The offense that roared to life in Game 1 of Wednesday’s seven-inning doubleheader against the Cubs at Wrigley Field quieted in the Cardinals’ 4-2 loss in Game 2, but it’s safe to say that the Cards won’t be too upset flying home to St. Louis.
After a COVID-19 outbreak paused their schedule for 17 days and forced them to return this past weekend without one-third of their roster, the Cardinals played eight games in five days. They won four and lost four, including three of the five at Wrigley Field. They won Game 1, 9-3.
“You’re talking about unprecedented on a lot of levels,” manager Mike Shildt said. “In general and normal times, you’ll take playing .500 on the road. And we just did it in the most abnormal times that I hope I ever see.”
With 10 players on the COVID-19 injured list, the Cardinals spent the last five days maneuvering their roster. They saw 11 Major League debuts, including Game 2 starter Johan Oviedo, who tossed five innings and allowed two runs on two hits and two walks while striking out four. They’ve balanced trying to win games while making sure they have enough pitching depth to sustain those games, as well as building up pitchers’ arm strength on the job. The offense scored 34 runs across eight games after not seeing any live pitching for close to three weeks.
But perhaps more importantly, they are heading home in a consistent routine -- and they are back on the field.
“Legs are a little tired,” second baseman Kolten Wong said. “That’s about it. I think everyone is still pretty excited about the fact that we’re back out. Quarantine kind of made everybody go crazy a little bit. To finally be back out here doing what we love to do, it’s still fun right now. We’re going out and playing the game and having fun.”
The Cardinals rallied in the bottom of the sixth inning of Game 2 to tie the game, only to see the game come undone in the top of the seventh and final inning of the doubleheader. For the second time in this unusual series, the Cards batted last because the second game of the doubleheaders were makeups of postponed games at Busch Stadium. And for the second time, they were unable to take advantage of it after the Cubs scored two in the top of the seventh.
Still, the Cardinals had the tying run at the plate in Wong, who ended the game with an eight-pitch strikeout against Craig Kimbrel. Wong led off St. Louis' first game back on Saturday with an eight-pitch walk, setting the tone for a four-run first inning.
“Coming into it, expectations weren’t too high,” Wong said. “You take 18 days off and you don’t really see any live pitching, no BP or anything, it’s going to be tough. We all kind of stayed locked in, tried to do what we could do during this time. They’ve been good games. For us to come in and do what we did -- just happy with where we’re at right now, for sure.”
A .500 record on the road trip is nothing to be ashamed about nor overly excited about. What the Cardinals are excited about is what transpired over the last five days and how they can build upon it. They return to St. Louis with an 11-day, 12-game homestand, starting with the Reds on Thursday night. In that homestand, there will be only one doubleheader.
“This will be a little bit of a break, even though there’s no off-day in sight,” said Matt Carpenter, who hit a first-inning grand slam in Game 1. “Just to get back into a little normal schedule should help. ... Obviously you play to win, the record is important, but I think the optics of it was probably most important. Kind of see where we’re at.
“You look at a Chicago Cubs team -- who’s a good team, who leads our division, who had no time off -- and I feel like we’re right there with them. Let’s see what it looks like at the end of this month.”