls.
The Cardinals won 10 of their next 14 games to wrap up the month of April and entered May with a 19-10 record.
After a win on the first of May put the club 10 games over .500, the Cardinals went 8-18 for the rest of the month. The St. Louis lineup was victimized by Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks on May 3rd, on Friday afternoon at Wrigley, as Hendricks twirled a shutout - and needed only 81 pitches to do so.
On May 6th, the Cardinals (in quite the change of events) scored 17 runs on 16 hits to defeat the Pirates. The Cardinals did not hit a home run in this game; all starting position players in the lineup scored a run and had a hit. Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter scored three runs apiece, and Molina and Goldshcmidt each tallied three hits, while Ozuna drove in four and Dexter Fowler plated three. The team went 11-for-25 with runners in scoring position in this contest.
In the Cardinals only win in Atlanta (so far) this season, Ozuna, Molina, and Kolten Wong each hit three-run homers.
On May 25th in a Saturday evening game against the Braves in St. Louis, the Cardinals trailed, 3-2, heading to the bottom of the eighth inning. With two on and one out, the Cardinals turned Jedd Gyorko off the bench as a pinch-hitter. Gyorko rocketed the second pitch he saw to left-center field for a go-ahead, three-run homer. (I went to this game with some friends, and we all got a Yadi dog bowl. Definitely my favorite promotion of the year.)
The Cardinals ended the rough May with their first walk-off victory of the season against the Cubs on the last night of the month. With the bases loaded, one out, five Cubs on the infield, and former Cardinal Steve Cishek on the mound, Matt Carpenter shot a ball to the left-field corner to plate Wong with the game-winning tally.
The Cardinals completed a three-game sweep of the Cubs on May 31-June 2 only to drop three in Chicago the next weekend. The Cardinals won four of six games in a trip on the East coast to face the Marlins and Mets. In the finale of the series against the Marlins, the Cardinals faced rookie right-hander Jordan Yamamoto, who was called up from Double-A to make the start. Yamamoto shut out the Cardinals for seven innings, scattering three hits, and stamping his name in a rotation spot for Miami. At least something good came out of that game.
The weekend of June 21-23, the Cardinals hosted the Angels at Busch Stadium, as Albert Pujols made his much-anticipated return to the Gateway City. Pujols received standing ovations all weekend — perhaps none bigger than when he launched a solo homer in the top of the seventh inning of that Saturday game.
Ozuna fractured his right middle finger in the June 28th game against the Padres, and it was a huge blow to a Cardinals offense that had been lackluster in the previous weeks - an offense that featured Ozuna as one of few positive points. (Ozuna would be out until early August. We’ll talk about this more later.)
In 63 1⁄3 innings across 11 starts in May and June, Hudson maintained a 2.56 ERA with 43 strikeouts and just four home runs allowed in the stretch.
Dating back to June 23rd, the Cardinals entered the All-Star break with four wins in their last 12 games. The Cardinals entered the break with a 1-0 loss to the Giants, but that game prove to stand out as a turning point for a certain St. Louis right-hander. Flaherty tossed seven innings of one-run ball in San Francisco, racking up a half-dozen punchouts along the way.
The Cardinals went 13-6 from the break through the end of July, a month that flashed some of this team’s relentlessness. Facing a 7-0 deficit after four innings on July 19th in Cincinnati, the Cardinals put up 10 runs in the sixth en route to a 12-11 win over the Reds. Goldschmidt, Bader, DeJong, Tyler O’Neill, Yairo Munoz, Andrew Knizner, and Tommy Edman were all in on the action in some capacity, and Jose Martinez capped off the frame with a three-run homer.
The week following this Cincinnati series, the Cardinals swept a four-game set at PNC Park from the Pirates. In the first, Goldschmidt hit a go-ahead grand slam in the 10th inning. Dakota Hudson was able to pitch into the seventh inning of the second game after the Pirates scored three of him in the opening frame. In the third game, the Cardinals enjoyed another big inning; this time, it was a nine-run second. Homers from DeJong, Knizner, and Goldschmidt highlighted this frame. For Knizner, it was his first long ball in the Majors.
And for DeJong, it was the first of three home runs he would hit on that Pittsburgh evening.
Goldschmidt homered in all four of those games in Pittsburgh and in the first two games against the Astros, on July 26-27, making it six days in a row with a long ball for the first baseman.
Flaherty held the Cubs to one hit with nine strikeout in seven scoreless innings on the first day of August, a month that the right-hander won’t forget. The Cardinals had a winless trip out west, dropping two games to the Athletics and three to the Dodgers; in that 45-inning span, the Cardinals scored just only seven runs and combined to strike out 51 times.
The loss in Los Angeles on the final day of that roadtrip stung the most. Andrew Miller hit Corey Seager with a pitch with one out in the bottom of the ninth, with the Cardinals up by a 1-0 score. (Ozuna hit a solo home run in the sixth, his first since returning from the injured list on August 3rd.) Carlos Martinez came in the game and allowed a base hit to Will Smith before striking out Edwin Rios. With two outs, Martinez threw a wild pitch, moving both runners into scoring position; Russell Martinez capitalized with a base hit up the middle, the Dodgers won the ballgame, and the Cardinals were 58-55.
