PITTSBURGH -- While the path back to the postseason remains complicated and, based on current odds, unlikely, the Cardinals have asserted themselves as not done just yet by reeling off three consecutive series victories against contending clubs.After knocking off the Cubs and Rockies at home, the Cardinals took the rubber
PITTSBURGH -- While the path back to the postseason remains complicated and, based on current odds, unlikely, the Cardinals have asserted themselves as not done just yet by reeling off three consecutive series victories against contending clubs.
After knocking off the Cubs and Rockies at home, the Cardinals took the rubber game of a three-game set at PNC Park on Sunday, 2-1, behind another Matt Carpenter home run and stellar start by Jack Flaherty. Before this stretch, the Cardinals hadn't won consecutive series since the first week of May. This marks their first run of three straight series wins all year.
"It's a huge thing, not only for what it means, but for the confidence of this team," said Carpenter, who homered in all three games this series to extend his on-base streak to 24 games. "What we've got in this room right now is really a different team -- both visually, what you're seeing and the product we're putting on the field, and personnel wise. We have different guys here, and lately, it's been a good fit."
They haven't gained much ground in the National League Central, but the subtle surge has kept the Cards relevant in the NL Wild Card race, where they trail by four games.
The turnaround started the same day the Cardinals cleaned house in their bullpen with a series of eight roster moves. The club is 7-3 since that day, and contributions from that reworked 'pen are a large reason why. Even with a solo homer served up by Chasen Shreve on Sunday, Cardinals relievers have a 1.58 ERA over the past 10 games. That follows a 10-game stretch in which the bullpen's ERA was a staggering 7.93.
"Credit to the revamping of the bullpen and what that looks like. It's paying huge dividends," interim manager Mike Shildt said. "We talk about consistency and looking to get more consistency in all areas of the game, definitely the bullpen is turning into a strength of this club."
But before the bullpen closed out the team's 16th one-run victory, Flaherty got himself back on track with six scoreless innings. Twice he worked out of jams in which the Pirates advanced a runner to third with less than two out. He finished with at least seven strikeouts for the fourth straight start.
"That's the best game we've seen him pitch," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The slider played the best we've seen it, and that made everything else tougher to hit. The fastball was tougher to hit, but the slider played extremely well, especially to left-handed hitters."
Flaherty was facing Pirates starter Trevor Williams for the fourth time this season, and the two maintained a scoreless duel until Carpenter deposited a solo homer into the right-field seats in the fifth. With the home run, Carpenter briefly moved ahead of Nolan Arenado for the National League lead with 29. Hours later, Arenado also hit his 29th.
Jedd Gyorko's two-out single later in the inning scored what would become the game-winning run. Gyorko finished the series with six RBIs.
During their stay in Pittsburgh, the Cardinals put a runner on base in 25 of 27 innings and took 48 at-bats with a runner in scoring position.
"We're not done yet," Flaherty said. "To come in here and win two out of three and riding each other, we put together a lot of really good at-bats. All around, the team had a really good day."
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MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
With Flaherty out of the game, it took the Cardinals three relievers to get through the seventh with a lead still intact. Adam Frazier blasted his first career home run off of a lefty, and Mike Mayers allowed a pair of runners to reach with two out. Yairo Munoz's hustle to track down the two-out hit by Elias Diaz kept the Pirates from sending the potential tying run home. Shildt then turned to hard-throwing Jordan Hicks, who induced an inning-ending groundout. That was the first of seven straight batters Hicks and Bud Norris retired to seal the win.
"You have to give Munoz a ton of credit, because he goes and cuts that ball down the line, saves a run," said Shildt, who had just inserted Munoz as a defensive replacement that inning. "And Jordan comes in and does what he does."
Sunday's win was just the second time this season in which the Cardinals scored two or fewer runs and earned a victory.
HE SAID IT
"It's definitely not something I've ever thought about. It's just a crazy stretch. I really don't have much thought behind it other than I'm just trying to hit the ball hard. " -- Carpenter, on leading the league in home runs
"I saw him running around [earlier in the series], and I tried to get him and say, 'I'm tired of pitching against you, man. There's five other pitchers on the team that you could pitch against.' He's a good ballplayer. He's thrown really well for them. If I voted for Rookie of the Year, I'd vote for him. But I don't get a vote." -- Williams, on Flaherty
For the first time since being traded to St. Louis, Marcell Ozuna will return to Marlins Park as the Cardinals open a three-game series against Miami with a 6:10 p.m. CT game on Monday. Ozuna, who played five seasons with the Marlins, is a career .289/.340/.479 hitter at the ballpark. The pitching matchup for the series opener will pit Luke Weaver (6-9, 4.75 ERA) against Wei-Yin Chen (3-8, 5.86).
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.