Scoring seven runs in a game is pretty good, especially in this offense-thirsty season. When those runs come against Adam Wainwright and his -- at the start of the evening -- 1.92 ERA, it’s something else.
The Cardinals and Brewers should be one of the summer’s best playoff races, and without reading too much into any one game, Milwaukee is showing signs of stirring after stumbling to a 9-16 record in July. After beating another of the game’s best pitchers, David Price, on Wednesday, they’ve started this pivotal series against St. Louis on the right foot. Whatever happens in the rest of the series, the Crew will at least retain the division lead. They are 7-3 over their last 10 games while the Cardinals have the inverse record, resulting in a few inches of much-needed breathing room for Milwaukee's best.
Wainwright’s rare off-night had him uncharacteristically hanging pitches and missing his spots, but he kept things from getting entirely out of hand through five shaky innings, allowing three runs to that point on an Aramis Ramirez solo homer and RBI double, and a Ryan Braun double following an odd balk call in the fifth. In addition to the balk, Wainwright was not helped by what appeared to be a very close, but probably incorrect call on the bases in the sixth that ruled Jean Segura safe at second.
Manager Mike Matheny was eventually tossed for telling off umpire Will Little, but by then Jonathan Lucroy had doubled in three more runs. (Whatever you think of instant replay, games like this, where it delays the actions and then quite possibly gets the call wrong anyway, understandably infuriate managers like nothing else – see Marlins skipper Mike Redmond’s Thursday night ejection). All seven runs would be charged to Wainwright, only the third time in 2014 that he’s allowed more than four earned runs in a game.
While Wainwright fought a losing battle, Wily Peralta put up a solid outing, at least after an alarming first inning in which he walked the bases loaded before popping up new Cardinal A.J. Pierzynski to end the threat. Peralta appears to have bounced back from his own rough patch in July, and going into Friday night he had struck out 96 and walked 36. By comparison, Wainwright, a Cy Young contender, had struck out 122 and walked 34. Milwaukee’s middle-of-the-pack rotation – Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza, Peralta and Jimmy Nelson – may not quite inspire terror in the hearts of opposing hitters, but with the Brewers' powerful offense, it’s been enough.
St. Louis just bolstered its rotation by trading pitcher Joe Kelly and lineup regular Allen Craig to Boston for John Lackey, and acquiring Justin Masterson from the Indians. The defending NL champions, the Cardinals were heavy favorites in the NL Central and returned most of their outstanding depth. Having lost starters Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia to the DL this season, they've needed it. This is the Cardinals, so it’s not surprising that they’re still very much in the picture despite the Brewers’ unexpectedly strong year. (Before the season started, Baseball Prospectus projected St. Louis to win 88 games and Milwaukee 80, and they were hardly alone or out on a limb there).
In a microcosm of their season so far, the Cardinals were tenacious to the end, chipping away until they got the lead down to 7-4 in the ninth inning. But Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez locked down the win, leaving the presumptive NL Central favorites three games back and tied with the Pirates at half a game out of the wild card spot. There are plenty of games left to make up that ground – and test out that famous Cardinals depth – but the Brewers can play the rest of this series with house money.