When the St. Louis Cardinals fired Mike Matheny on July 14, they were 47-46, 7.5 games out of first place in the NL Central and 4.5 games out of the wild card. The team looked lost, lackluster, and headed for another October out of the playoffs.
Fast forward to tonight’s 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals. The Redbirds are 19-9 since Mike Shildt took over (and 12-2 in the month of August), are now riding an eight game winning streak to put them firmly in the playoff race, and are…incredibly fun. What a difference a month can make.
In the second inning, Marcell Ozuna destroyed a baseball and sent it past the left field foul pole to give the Cardinals an early 1-0 lead. Off the bat, it looked like the exit velocity might be higher than the actual home run distance.
Austin Gomber cruised through the first three innings without allowing a baserunner, aided in part by an unbelievable stop from Jedd Gyorko in the third to rob Trea Turner of extra bases. An inning later, Harrison Bader traveled about a mile a minute in center field to make an insane diving catch on a Bryce Harper line drive.
Harrison Bader will make your jaw drop on a nightly basis! 👏 pic.twitter.com/npSkp0gIC2
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) August 16, 2018
Gomber got into a bases loaded jam later in the inning, but froze Michael Taylor to escape with the lead intact. The Cardinals would load the bases in the bottom of the fourth, but couldn’t add to their lead.
Harrison Bader dazzled the crowd again in the bottom of the fifth when the Cardinals had runners at the corners. On a wild pitch from Hellickson, Bader took off from third and scored on a head first slide underneath Hellickson covering the plate. It’s still weird to see the Cardinals suddenly be good at running the bases given how terrible Mike Matheny’s teams were on the basepaths, but if it means we get to see Bader unleash his speed like this, I’m not complaining.
Once Hellickson was pulled, Yadier Molina added to the Cardinals’ lead with an RBI single past the glove of Daniel Murphy at second to make it 3-0 Cardinals after five.
Gomber continued to roll through six innings, keeping the Nationals off the board and striking out six batters while allowing just three hits. He was lifted from the game with a high pitch count, but this was the second straight scoreless outing for the young lefty.
With guys like Bader and Matt Carpenter getting all of the attention since the managerial change, Kolten Wong’s performance has kind of flown under the radar. In the bottom of the sixth, Wong reached base on a two-out single, stole second, and Harrison Bader drove him in to make it 4-0 Cardinals heading into the seventh.
As fans of the Whitey Herzog Cardinals can tell you, a team that runs the bases well with aggression and hits consistently can be really fun to watch. And right now, this Cardinals team is fun as hell.
Matt Carpenter was removed from the game in the seventh after being hit by a pitch on the wrist. Hopefully it was just a precaution, but it can’t be overstated how big of a loss it would be if Carpenter had to go on the DL. All of St. Louis will be waiting on those X-Ray results. (UPDATE: X-Rays were negative. Phew.)
Daniel Poncedeleon pitched two scoreless innings out of the bullpen before giving up a leadoff home run to Daniel Murphy in the ninth inning. The Nationals would score once more on a sacrifice fly, but Bud Norris got the final three outs to secure a 4-2 Cardinals win.
The Cardinals, who are now a season-high 11 games over .500, remain a game out of a Wild Card spot. The Cards go for the sweep tomorrow with Luke Weaver on the mound, but…don’t count on them ever losing again at this rate. Maybe.