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Carpenter, Mikolas show what they're capable of

Cardinals will need sustained efforts from third baseman, hurler to contend
@LangoschMLB
June 18, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- They were supposed to be anchors -- Miles Mikolas for a rotation dotted with preseason questions and Matt Carpenter atop a lineup teeming with potential. But much like a club that has stumbled its way into mid-June, neither player has yet hit his stride. Monday served as

ST. LOUIS -- They were supposed to be anchors -- Miles Mikolas for a rotation dotted with preseason questions and Matt Carpenter atop a lineup teeming with potential. But much like a club that has stumbled its way into mid-June, neither player has yet hit his stride.

Monday served as a reminder of what’s possible when they do.

Before Dexter Fowler punctuated the win with a three-run, eighth-inning blast, Carpenter and Mikolas wrestled control of the game away from the Marlins to set up the 5-0 victory at Busch Stadium. Carpenter built the lead with a blast and a bunt, and Mikolas sailed through six innings to earn his first win in six weeks.

Box score

The victory, which opened a nine-game homestand, nudged the Cardinals three games above .500 for the first time in over a month. The club has won six of its last eight games and 11 of 17 to pull within three games of the division’s top spot.

“We’re playing better,” Carpenter said following his third three-hit game of the year. “We’re getting some good starting pitching. Bullpen has been great, and the offense is starting to find its groove. We have good hitters in here, and we’re looking for everybody to catch fire. Hopefully, that’s starting.”

Carpenter rallied an offense that otherwise had limited success against rookie starter Elieser Hernandez. He dented the scoreboard with a third-inning home run -- his 10th this season -- and extended the fifth by bunting against the shift.

That the Marlins positioned all four of their infielders on the right side of second base before Carpenter fell into a two-strike count seemed to be a misread by Miami’s advanced scouting work. Carpenter didn’t hesitate to take the bait.

“Any time that there is not somebody over there with less than two strikes, I bunt every single time,” he said. “I will always go for that hit.”

Carpenter ended up on second as Hernandez chased the ball into left field, and he scored an insurance run when Paul DeJong’s two-out flyball dropped between three Marlins defenders.

With a double that traveled 48 feet and a homer that sailed 394, according to Statcast, Carpenter finished with multiple extra-base hits in a game for the first time since March. It was a remarkable (and not in a favorable way) sort of drought for a player who entered the year with more extra-base hits than all but three other National League players since 2013.

“It is a little surprising,” acknowledged manager Mike Shildt. “But it’s hopeful for the next little bit because you know how he can get on a roll. Looking forward to that.”

The Cardinals hope for the same with Mikolas, whose search for 2018-like results has, like with Carpenter, been more cumbersome than desired.

The right-hander entered Monday having lost his last five decisions, which represented more losses than Mikolas had over 32 starts in his All-Star season a year ago. There have been signs that he was close -- Mikolas notched four seven-inning starts in May -- but also too many innings that ballooned on him.

That included one last week against the Marlins, who battered Mikolas for five runs on eight hits. He countered on Monday with one of his strongest performances of the year.

Mikolas didn’t walk a batter for the fourth time this season, and he scattered six hits while allowing the Marlins to advance only one runner into scoring position. His ability to get early strikes down in the zone allowed Mikolas to then elevate with more success.

“A lot of quality pitches,” Shildt said. “He had a good mix of all his pitches, commanded both sides of the plate. And he was imposing his will. He did a nice job tonight.”

In a rotation that is without a clear fourth and fifth starter, Mikolas will be crucial to stabilizing the unit. He’ll need to find better results on the road, where he has a 7.76 ERA, and cut down on the home runs allowed. Maintaining a high groundball rate will also be key.

Monday offered the blueprint for what can be when it all comes together.

“There’s a give-and-take,” Mikolas said after picking up his first win since May 6. “I’ve had a couple good stretches this year and a couple of bad stretches. Just finding that consistency to be able to adjust quickly when I need to [will be key].”

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.