Heading into the final week of the regular season the St. Louis Cardinals had the luxury of controlling their own playoff destiny. If they simply took care of their own business in these remaining six games, they wouldn’t have to worry about what anyone else did.
But after two devastating losses to the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday and Tuesday, the Cardinals no longer have that luxury, and entered tonight on the outside of the NL playoff picture (their playoff odds actually dropped by more than 40% after last night’s loss). Tonight’s 2-1 loss to the Brewers might have been the most frustrating loss of the three, and it certainly came at the worst possible time.
The Brewers grabbed a 1-0 lead in the third when Travis Shaw drove in Christian Yelich from third, but a strong throw out of right field from Jose Martinez got Jesus Aguilar out at third and helped limit the damage to just one run.
John Gant got the start for the Cardinals tonight and was shaky from the get-go, falling behind in counts and allowing lots of hard contact. Despite throwing 83 pitches in just over four innings of work, he only allowed the one run before getting lifted for a lefty-lefty matchup in the fifth.
Meanwhile, Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin steamrolled through the Cardinals offense early on, retiring the first nine batters he faced with just 29 pitches.
In the fourth, the Cardinals responded by loading the bases with one out for Jedd Gyorko, who tied the game on a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Matt Carpenter. Yadier Molina had a chance to give the Cardinals the lead in the next at-bat, but a diving stop from Mike Moustakas at third saved a run and ended the inning. 1-1 after four.
That lefty-lefty matchup in the top of the fifth inning I mentioned earlier was…Chasen Shreve against Christian Yelich. Shockingly, Shreve did not give up a home run, and the Cardinals decided to tempt fate again by using Dakota Hudson to try get out of a runners-on-base jam. That one actually did backfire, and the Brewers took a 2-1 lead on a Shaw RBI single.
With things getting tense as the game reached the bottom of the sixth, Jose Martinez hit a line drive off the glove of Ryan Braun in left field, and Paul DeJong followed that up with a hit-by-pitch to set up a key scoring opportunity for Marcell Ozuna. Instead, Ozuna lined right into a double play to keep the score 2-1 Milwaukee.
Chacin ended up throwing five innings with three strikeouts and just one hit allowed, and the Brewers’ bullpen didn’t change the Cardinals’ offensive misfortunes. Carlos Martinez made a relief appearance in the eighth and struck out the side to keep it a one-run game.
The game, and possibly the Cardinals’ season, were truly decided in the bottom of the eighth. After Matt Carpenter drew a hard-fought two-out walk against Josh Hader, Mike Shildt decided to have Adolis Garcia pinch run with Jose Martinez at the plate.
Martinez hit a slow chopper to third, but the throw across the diamond went past Aguilar at first. Garcia was running on the play, and was waved home by Jose Oquendo with what appeared to be a clear path to the game-tying run. But as he rounded third, Garcia stumbled, got up, and ran directly into the out at home. Inning over.
Milwaukee could not add to their lead in the ninth despite Christian Yelich walking for a fifth time in the game, and the Cardinals were retired in order in the bottom of the ninth. Ballgame, Brewers win 2-1 to clinch a playoff spot.
With the Rockies winning tonight, the 87-72 Cardinals are now 1.5 games out of a wild card spot heading into the final series of the regular season: a three-game set with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field beginning on Friday. Time will tell how many of those games carry any sort of weight for the Redbirds.