KANSAS CITY -- The road back to October will soon turn tougher for the Cardinals, whose schedule will see a sharp increase in the degree of difficulty once the club wraps up the I-70 Series.But the Cards are building momentum as they lead into those critical head-to-head matchups by snatching
KANSAS CITY -- The road back to October will soon turn tougher for the Cardinals, whose schedule will see a sharp increase in the degree of difficulty once the club wraps up the I-70 Series.
But the Cards are building momentum as they lead into those critical head-to-head matchups by snatching wins away from teams already buried in the standings. A nine-game, three-city swing that could have tripped the club up has instead proved fruitful as St. Louis secured yet another series win with Saturday night's 8-3 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
The Cardinals have reeled off four straight victories (one shy of their season high) during stops in Miami and Kansas City, in addition to five consecutive series wins for the first time since 2015. They are 8-2 in August, seven games above .500 and 3 1/2 games out of a National League Wild Card spot.
"We still have a lot left in the tank," said winning starter Jack Flaherty. "We still have a lot that we feel we can do and a lot that we feel we can prove."
With a double that put him in the company of Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, Yadier Molina sparked a succession of two-out, two-strike hits that put Royals starter Danny Duffy on the defensive early. After retiring the first two hitters on seven pitches, Duffy threw 30 more pitches before the third inning finally ended.
Five consecutive hits -- all in two-strike counts -- brought in four runs, which was all the cushion Flaherty needed in his seven-inning start.
"Effectively looking back on it, that's the game," interim manager Mike Shildt said. "You get to that point where you get two strikes and you relax and bear down more, and get into competition mode."
"We are ready for those situations, especially with two strikes," added Marcell Ozuna, who drove in a run with a triple. "We don't want to kill the rally and end the inning right away. We want to put the ball in play, see what happens and then drive them in."
Though the Cardinals' string of 20 straight scoreless innings pitched ended with Alcides Escobar's two-run homer, Flaherty fought past some early command issues to complete his fourth start of at least seven innings this year. He struck out nine and limited the Royals to three hits.
While the Royals lacked for baserunners, the Cardinals tacked on insurance with home runs from Harrison Bader and Jose Martinez. Martinez finished with three RBIs as he snapped a career-long 34-game homerless skid.
The Cardinals have now scored at least six runs in three consecutive games for just the second time this season. Sixteen of the 22 runs scored during that stretch have come with two out.
"There's never a free out," Bader said. "How those outs happen is separating our team now compared to earlier in the year. The more pitches you see, the more a pitcher has to work and the more locked in a hitter gets."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
With the Cardinals leading by two and Bader behind in the count, 1-2, against Duffy in the sixth, Bader tried to check his swing on a changeup well outside of the strike zone. Royals catcher Salvador Perez appealed to first-base umpire Adam Hamari, who ruled that Bader had held up. Three pitches later, Bader crushed a full-count slider into the Cardinals' bullpen for his eighth home run of the year. The blast set off Duffy, who was ejected from the game after verbalizing his frustrations.
"He missed the call," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "And that was for strike three. And ends up giving up -- after we had just cut the lead in half -- giving up another two-run homer ... so obviously the frustrations were very high at that point."
Bader begged to differ.
"One hundred percent," Bader insisted afterward. "He made the right call."
Molina's third-inning double was the 352nd of his career, tying him with Schoendienst for seventh place on the Cardinals' all-time list. Of those doubles, 348 have come as a catcher, which ranks fourth all time at the position behind Ivan Rodriguez (551), A.J. Pierzynski (394) and Jason Kendall (390).
With a seventh-inning walk, Matt Carpenter extended his on-base streak to 29 games -- the longest active streak in the Majors. Since July 8, Carpenter is batting .340/.458/.858 with 23 extra-base hits, 22 walks and 27 RBIs.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Martinez, who once won a Triple-A batting title in the Royals' farm system, reminded Kansas City of what it missed out on when he crushed a projected 418-foot home run in the ninth. It was Martinez's seventh home run this year to feature an exit velocity of at least 107 mph, according to Statcast™, and it improved his season average with runners on base to .342. Martinez has seven three-RBI games this year, tied with Molina for the team high.
HE SAID IT
"I'm a really present kind of guy. Obviously, they're there. But the reality is that how we play is going to affect everything that is in the standings. We prepare to play our game. We prepare to play our opponent. But we're really playing against ourselves." -- Shildt, when asked if he ever takes a peek at the National League standings
Cardinals right-hander Luke Weaver, who allowed three runs over seven innings against the Royals in May, will start the I-70 Series finale at 1:15 p.m. CT on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium. There's a chance, interim manager Mike Shildt said, that recent callup infielder Patrick Wisdom will make his first Major League start. Righty Jakob Junis will start for Kansas City.
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.