What a weekend. What a homestand. As good as it gets. Busch Stadium got a workout, with the packed ballpark rocking harder than it had in a long time. The Cardinals played their most inspiring baseball of the season, powered into first place, and left their fans exhausted and exhilarated.

This 6-0 takeover by the Cardinals had everything from comeback victories, comeback players, new pitchers, old pitchers, timely extra-base hits, and timely pitch-making when the home team needed outs.

The Cubs went down, three games in a row. The monumental Yankees came in and were toppled in three different styles of games.

Friday, there was a supercharged rally for two runs in the bottom of the eighth for a tense 4-3 win that gave the crowd a chance to exhale. The momentum was colored red.

This was followed by a taut 1-0 shutout victory in Saturday’s low-scoring game of suspense. By the end of the night, the Cardinals had done something unlikely if not impossible: blanked the larruping Yankee lineup for 13 consecutive scoreless innings – the final four frames on Friday, and all nine on Saturday.

After two white-knuckle thrillers in the first 48 hours of this confrontation, the brass knuckles were brought out on Sunday for a high-scoring brawl. In 4 hours and 25 minutes of punching and counter punching, the Cardinals outlasted the Bombers 12-9 for their seventh straight triumph.

Three of the Cardinals’ six wins on the homestand were staged on comebacks.

The offense in a word? RELENTLESS.

The Yankees have lost four straight, six out of seven and are 9-16 since July 9. But pay no mind to New York’s current state of mind. This team is loaded with talent and attitude, has won 70 games on the season, and will stomp you if you won’t stand up to them with everything you’ve got.

The Cardinals stood up and stood tall during three sweltering, suffocating days of competition. Only one team was left standing as the sun began to back off by late Sunday afternoon. The Cardinals celebrated on the field. The Yankees headed to the visitor’s clubhouse to cool down after being swept for the first time this season.

“Beating teams and putting up numbers like we all can shows we have a great squad here,” shortstop Paul DeJong told reporters after Sunday’s rumble. “We’re committed and we showed how willing we are to fight this series.”

The Cardinals (60-48) have won seven in a row, and eight of nine, and are 12-4 in their last 16 games. In about a week’s time they went from trailing first-place Milwaukee by four games to taking a two-game lead over the second-place Brewers. Just like that, the Cardinals altered the NL Central standings with a six-game flip that started last Sunday, July 31, and ended on Sunday, Aug. 8.

Whew.

This was one helluva week.

Let’s cover some ground …

TEN THINGS ON MY MIND

1. DeJong was an oversized figure in a big weekend, striking the Yankees for two doubles, a homer, three walks, six RBI and three runs scored over the three games. Paulie’s two-run double felled the Yankees on Friday, and he delivered the knockout punch late in Sunday’s game with a three-run homer that put the visitors away and topped his four-RBI day. Earlier, his smart-approach slide got under the attempted tag of the Yankee catcher to give the Cardinals an 8-6 lead in the fifth. DeJong was the man of many hours on Sunday … through nearly 4 and 1/2 hours of baseball.

Thriving for the Yankees this season, former Cardinal Matt Carpenter made his first return to St. Louis as an ex-Redbird and received uplifting ovations before his first at-bats in all three games. With all due respect to Carpenter, the most glorious and meaningful comeback of the weekend belonged to DeJong.

Manager Oli Marmol turned heads and generated plenty of murmurs when he decided to let DeJong hit in Friday’s pivotal eighth inning. Twitter went off. Rather than replace the right-handed swing of Paulie D for a LH pinch-hitter to match up vs. Yankee RH Clay Holmes, Marmol boldly stayed with the recharging DeJong.

As Derrick Goold adeptly noted, Marmol was going for damage in that situation. He went for DeJong’s power game rather than Brendan Donovan’s high walk rate and onbase skill. And Marmol wanted to do his part to grow DeJong’s confidence.

Yes, despite the fact that DeJong came into Friday’s game with a .140 average, .280 slug and a .506 OPS … and yes, despite the fact that DJ had walked and struck out twice in his first three plate appearances Friday against Yankee pitchers.

