Sweep would have provided St. Louis some needed momentum
By Mike Bauman
MILWAUKEE -- Ordinarily, winning two out of three on the road is a cause for rejoicing, or at least taking a relaxing deep breath.
But for the St. Louis Cardinals at Miller Park this week, winning two out of three from the Milwaukee Brewers was actually a small slump. After prevailing in the first two games of the series, the Cardinals lost Wednesday, 3-1.
Coming into Wednesday, the Cardinals had won 30 of the past 40 games at Miller Park. That may be a remarkable road record against any Major League team, but it is also better than two out of three.
And given the Cards' position at the one-third mark of this season, a sweep was needed here -- for momentum, for forward motion, for progress. They have substantial ground to make up. Two out of three against the Brewers, when the final game of the series is a loss, doesn't quite qualify.
The Cardinals also had some rotation momentum built up, with six straight outings from their starters that varied from solid to exceptionally good. That streak also came to an end Wednesday.
Jaime Garcia never gained total command of the strike zone and his performance was doubtless worse than his line indicated. He was charged with two runs over five innings, but the Brewers twice left the bases loaded. Garcia limited the damage, but you were left with the thought that against an offense with more force than Milwaukee's, this game would have been over by the time Garcia departed.
The villain of the piece, from the Cards' perspective, was an unlikely candidate for that role. Brewers starter Zach Davies entered the game with a 5.40 ERA, but he proceeded to pitch the game of his Major League life.
Davies shut out the Redbirds for eight innings, giving up just three singles, walking none and striking out nine. The eight innings and nine strikeouts were both career highs for him. Previously, Davies had led the league only in appearing to be about 14 years old. He is baby-faced, to say the least. Davies is also listed at 155 pounds, which appears to be a generous estimate.
But Wednesday, Davies had a changeup against which St. Louis could not make meaningful contact.
"He just made quality pitches," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "His changeup was a plus pitch today. He used his breaking ball to steal strikes early in the count. But it was about fastball location and chases outside the zone with the changeup.
"His stuff was good. His numbers might not show it, but he didn't make a whole lot of mistakes today. He wasn't giving up much in the zone and once again, that changeup was a very, very good pitch. He knew when to throw it on the plate and when to come short with it. He even threw it off the edges. He was locating it where he wanted to. When you're having that kind of day, you're going to make any lineup have a rough way to go."
The question occurs in a situation like this whether this is primarily a bad day for the hitters or an outstanding day for the pitcher. Matheny was clear on that.
"Sometimes, you've got to evaluate: 'Are they good pitches that we ought to be hitting? Or is this guy just not giving us much?'" the manager said. "This was the latter."
One way or another, the sweep did not materialize. The Cards believe that they should be considerably better than 28-26. Their reasons are not unreasonable.
Brandon Moss supplied the Cardinals' only run Wednesday with a pinch-hit ninth-inning homer. This was the Cards' 10th pinch-hit home run of the season, tying a franchise season record, on June 1. That is an indication of how deep this offense can be.
"I said that to [Jedd] Gyorko earlier," Moss said. "I was talking about the depth of the team, and I was talking about how surprising it is to me what our record is, only because I feel like this is by far the deepest team I've ever been on.
"We have a really good bullpen. We have a good starting staff. And our offense, one through eight and off the bench is really good. Right now, the record is what it is. But I think the depth of this team over a long season will show through. I think that's what is going to be the biggest thing for us."
It is still early enough in the season for the Cardinals to harbor these hopes and aspirations. But it all would have seemed more plausible after a sweep of the Brewers.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.