Last week, in preparation of the St. Louis Cardinals’ four-game series against the Chicago Cubs, I wrote that the Cardinals should destroy the Cubs. And while referring to a four-game set in which a team outscored its opponent by four total runs as “destroying” is probably a bit generous, the result was there–by wins and losses, the Cardinals destroyed the Cubs.
The Cardinals entered the weekend as prohibitive division favorites, but with such a large number of games remaining against the Cubs, nothing was decided. And now, despite the Milwaukee Brewers playing the Pittsburgh Pirates and therefore not losing any games because they are a Major League team and the Pirates are not, the Cardinals have clinched a spot in the 2019 postseason and have a 95.1% chance of winning the NL Central. The remaining 4.9% belongs to the Brewers. The Chicago Cubs still have a 2.2% chance of making the playoffs, but they have been officially eliminated from National League Central contention.
I assume that many of you reading this watched most, if not all, of the baseball games this weekend, but life gets in the way, so here is an assessment of just how the St. Louis Cardinals put the Chicago Cubs in the trash this weekend. By game Win Probability Added, per FanGraphs, these were the ten biggest plays to improve the Cardinals’ odds of winning games this weekend.
10. Saturday–4th inning, Dexter Fowler singled to center field. Matt Carpenter and Harrison Bader scored, Rangel Ravelo advanced to second base. Remember how when Dexter Fowler first returned to Wrigley Field in 2017 after the Cardinals signed him, the Cubs gave him a rousing ovation and then he immediately hit a home run? I wonder, at this point, how Cubs fans are feeling about Fowler. I assume most still like him, but there was also something about the reaction in 2017 that seemed a bit…performative? Look, I’m a Cardinals fan, I know a thing or two about going out of one’s way to try to look like the best fan possible. This whole thing got even worse in 2018, when Fowler had a lousy season and many Cardinals fans turned on him–while much of the reaction to Fowler’s struggles got uncomfortably toxic, it wasn’t as though Cubs fans would have the same love for Fowler if he’d laid an egg in a Cubs uniform. Anyway, Fowler’s having a much better 2019 than 2018 and he helped put the Cubs in the trash.
9. Friday–7th inning, Kris Bryant flied out to left. One of the funniest things on the internet for me over the last couple years is how quickly some factions of Chicago Cubs fans have turned on Kris Bryant. Here’s a recap: Kris Bryant was a #2 overall pick for the Cubs, and after the team transparently manipulated his service time so they could get another year of team control of him in 2015, he won the Rookie of the Year award. The next season, he was the National League MVP for a team that won the first World Series for the franchise in 108 years. Over the last five years, he has been one of the five best players in baseball by FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement. He isn’t Mike Trout and he isn’t quite Mookie Betts, but he’s extremely good. The point is that sports fans are all idiots (including all Cardinals fans, including you specifically) and we will never be happy. Though in this moment, where the most dangerous hitter in the Cubs lineup was retired with the bases loaded, I was quite happy.
8. Friday–6th inning, Yadier Molina singled to center field. Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna scored, Matt Carpenter advanced to second base. Some people think Yadier Molina should be a Hall of Famer because he’s a nine-time All-Star. Some people think Yadier Molina should be a Hall of Famer because he is arguably the greatest defensive catcher ever, and by FanGraphs’s measure, the second greatest defensive player ever, behind only Ozzie Smith. I say Yadier Molina should be a Hall of Famer because of that time he got booed at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati and started laughing and pointing to the name on the back of his jersey. He is an exquisite trollgod who cherishes how much his rivals hate him. And exacting pain on the Chicago Cubs adds to his legacy of this.
7. Friday–8th inning, Willson Contreras grounds into double play, Kyle Schwarber out at second. I’m not sure why this, the biggest play of the game on Friday, wasn’t able to get its own individual highlight on MLB.com, but complaining about this is the epitome of a first-world, twenty-first century problem. Fast-forward to 5:20 on the condensed game, you’ll enjoy yourself.
6. Sunday–9th inning, Paul Goldschmidt doubled to left, Tommy Edman scored. Goldschmidt is going to have an interesting first season in St. Louis in that it will simultaneously feel very underwhelming but also be a lot better than the quantity of complaints would make it seem. He’s going to, in all likelihood, wind up a three-ish win player with an above-average bat and solid defense. Maybe it’s not quite what the Cardinals expected upon trading for him, but it’s not nothing. And a few more hits like this and he’s going to build his legacy even more.
5. Sunday–9th inning, Jose Martinez tripled to center. Okay, triple might have been a bit generous, as the ball bounced off the glove of Cubs center fielder Albert Almora (in the defense of Almora, normally a very good defensive center fielder, it would’ve been a really tough play to make). But before Goldschmidt was able to give the Cardinals the lead, they needed to tie the game, and Martinez’s lead-off triple paved the way for a Dexter Fowler fly ball which scored pinch-runner Tyler O’Neill.
4. Saturday–7th inning, Marcell Ozuna home run, Paul Goldschmidt scored. Is there a single player on the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019 who more loves being on the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019 than Marcell Ozuna? Maybe, but I can’t really argue against Ozuna. One of these days, I’ll dive into the numbers on whether re-signing the soon-to-be free agent makes sense from a heartless baseball perspective, but for now I’m going to sit back and enjoy him and remember that, for the first time in his career, Marcell Ozuna is going to the playoffs.
3. Saturday–9th inning, Yadier Molina solo home run. Technically, Molina’s tied for second-biggest, but for the sake of storytelling, I’m relegating it to third. Remember when some people were claiming Matt Wieters should start at catcher over Yadier Molina? I’m not going to call out anyone specifically. You know who you are, and you must live with that shame.
2. Saturday–9th inning, Paul DeJong solo home run. And then, this happened on the very next pitch. This was a wonderful series for players who have been struggling as of late for the Cardinals. Marcell Ozuna had his moment. DeJong had his. Harrison Bader had two big RBI on Thursday. And, of course, the guy who had the biggest back-breaker of the series, but more on him in a bit. For now, let’s bask in the glow of Paul DeJong’s go-ahead dinger on Saturday.
1. Thusrday–10th inning, Matt Carpenter solo home run. It’s easy to forget this now, but Thursday was nearly a complete disaster. Not only did the Cardinals blow a three-run ninth-inning lead (Carlos Martinez recovered nicely over the next two days), but Kolten Wong suffered an injury that required Matt Carpenter to be put into the game in the first place. And while I believe history will be kinder to Matt Carpenter’s 2019 than we are today (his wRC+ of 96, although not good enough for a third baseman, is not nearly as disastrous as, say, Dexter Fowler’s in 2018), the emergence of Tommy Edman and continued excellence of Wong relegated Carpenter to the bench. This should be viewed as more of a positive reflection on Wong and Edman than a negative one on Carpenter, but it inevitably isn’t. And that’s why seeing Carpenter do this was so invigorating.
See you in October.
(Hat tip to Twitter’s @mojowo11 for creating/allowing me to use the image photo for this article)