Marmol’s confidence emboldened DeJong, and the rookie manager’s gamble paid off with the cash-money double that created a frenzy inside Busch.

“Earlier in the year, I might have dreaded an opportunity like that,” DeJong told reporters late Friday night. “But now I’m thankful for an opportunity like that after everything that’s happened this year.”

The Cards are 7-1 since DeJong was plugged into the lineup after his three-month asylum at Triple A Memphis. Since reemerging from the lowest point of his career, DeJong has said hello y’all with three doubles, three homers, 10 RBI, six walks and five runs. His forceful resurgence includes a .720 slugging percentage and 1.095 OPS in 32 plate appearances.

Welcome back, Paulie.

2. Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery made impressive St. Louis debuts after coming over during the countdown to the trade deadline, and the two lefties immediately discovered the pleasures of pitching in front of the St. Louis defense.

Montgomery had a 73 percent ground-ball rate in his five shutout innings Saturday, staking the Cards to their 1-0 win over the team that traded him here. Quintana had a 54.5% groundball rate in the 7-2 win over the Cubs on Thursday night.

Combining the numbers from their first starts as Cardinals, “Q” and “Monty” pitched 11 innings, gave up one run, allowed three hits, walked three, and struck out eight. Only six of their 37 batters faced (16.2%) reached base.

3. John Mozeliak comes through. You can accuse me for overreacting to a short showcase of baseball — that’s fine with me — but it’s fair to point out the positivity of Mozeliak’s early trade-deadline returns. The Cardinals are 6-0 since he made the trades for Quintana and Montgomery, and 7-1 since the front office picked the right time to recall DeJong from Triple A Memphis.

In their push for a division title, the Cardinals added two above-average starters to the rotation and a power bat to lengthen the lineup. This is a time-honored cliche in baseball, but right now it applies: having a revitalized DeJong in place is like making a trade – but for your own player. Now we’ll see if he can keep it up.

As I pointed out late last week, Mozeliak and assistants were the only front-office group to add two established starting pitchers at the deadline. And they also put more starting-pitching innings into the rotation at the deadline than any team in the majors. Everyone who roots for the Cardinals can appreciate how Quintana and Montgomery jumped right in to make an immediate impact.

Moreover, the moves for Quintana-Montgomery made it possible for Oli Marmol to repurpose rookie starter Andre Pallante back into a relief role. The benefit of the transfer materialized right away on Friday night when Pallante took over for the predictably ineffective Dakota Hudson and held the Yankees scoreless over four vital innings of relief. The Cardinals wouldn’t have won that game 4-2 without Pallante’s valuable performance. And Pallante is still available to start if the manager and pitching coach pull the plug on Hudson.

Another twist from the trade deadline: the Cardinals pummeled Frankie Montas, who made his first start for the Yankees since coming over in the noise-making trade with Oakland. Montas was the second-most coveted starting pitcher on the trade market behind Luis Castillo. The Cardinals took a hard look – but were unwilling to hand their most promising pitching prospects to Oakland.

Mozeliak did something better: acquiring two good starting pitchers instead of one … and paying less in the trade exchange for two good starters – and reliever Chris Stratton – instead of overpaying for one good starter. It was a relatively low-cost way of rehabbing a rotation and turning his team’s anxiety into energy and confidence. Of course the Cardinals will have to do more than play brash baseball for a week. But this was a start.

The Cardinals were mean to Montas, strafing him for five hits and six earned runs in three innings. The most prominent blow was Nolan Arenado’s three-run homer in the second.

4. We already knew this, but Yadier Molina makes a huge difference behind the plate. The Cardinals went 5-0 in Yadi’s first week back as a starter after missing 46 days on the IL with knee pain. (He did appear in a sixth game last week, catching one inning in the first game of the doubleheader against the Cubs.)

