Three takeaways from the Cardinals' series win in Oakland

April 18th, 2024

OAKLAND -- The Cardinals entered Wednesday's finale against the A's within reach of securing their first sweep of the season -- and their first in a three-game set since they swept the Marlins last July.

Instead, St. Louis fell to 0-6 in series finales this season as it dropped a 6-3 contest to Oakland. Overall, the Cardinals took two of three against the A's and went 3-3 on a road trip that began in Arizona.

"You want to win that one and sweep and go home and feel good about it into an off-day," manager Oliver Marmol said of Wednesday's loss. "Hit some balls hard; they got caught. Overall, just didn't produce enough offense to give ourselves a shot today."

With the Cardinals homeward bound to face the Brewers in their first divisional series of 2024, here are three takeaways from the series in Oakland.

Backstops at the center of the action
Both starting catcher Willson Contreras and backup Iván Herrera have been among the Cardinals' most productive hitters to open the year. They accounted for all three of the team's runs on Wednesday, as Contreras smacked an RBI double to start off the Cardinals, and Herrera followed two batters later with a two-run single in the fourth inning.

But Contreras later missed out on an opportunity to chip away at the A's lead once the Cardinals fell behind.

The 31-year-old backstop doubled again to lead off the top of the sixth with St. Louis trailing 5-3, and he moved over to third on a groundout. Then Herrera hit a grounder toward third base that was fielded by A's shortstop Nick Allen, who opted to get the out at first.

Contreras made a late break toward home plate but ultimately did not run on the play, and he and Masyn Winn -- who walked with two outs -- were stranded to end the inning.

"He looked at the third baseman, he was kind of in," Marmol said of Contreras, who has reached base in 23 consecutive games and hit safely in 11 straight -- both career highs. "He scooted back on the pitch, and he just locked up on the ground ball. … At that point, it was too late to go."

Three-run wonders
The missed opportunity in the sixth would have stung less if not for the state of the offense. The Cardinals plated three runs in each game of the series, and they have been held to three runs or fewer in 13 of their 19 games this season.

St. Louis faced a daunting opponent in Paul Blackburn, who entered Wednesday having not allowed a run through his first three starts (19 1/3 innings). Blackburn faltered in the fourth, giving up a three-spot -- but that was all.

"It's hard to continue to say it's a matter of time," Marmol said. "But when you're talking to guys and they're starting to feel closer and closer to where they want to get to, then you trust them and believe them because over time, they've been right."

The Cardinals hit into some bad luck, with five of their nine hard-hit balls (exit velocity of 95 mph or more) going for outs. But they went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position on Wednesday and 5-for-27 in the series overall.

"For the most part, we've been able to kind of scratch a couple of runs across the board by just finding ways to score," Marmol said. "That's what's allowed us to win some ballgames, and be on the right side of it and be in every game … because from just a pure production standpoint, we're not there yet."

Starters setting the tone
St. Louis has found ways to win tight games when it gets quality starting pitching. That was the case early in the series, when Sonny Gray went six scoreless innings on Monday, and Lance Lynn held the A's to two runs (one earned) in seven innings on Tuesday.

"You don't want to be the missing link," Lynn said of keeping the line moving.

But in Wednesday's finale, Steven Matz hit his first real stumble of the season and allowed five runs in five innings.

The Cardinals are 4-1 when they get a quality start, and four of those five games were decided by three runs or fewer. With the offense struggling to produce, there is an even greater need for the team's pitching to keep games close.

"You always want to go out there and put up zeros as much as you can and be efficient," Matz said. "I think that's something I can be better at, just being efficient and going deeper in the game."