By Mark Bowman and Nick Suss
MLB.com |@mlbbowman |
ATLANTA -- Finishing off the regular season on a high note, the Braves completed a three-game sweep of the Cardinals with a 2-0 victory in the second game of a doubleheader Sunday at Turner Field. Rookie starter Matt Wisler turned in a gem for the Braves, finishing one out shy of his first career complete game and shutout.
While the Braves' season is over, the Cardinals move on to the National League Division Series and will host the winner of Wednesday's NL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser between the Pirates and Cubs in Pittsburgh. Game 1 of the NLDS will be played Friday at Busch Stadium.
Michael Bourn led off the bottom of the first with a single. Two groundouts and an Adonis Garcia single later, Bourn counted as the Braves' first run. Six innings later, Bourn drove in Todd Cunningham for the team's second run. And in Game 162 of the 2015 season, that was all the Braves needed.
The Cardinals ended the regular season on a streak of 27 consecutive innings without scoring after Atlanta's pitching shut down the St. Louis bats for three games. The three-game series sweep was the first time the Cards were swept in a three-game set since July 26-28, 2013, at Turner Field.
"I saw some good at-bats from some of the guys, but overall, I don't care what lineup we put out there," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We've got to score some runs. It didn't happen today. We'll let it go and get ready now."
Though the Braves finished with Major League Baseball's third-worst record at the end of a rebuilding season, they saw their staff produce a 0.56 ERA as they won eight of their final nine home games.
"These young guys, you've got to be patient with them," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You keep running them out there. It's nice to go into the offseason knowing we have some guys that could really help us next year. Good for us. I feel good about going into the winter about our chances for next year."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Wisler's late surge: This marked the first time Wisler completed eight innings since he limited the Mets to one run in his June 19 Major League debut. More importantly, the outing extended the confidence he gained while producing a 2.33 ERA over five starts after his struggles led to a relief appearance Sept. 6. The rookie right-hander did not allow the Cardinals to advance a baserunner past first base until the ninth.
"They were aggressive today with this being their last game before the playoffs," said Wisler, who allowed just four hits, walked one and struck out three. "I just came out and tried to throw a lot of strikes. I had great defense behind me." More >
Iron Man: Because A.J. Pierzynski (bruised knee and ankle) and Christian Bethancourt (bruised left thumb) were ailing, Ryan Lavarnway was forced to catch all 18 innings of Sunday's doubleheader. The veteran backup didn't seem adversely affected as he recorded a pair of hits in the second game, including a seventh-inning single that helped Cunningham move into position to score on Bourn's single. But he seemed more excited about having been behind the plate for Wisler and Shelby Miller, who completed eight scoreless innings in the first game.
"It was fun, let's play another one," Lavarnway said with a smile. "Where else would I rather be, especially the way those guys threw the ball today?"
Cardinals offense falters again: Starting mostly bench players, St. Louis was able to muster just four hits and went three-up, three-down in seven different innings. What's worse, when the Cardinals started anything offensively, they worked themselves out of it, as two of the Cards' hits were immediately followed by double plays.
"We've got to be realistic with our regular guys getting just a couple of at-bats," Matheny said. "I'm trying to get the other guys some opportunities to showcase and give us a chance to win. They thrive on those opportunities. They just didn't get them."
Last chance: After eight less-than-stellar offensive innings, the Cardinals moved a man into scoring position for the first time in the ninth. With two outs in the inning, Brandon Moss stood on third and Tommy Pham on first with Randal Grichuk at the plate. The Braves spelled Wisler in favor of Edwin Jackson, who got behind Grichuk, but ended up striking out the outfielder for a season-ending save.
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This was the first time the Cardinals were shut out in all three games of three-game series since 1976. That series also came on the last weekend of the season and was also capped by a season-ending doubleheader.
With two on and two out in the fourth, Cunningham dribbled a ball toward Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams. Adams flipped to pitcher Lance Lynn covering the bag, who appeared to land his foot on first around the same time that Cunningham did. First-base umpire Brian O'Nora ruled the play out. Gonzalez challenged the play and upon review, the call on the field stood as the evidence was insufficient to change the ruling. The review lasted three minutes and two seconds.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: The Cardinals have four days off before their next game. St. Louis will return to action Friday at Busch Stadium for Game 1 of the National League Division Series against either the Pirates or the Cubs.