Wong, Burnes lead Crew to crucial division W

August 18th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- Get used to this matchup. Tuesday’s 2-0 Brewers win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium marked the first of 13 games between these teams in the remaining six weeks of the regular season.

If the Brewers want to bury their rivals’ hopes of a late-season run, this is their chance. If the Cardinals want to turn the National League Central into a three-team race with the Reds, this is their chance. Whatever happens, Kolten Wong, the longtime Cardinal who is in the first season of a two-year deal with the Brewers, had no doubt that his former team would find a way to make these games meaningful.

“Being here for seven years, that’s all I’ve ever known,” Wong said. “No matter how far we were out, I knew there was an opportunity to come back. Seeing [the Cardinals] playing the way they’re playing right now, it’s a scary situation because you know how good they can be.

“But we’re confident in who we are. We know how good this [Brewers] team is, and our pitching staff. We’re ready to go in and compete and really put our stamp on things.”

Wong and the Brewers are a much different team today than when these teams last met in May, and they stamped out a six-game Cardinals winning streak by taking Tuesday’s series opener behind Wong’s three hits and four times on base, and Corbin Burnes’ six shutout innings.

The Brewers are 26 games over .500 and have an 8 1/2-game lead over second-place Cincinnati -- season highs on both fronts. The Cardinals fell 11 games back in the division race.

“For them to get back in it, they’re going to have to win a lot of baseball games and that’s going to include beating us to get back in it,” Burnes said. “I think their path to the postseason is probably going to come through us.”

Both teams entered the week aiming to play October baseball. The Brewers are 20-8 since the All-Star break and own a Major League-best 41-20 record this season on the road, including wins in 16 of their last 18 games away from American Family Field.

As for the Cardinals, besides their six wins in a row, St. Louis came into the series winners of eight of nine games and 17 of 27 since the All-Star break, with Adam Wainwright having a banner season as he inches closer to his 40th birthday later this month. But the Brewers’ offense, fortified since May by trades for shortstop Willy Adames, first baseman Rowdy Tellez and switch-hitting Swiss Army knife Eduardo Escobar, put pressure on Wainwright throughout the early innings, scoring via RBI doubles from Wong in the second inning and Omar Narváez in the third.

That was enough for Burnes, who carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and lowered his ERA to 2.13, second among Major League qualifiers to the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler at 2.09. He faced trouble when Tommy Edman singled with one out in the sixth for the Cardinals’ first hit and Paul Goldschmidt followed with another single that put runners at the corners for St. Louis’ Nos. 3-4 hitters. Burnes escaped with his best Wainwright impersonation, getting Nolan Arenado and Tyler O’Neill to pop out on consecutive curveballs to keep the score at 2-0.

“My speed dial,” Burnes said, “is always that curveball.”

“They were curveballs that kind of backed-up a little bit, but he got two popups and got out of it and that was it, really,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who lifted Burnes after 89 pitches and used relievers Brad Boxberger, Devin Williams and Josh Hader (24th save) to finish Milwaukee’s Major League-leading 15th shutout victory.

Burnes didn’t have the same strikeout stuff -- he whiffed three Cardinals, a season low -- as he did six days earlier at Wrigley Field in a 15-strikeout masterpiece against the Cubs, but the result was the same.

In three starts in August, Burnes has allowed one earned run over 21 innings. He has allowed no more than one run in seven of his last eight starts and in 15 of his 21 starts this season. That’s the most starts in MLB this season of one or fewer runs, and one shy of Jhoulys Chacin’s franchise record from 2018.

“Every time he steps on the mound, you kind of have that confidence knowing it’s probably going to be a good day for us,” Wong said.

The Brewers have more pitchers like that to come in the series. Freddy Peralta is scheduled to carry a 2.26 ERA to the mound on Wednesday, followed by Brandon Woodruff at 2.18 on Thursday.

“They’ve got a great team, but they have amazing pitchers," Wainwright said. “These guys just throw up a lot of zeros, so we’re going to have to push a couple across these next couple of games if we want a couple of tough ones.”