3 takeaways from Cards' series-opening loss

April 20th, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- The chances to complete a comeback were plentiful for the Cardinals, who followed an international jaunt to Mexico and another visit to Milwaukee with a return to Busch Stadium on Friday. But the Mets spoiled the homecoming by stranding the potential tying run at third base three times in the final two innings to hold on for a 5-4 victory over St. Louis in the series opener.

An evening that opened with some uncharacteristic defensive miscues by the Cards and an abbreviated outing from  was dripping with drama by its end. The Cardinals pecked away at New York’s lead with home runs by Jose Martinez and Lane Thomas, the latter of whom went deep in his first Major League at-bat. The missed opportunities around those, however, kept the club from adding to its five-game home winning streak.

Three at-bats with a runner on third base didn’t produce a run for the Cardinals in the fifth inning. They wasted another two such chances in the eighth, and they had Yadier Molina at the plate with runners on the corners in the ninth. His flyout closed that rally, as the Cards finished the night with 11 runners stranded and three hits in 12 chances with a runner in scoring position.

As the Cardinals seek to regroup for Saturday’s matinee, here are three takeaways from the first of nine straight games at Busch Stadium.

 is getting on base

Marcell Ozuna may be the one smashing home runs with regularity, but he’s not the only outfielder who has found an offensive groove.

Fowler’s recent run of success, even if a bit more under the radar, shouldn’t be overlooked. He reached base four times on Friday, drawing two walks and keying two late rallies with hits. It marked the fourth time during his eight-game hitting streak that Fowler has tallied multiple hits in a game.

“It’s timing,” manager Mike Shildt said. “He’s getting better with his timing. Probably pressing a little bit early, understandably. But now the game is coming to him a little bit more. Everything looks synced up with what he’s doing with his swing a little bit more, on both sides. He’s just taking good at-bats. He’s seeing the ball well. He’s getting balls in the strike zone, and putting good swings on them.”

Fowler, who is subbing in as the team’s starting center fielder, bumped his on-base percentage up to .400, second best on the club.

The starting pitching is still falling short

Now 19 games into the season, the Cardinals are still waiting for a starting pitcher to record a seventh-inning out. In fact, they’re only the third team since 1908 -- joining the 1995 Padres and 2018 Cubs -- to go this deep into a season without a starter going longer than six innings.

Wainwright gave up four runs (three earned) over three innings and became the third starter in four games to exit without covering at least four frames. His outing pushed the rotation’s ERA to 5.28, a mark that ranks 13th in the National League.

“It’s surprising, but it’s also baseball,” Wainwright said of the rotation’s uneven start. “I know just as soon as everybody starts writing articles about how the rotation needs to get revamped or whatnot, the rotation will carry the team for two or three months. I love the guys we have, but we do need to do a better job of going deeper into games, myself included.”

With the starters averaging 4.84 innings per appearance, the Cardinals continue to put too heavy a load on the bullpen. Six different relievers were called upon Friday.

“Clearly, we’ve talked about it, we’re going to need more than three, four innings out of our starters,” Shildt said. “That’s just not a sustainable model. And I completely expect that we’re going to get it.”

The defense had an off night

Consider Friday a mere blip for a club that has played steady defense over the first three weeks of the season. Paul DeJong’s second-inning error, which extended the frame with two outs, was his first of the season, as was a misplay by Martinez that allowed Robinson Cano to take an extra base later in the inning.

“We played good defense, and we played good defense later, so I don’t want to harp on it,” Shildt said. “But back-to-back plays that we’re not used to seeing.”

Not only had the Cardinals not committed multiple errors in a game until Friday, but they have ranked among the best defensive units in the game by several measures. The unit’s 12 Defensive Runs Saved was sixth best in the Majors entering the day, while its Defensive Efficiency Ratio of .714 ranked seventh.

Even after Friday’s pair of flubs, a team that committed a Major League-high 133 errors a year ago is on pace for only 85 this season.