In 2022 the St. Louis Cardinals were one of the top clubs in the league when it came to defense. In fact, most years the Cardinals are considered to be a strong defensive club. Gold Gloves have not always been the best indicator of defensive skill in the past, but it has to say something that the Cardinals have won an MLB-record 98 of them. Defense is just a big part of the organizational philosophy. Perhaps one might call it The Cardinal Way? (Now that I think about it, it has been a minute since we have heard someone use that phrase, hasn’t it?).
Defense played a big part in the Cardinals win on Friday evening. The Pirates put 12 runners on base with 8 hits, 2 walks, and a hit batsman and hit the ball in play more often and much harder than the Cardinals did, but the Cardinals were able to hold the Pirates to 0 runs with some clutch defense and timely hitting.
The first really clenched moment happened early in the game in top of the second. After 2 singles and a walk the Pirates has the bases loaded and 1 out. Jake Woodford was able to induce a ground ball to arguably the best defensive third baseman in the game in Nolan Arenado, who tagged third and made a quick throw to the outstretched arguably best defensive first baseman in the game, Paul Goldschmidt, for double play to end the inning. The play was a 15.3% change in win expectancy and had the looks to be one of those innings that quickly spiraled out of control.
In the top of the fourth inning the defense once again kept the Pirates scoreless. With two outs the Pirates began to rally after Canaan Smith-Njigba singled and attempted to score from second on a single from the following batter Mark Mathias. Smith-Njigba thrown out at plate with a strike by Cardinals rightfielder Alec Burleson, however, for the third out of the inning.
Tyler O’Neill saved another run in the top of the fifth with a diving play to catch a line drive from Andrew McCutchen. Austin Hedges started the inning with a double and advanced to third with two outs, but was stranded there thanks to O’Neill’s great catch.
While Woodford tiptoed around danger all evening, the Cardinals bullpen was lights out. Zach Thompson, Drew VerHagen, and Giovanny Gallegos combined for 3 and 2⁄3 innings and 5 strikeouts, allowing just 2 baserunners on a hit and walk. Thompson earned the win he picked up with his efforts.
Pirates starter Johan Oviedo put up a strong performance against his former team. He struck out 10 batters in 7 innings and allowed 6 hits with 1 walk. He was able to induce 13 wiffs, 22 called strikes, and 14 foul balls. Oviedo has a good slider and it was put to use in this game. He threw it 37 times with 7 wiffs and 8 called strikes and would follow that up with a fastball over 99 mph.
The Cardinals were able to cobble together a run against him though, breaking the scoreless game in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs Nolan Gorman produced his first Nolan Batted In of the night, scoring Arenado from second on line drive single to right-center. Willson Contreras batted in his third run of the season with a solid hit to right field, scoring Jordan Walker, who came in as a pinch runner for Burleson. Gorman batted in his second Nolan Batted In for the night in the bottom of the eighth with line-drive to right field.
It wasn’t the prettiest win necessarily by peripherals, but it is a one of those games that a team with playoff dreams has to find a way to win and that is exactly what the Cardinals did. A great showing from the bullpen and strong defensive effort is exactly the pickup a starting pitcher that’s on and off the ropes and an offense trying to crack an opposing pitcher with swing and miss stuff needs. The series continues tomorrow at 1:15 pm as Steven Matz faces off against Roansy Contreras.