The Cardinals returned home and went on a five-game winning streak, beating the Pirates and Royals. Lane Thomas hit a two-out, full-count, go-ahead grand slam in the finale against the Pirates.
After a four-game split in Cincinnati, the Cardinals enjoyed a 6-1 homestand; St. Louis took two of three from the Brewers and swept the Rockies. DeJong knocked out the ‘M’ in Big Mac Land on August 19th, and costly Milwaukee misplay in the outfield the following night helped the Cardinals gain some ground in the division.
Flaherty and Hudson each posted six scoreless innings against the Rockies on August 23-24, and Carpenter homered in his three-hit day on August 25th. For Carpenter, this day served as quite the turnaround, as he entered that day batting .191 (9-for-47) in his previous 18 games.
Flaherty was named the National League Pitcher of the Month for August. In six outings, Flaherty allowed only three earned runs in 38 innings with a 47-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Flaherty held opponents to a .145 average in the month, one that started with three consecutive outings of seven scoreless innings; these came against the Cubs, Dodgers, and Royals.
For his performance from August 24-31, Molina was named the National League Player of the Week for the first time in his career. Molina became the first Cardinal to earn the honor since Carpenter last August. In the six games he played in that stretch, Molina slashed .579/.636/1.368 with four home runs, seven runs scored, and 26 total bases.
The Cardinals ended the month of August with a doubleheader against the Reds — and started the month of the September in the same fashion. St. Louis won both games on Saturday, August 31st, and split the two contests on Sunday, September 1st. The Cardinals walked off Saturday’s nightcap, and did the same on Sunday afternoon.
Jose Martinez drew a walk to open the bottom of the ninth, tied at three runs. Molina doubled, and Bader came through with a bullet to right-center field; the Cardinals won, 4-3.
The Cardinals hosted the Giants next and took three of four before traveling to Pittsburgh, where the Cardinals took two of three from the Pirates. St. Louis dropped two, 2-1 games to the Rockies out in Colorado before enjoying a 10-3 win in the series finale. In that game, on September 12th, the Cardinals hit five home runs in the first four innings.
Fowler and Wong went back-to-back to lead off that Wednesday afternoon game, and Rangel Ravelo, Ozuna, and Bader later followed with long balls. Ravelo’s shot traveled 487 feet and is the longest hit by any Cardinals player in the Statcast era.
After a .500 homestand against the Brewers and Nationals, the Cardinals went up to Wrigley Field for a four-game series that started on Thursday, September 19th. At the start of play, the Cardinals were 85-67, and both the Cubs and Brewers were 82-70.
The Cardinals had a 4-1 lead in the Thursday game, and the Cubs tied it at four with a three-run ninth. Carpenter, who entered the game in the fifth after Wong left with a hamstring strain, wasted little time in extra innings to put St. Louis back on top. With one out, Carpenter hammered the first pitch he saw from Craig Kimbrel to deep center field for a solo homer. The Cardinals took a 5-4 lead that would prove to win the ballgame.
On Friday, behind a very strong effort from the pitching staff, the Cardinals won, 2-1. Michael Wacha turned in four innings of one-run ball, scoreless efforts from Ryan Helsley, Tyler Webb, Miller, and Carlos Martinez. With the bases loaded on walks, Molina came through with a two-run single in the top of the sixth, and that was all St. Louis needed. This win ensured at least a split in the four-game series. But the Cardinals wanted more.
St. Louis trailed four different times in Saturday’s game, a wild, back-and-forth affair. The drama of the afternoon climaxed in the top of the ninth inning; in fact, on the first two pitches of the inning.
With the Cubs up 8-7 and Kimbrel on the mound looking for a save, Molina sent the closer’s first pitch sailing. Not everybody knew if the ball would make it to the seats, but it sure did; Molina had tied the game at 8-8. DeJong was up next, and he followed Molina’s home run with a no-doubter. Kimbrel and Wrigley faithful were stunned. The Cardinals were up 9-8 and won the ballgame.
On Sunday afternoon, the Cardinals trailed 2-1 entering the ninth inning. But we all knew better than to count this lineup out.
Jose Martinez led off the inning with a triple, and O’Neill pinch-ran for him. O’Neill scored on a sacrifice fly from Fowler and the game was tied at two runs apiece. Tommy Edman singled and stole second base, just before Goldschmidt doubled down the left-field line. Edman scored, and the Cardinals won, 3-2. St. Louis clinched their first Postseason berth since 2015.
The Cardinals went out West to Arizona and dropped two of three to the Diamondbacks before they returned to St. Louis for the final weekend of the regular season. The Cubs were in town, looking to spoil the Cardinals’ division hopes.
Chicago won the first two games, scoring 16 runs; the scoreboard watching was very much alive; the Brewers were in Colorado, and they, too, lost on Friday and Saturday. With a magic number of one on the final day of the year, the Cardinals turned to Flaherty to get them in the win column. Flaherty cruised through seven scoreless innings, and the Cardinals enjoyed a 9-0 shutout of the Cubs on Sunday, September 29th. Flaherty (again) was named the National League Pitcher of the Month, and Cardinals won the Central division.
Now, here we are: just a few hours away from first pitch in Atlanta. Are you ready?