Cards can't cash in chance at 5th straight W

April 10th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- As the Cardinals rattled off victories following a deflating end to the opening series in Cincinnati, they were opportunistic. They blasted off 11 runs in the first game but have surmounted five runs just twice since, winning four consecutive games entering Saturday’s 9-5 loss to the Brewers at Busch Stadium, nonetheless.

Game after game, the Cardinals found ways to win when they likely shouldn’t have -- a grittiness they hope can carry them throughout the season.

But on Saturday, they learned what can happen when the margins don’t lean their way. Carlos Martínez pitched well enough to keep his club in the game, but a rash of offensive opportunities were squandered: Paul DeJong striking out on three pitches to end the fifth with the bases loaded; Justin Williams, representing the tying run, being hit by a ball along the third-base line and called out to end the sixth; and Tyler O’Neill, pulling up lame when trying to beat out a double-play ball in the second.

St. Louis may hold a winning record through eight games (5-3), but they’re still looking to rewrite the consistent scoring woe that followed them into this past offseason. The lineup has gotten the hits when it needed them, but it also struck out 76 times in the first seven games of the year -- the club’s second-highest total in that span since 1901.

The Cardinals did indeed have chances to rattle off their fifth straight win on Saturday. But a few key moments came and went, emblematic of the offense’s touch-and-go nature through the early trials of this season:

Situation: Bases loaded, two outs in the fifth, 3-0 deficit
Batter: Paul DeJong
Result: Three-pitch strikeout

If there was ever a chance for DeJong to exorcise some of his early-season struggles, it was here -- with the bases loaded and two outs, just after the Brewers extended their lead to three.

DeJong, however, struck out on three consecutive pitches; only one caught the zone.

With three strikeouts on Saturday, DeJong is 0-for-20 with 11 punchouts since homering twice in the second game of the season. Hitting cleanup in every game this year, he’s been unable to cash in on the on-base prowess at the top of the order.

“[For the] first time tonight, I saw Paulie not see the ball as well,” said manager Mike Shildt. “It’s just one of those days you don’t see it as well. But his walk rate is high, he’s taking his walks. Probably just a tick off. … He’s been in our lineup for a long period of time and done well, been in an All-Star Game. We trust him. Paulie’s going to be fine.”

Situation: Runner on third, two outs in the sixth, 3-2 deficit
Batter: Tommy Edman
Result: Base hit, but runner out upon being struck by the batted ball

Outside of Austin Dean’s three-run blast when the game was out of reach, Williams had the other big Cardinals swing on Saturday, sneaking a ball under the glove of first baseman Keston Hiura to score two in the sixth inning, thus standing at third base as the tying run.

Good things happen with the ball in play ... but so can some wonky things.

The next at-bat, Edman lined a ball up the third-base line. Williams, standing just outside the line in foul territory, was struck by the liner. He appeared to land inside the field of play after being struck and was called out by home-plate umpire Alan Porter.

“We always teach the guys to get to the line but not on the line,” Shildt said, trying to shorten the path a batter has to take to the plate in the event of a wild pitch. Williams just happened to find a bit too much of said line, and the Brewers proceeded to break the game open.

Situation: Runners on second and third, no outs in the second, 1-0 deficit
Batter: Tyler O’Neill
Result: GIDP -- and an injury

There’s been plenty for O’Neill to forget about at the outset of this season, entering Saturday with a Major League-leading 14 strikeouts in 27 at-bats. He legged out a surefire groundout with the bases loaded to set up Thursday’s comeback. O’Neill had the chance to do something similar on Saturday.

This time, though, O’Neill was hampered from the get-go, tweaking his right groin while bolting out of the box and was unable to make it all the way down the line to first base. The Cardinals are awaiting results from imaging, and he is considered day to day. O’Neill struggled to find his footing out of the box this season, and the Cardinals' offense is now looking to do the same, potentially without him.