ST. LOUIS -- When the MLB Trade Deadline passed last week, the Cardinals made more headlines for who they didn’t get instead of who they did land. However, at that same time, manager Oliver Marmol insisted that it was more significant that the Cardinals added “the right guys” instead of focusing so much on their swing-and-miss pursuit of superstar slugger Juan Soto.
Two times through the rotation and left-handed pitchers José Quintana and Jordan Montgomery are making Marmol look right on the money with his “right guys” assessment of the Cardinals’ pitching haul at the Trade Deadline.
Montgomery extended Milwaukee’s misery against left-handed pitching by striking out eight over six innings -- including fanning Christian Yelich and Willy Adames in the fifth inning after two had reached -- in a 3-1 St. Louis victory Friday at Busch Stadium. In two outings since being acquired from the Yankees at the Trade Deadline, Montgomery has beaten his former team and beaten the team chasing St. Louis in the NL Central. In 11 innings over his first two wins as a Cardinal, Montgomery has yet to give up a run while surrendering just six hits.
“That was an impressive outing, for sure,” Marmol said of Montgomery’s work Friday. “He’s a guy who’s been there before on a big stage, which we knew about him coming in. That [performance in the fifth inning] is a perfect example of him knowing that if he just keeps his composure, he’ll be fine, and he did just that.”
Montgomery and Quintana are a combined 3-0 with four quality starts thus far for a Cardinals squad that vastly needed reliable starting pitching more than it did another slugger before the Deadline. They have helped the Cardinals win nine in a row at Busch Stadium and pull 1 1/2 games ahead of the Brewers in the NL Central after Friday’s win.
“Those guys have been really good, and they’re tough guys who want to do great things,” said Nolan Arenado, who hit his 25th home run to provide an insurance run in the sixth after Paul Goldschmidt hit his 28th home run in the first inning. “We’ve been on teams with guys who are nervous about taking the mound or don’t seem confident. Those guys [Montgomery and Quintana] know why they are here -- they’re here to help us win.”
There is also another significant reason why the Cardinals were eager to add a 6-foot-6 left-hander such as Montgomery and an 11-year veteran such as Quintana. While the Brewers are among the best teams in the league against right-handed pitching, they struggle mightily against lefties. They entered Friday 13th in the NL in batting average, OPS and RBIs and 14th in slugging against left-handed pitching.
So, not only did the Brewers surrender All-Star closer Josh Hader at the Deadline, they also saw their top rival go out and add two proven left-handed pitchers.
“We definitely noticed that they picked those guys up, and I mean, it wasn’t like they went and got somebody that was just a nobody; those guys are great pitchers,” Milwaukee’s Hunter Renfroe said. “I wouldn’t say struggle, but we do not hit lefties as well as righties. I think that's kind of out there, everybody knows that, but we have guys that can do it.”
The Brewers couldn’t do it on Friday against Montgomery, who masterfully mixed his fastball and his changeup to keep the Brewers off balance. Of the 18 outs he recorded, 12 came off his fastball. Of the 20 changeups he threw, 10 were swung at and six resulted in whiffs, according to Baseball Savant. Montgomery got the last batter he faced, Keston Hiura, to strike out on his 108th pitch of the night, and he punctuated the moment with an emotion-filled fist pump.
“That’s a good lineup, so I had to hammer the fastball in there. Yadi [Molina] called a great game, and the defense played great,” Montgomery said. “After walking Renfroe [in the sixth], I wanted to get after [Hiura] and get the job done. I was really happy about that.”
Montgomery said he’s been the right fit for the Cardinals because he’s been able to work with Molina, a 19-year veteran and a likely future Hall of Famer. He said the catcher restored his confidence in throwing his fastball inside to righties -- something he had abandoned in New York. He also learned another valuable lesson early on Friday.
“I shook [Molina] off on that bloop hit [to Victor Caratini to lead off the third inning] -- an 0-2 changeup that I threw where I wanted and [Caratini] got a bat on it,” Montgomery recalled. “After that, I was like, ‘I’m with you the rest of the night.’”