LOS ANGELES -- A Cardinals offense yearning for a spark after being stymied over 13 innings in Tuesday's series opener got one from an unlikely source on Wednesday: the Dodgers.
Before the Cardinals' bats awoke, they were gifted a handful of baserunners to set up the sort of scoring opportunity missing one night earlier. Aided by Rich Hill's seven walks and a Dodgers defensive gaffe, the Cardinals backed Mike Leake's latest masterpiece with plenty of support to run off with a 6-1 victory.
Leake's eight-inning start extended the rotation's run of quality starts to 10. But only three of the previous nine had produced a win, and a lack of offense had been a big reason why.
The Cardinals showed a measured approach against Hill, who was making his second start since coming off the disabled list. According to Statcast™, of the 47 pitches Hill threw outside the strike zone, the Cardinals offered only at five. That helped them draw seven walks, including six in the first three innings.
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"Just good at-bats," Jedd Gyorko said after his three-hit night. "We made him work. Any time we can get the pitch count up and get early runs. It's huge getting to their bullpen. We had good at-bats, top to bottom right there."
Gyorko's leadoff walk in the second inning snapped the team's string of 68 consecutive plate appearances without a free pass. Kolten Wong ambushed a 2-0 fastball to plate two second-inning runs, and three innings later, the Cardinals scored three more with the assistance of three singles and Cody Bellinger's fielding error in left.
"Big hit by Kolten, but [Hill] pitched his way out of it, too, because there was more damage out there," manager Mike Matheny said. "[He] had a couple opportunities to put a little extra on and we didn't. Usually those come back and haunt us, but fortunately we were able to come back and add some more late."
A Cardinals team that pounded out 225 home runs a year ago is on pace for 166 this season. That has left them seeking a new identity -- and fresh ways to generate offense. Thus far, the Cardinals have had to do so, too, without great production from the top.
The Cardinals' leadoff hitter has a .305 on-base percentage and is hitless in his last 20 at-bats. The team's production out of the two-hole (.196/.230/.321 entering Wednesday) is among the worst in the league. In the third spot, Matt Carpenter has a strong OBP (.376) and OPS (.852), but his average, now .234 after a two-hit game on Wednesday, remains well below his career average (.281).
Some of that slack has been picked up by Yadier Molina, who extended his hitting streak to 13 games on Wednesday with a solo homer, and Gyorko, who has hit safely in 15 of his last 16 road games. Now, the Cardinals would like to deepen the lineup around them.
"As hitters, all that we can ask is for them to keep us in the game," Gyorko said. "We just have to come up and get those big hits. We haven't lately. We've been in every game, but things are going to change."