After showing the offense they can generate this past weekend, the Cardinals quietly left Minnesota on Wednesday night with a 3-0 loss as the Twins swept the two-game series at Target Field.
St. Louis (2-3) never had a runner reach second base against left-hander Rich Hill and the Minnesota bullpen, managing only three hits and striking out nine times. There was a point when Twins pitchers retired 10 batters in a row, and after Yadier Molina's one-out single in the second inning, the Cardinals didn't have a hit until Dexter Fowler's leadoff hit in the eighth.
After Fowler's single, Matt Carpenter was in a 3-0 count against right-hander Tyler Clippard. However, Carpenter struck out swinging and Matt Wieters popped up to second base for a double play as Fowler ran with the pitch. The frame was over, an opportunity squandered.
“There is some frustration when you come in and you don’t put together as many consistent at-bats as you would like, and then once you do put them together, you don’t have a lot to show for it,” manager Mike Shildt said.
The Cardinals' offense couldn’t back Daniel Ponce de Leon’s first start of the season, a laborious but otherwise effective 3 2/3 innings in which the right-hander allowed three runs on two hits across 85 pitches. Ponce de Leon replaced an injured Miles Mikolas in the rotation, struck out eight and allowed only two hits, but wild fastball command, full counts and three walks lengthened his innings and led to an early departure.
“My good stuff was there. I was able to drop the curveball and cutters here and there,” Ponce de Leon said. “There was improvement there. I think I showed a good amount of stuff here to earn another start, definitely. Even though I didn’t get as deep today, all it is is just a bit more fastball command, and I can easily grab more innings.”
St. Louis' bullpen strung together 4 1/3 scoreless innings, and its pitching remains a strength, despite starters not reaching the end of the fourth inning the past two days and losing Mikolas to season-ending surgery.
Cardinals pitchers combined for 12 strikeouts. In the seventh, Andrew Miller allowed two soft grounders that found holes, and he exited with runners on the corners and one out. But Ryan Helsley -- who threw 1 2/3 hitless innings -- got out of the inning with no runs scored. Rookie Kodi Whitley also threw 1 2/3 hitless innings.
However, the spotlight is on St. Louis' offense this season, and the desire for a strong start in this 60-game regular season is real. The Cardinals are currently in third place in the National League Central, 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Cubs and a half-game behind the Brewers.
St. Louis got off to a 2-1 start with its series win over Pittsburgh, scoring 15 total runs with both small ball and power, lengthening the lineup depth that was touted in Summer Camp. However, Hill kept Cardinals hitters off-balance with his breaking ball for five innings, and Minnesota pitchers never faced more than four St. Louis batters in an inning.
Shildt cautioned against any knee-jerk reactions to the lack of offense in the series and directed any questions about roster changes -- including the possibility of bringing up top prospect Dylan Carlson -- to president of baseball operations John Mozeliak.
“You don’t want to overreact,” Shildt said. “Clearly, last couple days, not as consistent as we would like. The approach was there, just weren’t able to execute as much as we care for, but a lot of confidence in this group. I don’t expect a lot of wholesale changes.”
After a day off Thursday, the Cardinals have a three-game weekend series against the Brewers in Milwaukee, as they'll look to turn things around with Jack Flaherty on the mound for Friday's opener.
“I don’t feel like this group will necessarily press,” Shildt said. “I do feel like they care, and they’re going to have a tendency, when you care and prepare as well as this group does, to really say, ‘Hey, let’s go and press.’ I don’t necessarily feel that. It’s a group that will show up in Milwaukee and continue to prepare and take good at-bats and let the game come to us.”