ST. LOUIS -- Through one lens, the Cardinals don't qualify as baseball's most all-or-nothing offense. Not even close. St. Louis scored 40 percent of its runs via the home run over the season's first two months, putting them in the middle of the pack in the sport's homer-happy landscape.But through
ST. LOUIS -- Through one lens, the Cardinals don't qualify as baseball's most all-or-nothing offense. Not even close. St. Louis scored 40 percent of its runs via the home run over the season's first two months, putting them in the middle of the pack in the sport's homer-happy landscape.
But through another, they've devolved into one of the Majors' most power-reliant teams. When they homer in a game, the Cardinals are the National League's second most successful club. When they don't, they morph into one of the NL's worst, at the mercy of an erratic offense that tends to either score in bunches or not very much at all. The latest example came Friday, when the Cardinals were blanked, 4-0, by the Pirates in front of a sellout crowd of 47,135 at Busch Stadium.
"This was one of those games where you'd think we held them down enough for us to make something happen," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "But their guy was really good, too."
One night after a dramatic three-run homer sent them to a walk-off win, the Cardinals mustered only three soft singles against Jameson Taillon, who twirled eight pristine innings. None left the infield, and not until Jose Martinez's ninth-inning double off Pirates reliever Edgar Santana did St. Louis manage an extra-base hit. The lack of offense made a hard-luck loser of Miles Mikolas, who allowed two runs (just one earned) in six solid innings.
The Cardinals are 27-12 when they go deep at least once in a game. They fell to 3-13 when they don't, averaging two runs per game in those losses. The Cardinals entered play with the sixth-best home-run-per-fly-ball rate in the Majors, and the fourth-best in the NL. They also ranked next to last in extra-base hits, and own the sixth-highest ground-ball rate.
"We played [Taillon's] game, and sometimes that is going to happen," Martinez said. "There are some pitchers out there who are not going to give up a lot of home runs, like him today. He was pitching low, he got a lot of ground balls. It's hard for us to get that pitch down and hit it out. When you try to go down to elevate, you have to pick the right pitch. He was making us change our angle of the bat, rush to the ball."
The result was 15 outs on the ground, including 14 against Taillon's sinker-slider combo. Meanwhile, Josh Bell opened the scoring for the Pirates with a sacrifice fly in the third, and Mikolas allowed consecutive triples to Adam Frazier and Francisco Cervelli in the fifth. Sam Tuivailala allowed two more runs in the eighth, setting up Mikolas' first loss in 11 starts.
"He pitched good enough to win today," Matheny said. "He's been a huge pickup for us."
Before he reinvented himself over three seasons in Japan and returned as a potential All-Star starter, Mikolas was a member of the Pirates -- briefly. Mikolas spent a month in the Pittsburgh organization after the Padres traded him during the 2013 offseason. The Pirates then shipped him to Texas, where he started 10 games in 2014 before leaving for Japan.
"He was a Pirate for a month. Unfortunately, we never got the ball to him or got him on the mound," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I did make two phone calls to him, though. I welcomed him to the club, then wished him well going away -- to a guy I never even met."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
A flying Bader: While regularly pushing his way into the Cardinals' starting lineup, Harrison Bader has also garnered a reputation as one of baseball's breakout defensive players. The 23-year-old added to his growing portfolio of highlight-reel plays in the second inning Friday, when he crashed into the left-center-field fence to rob Gregory Polanco of extra bases. Bader raced 119 feet in 6.2 seconds, hitting a top speed of 29.1 feet/second to make a 4-star catch, according to Statcast™.
"I had to run a long way for it, so credit to [Marcell Ozuna] for being another set of eyes for me out there. He told me the wall was there," Bader said. "It's a little funky spot, right next to the door. The fence area juts out a little. I think the most difficult thing is finding the wall and making sure you get enough room."
HE SAID IT
"If you had asked me in Spring Training if I'd be happy with being 6-1 in June, I'd have said, 'Yeah, I'd be happy with that.' Especially the way the team is playing. But when you have a couple big games against a division opponent, coming off a tough series in Milwaukee, this is a win I really, really wanted. If the loss came against someone not in our division, that would be cooler." -- Mikolas
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
On a night in which scoring chances were in short supply, the Cardinals gave one up early when Bader's slide into second was ruled a violation in the first inning. Trying to break up a double play, Bader slid past second base enough to affect Frazier's throw to first, which went wide and allowed Martinez to reach. Both runners were ruled out after a 1-minute, 31-second review.
"The slide was clean. He did everything except hold on to the base," Matheny said. "Once I saw the replay, I knew what they were going to call. If you're not hanging on the base, they're going to call it."
Luke Weaver (3-5, 4.63) starts for the Cardinals on Saturday as the four-game set vs. the Pirates continues at 1:15 p.m. CT. Weaver's inconsistent season had put him in jeopardy of losing his rotation spot before Alex Reyes was forced back to the disabled list following his season debut. Chad Kuhl (4-3, 3.94) is set to start for Pittsburgh.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.