With Molina in charge, the Cardinals allowed 2.8 runs in his five starts. But nine of the 14 runs that scored with Molina as the starters came in Sunday’s outbreak of offense by both teams. In Molina’s first four games as a starter since returning, the Cards yielded only five total runs – an average of 1.25 per contest. And he caught two shutouts in his first four starts and nailed two of the three runners that tried to steal a base on him.

For the season, Molina has a catcher ERA of 3.38, which ranks 7th among 37 MLB catchers that have been behind the plate for at least 1,500 plate appearances. The other three catchers used by the Cardinals this season have a combined catcher ERA of 4.18.

The brilliance of Molina’s pitcher-handling touch was on full display in the 9th inning of Saturday’s 1-0 win. He guided reliever Giovanny Gallegos through a three-hitter sequence of Aaron Judge, Josh Donaldson and Gleyber Torres. Gallegos was a little on the shaky side at first, falling behind 2-0 in the count to the dangerous Judge, then lapsing into a 3-0 hole against Donaldson.

This is where Molina’s leadership and pitch-calling mastery made a profound difference. The 40-year-old guardian walked to the mound during the Judge at-bat to give Gallegos an earful – and a pitch recommendation.

Gio proceeded to retire Judge on a routine fly ball to center, then befuddled Donaldson by ending the at-bat with consecutive fastballs including a called strike three. Pumped with confidence, Gallegos put Torres away on a three-pitch strikeout.

“That Donaldson at-bat was just special,” Arenado would say after the game. “That’s what he is. Yadi’s just different. He thinks of things in a way nobody else thinks of. He’s two steps ahead of everybody.”

5. The St. Louis pitching is trending favorably. During the team’s 9-1 streak, which began July 27, the Cardinals have an overall ERA of 2.73, which ranks third in MLB. And their starting-pitching ERA is 2.67 over that time.

Having said that, it was a difficult weekend for two of the three St. Louis starters. Montgomery did his job, but Hudson (Friday) and Adam Wainwright (Sunday) each lasted only four innings and labored on the way to giving up a combined 15 hits, six walks and nine earned runs. That’s a 10.12 ERA in their two starts combined.

All of which makes Mozeliak’s Quintana-Montgomery reinforcement even more important.

The St. Louis bullpen did its share to sweep the Yankees, pitching to a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings. Sure, the relievers were tagged for three runs in Sunday’s round of smash ball – Chris Stratton allowed two, and Ryan Helsley one – but the bullpen was essential in the team’s one-run wins on Friday and Saturday. In the first two games of the series Pallante, Jordan Hicks, Gallegos, Helsley, and Genesis Cabrera combined for nine scoreless innings, allowing only three hits. (But the five walks were too many.) The bullpen has a 2.67 ERA during the team’s current 9-1 streak.

6. The Cardinals frustrated the Yankees by flaunting their superb defense. There were several dazzling, demoralizing plays. My favorite was Arenado diving for a ball and throwing from his knees to retire Donaldson in Saturday’s fourth inning. This goes on anyone’s list of the top plays made by Arenado in 2022. He also turned a 5-4-3 double play in the first inning of that game to cool New York’s threat and settle Montgomery down. Right fielder Lars Nootbar made a fantastic catch in both the Friday and Saturday game – the latter all but certainly saving a run in the 8th inning to protect STL’s precious one-run lead.

In the three-game series Arenado (3B), Edman (2B) and DeJong (SS) combined for 20 assists and six putouts. Feed them ground balls, and these fellows know what to do: convert them into outs. This season the overall MLB batting average on ground balls is .234. But St. Louis opponents are hitting only .205 against the Cardinals on grounders this season. And the Cards lead the majors with 119 double plays on defense.

According to Fielding Bible, St. Louis ranks fourth in the majors and second in the NL with 46 defensive runs saved. And 42 of the 46 defensive runs saved have been credited to STL’s third base, shortstop and second base positions. Simply outstanding.

7. The Cardinals have two National League MVP candidates in Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. During the team’s current 7-0 zoom of a streak, the two most dangerous bats in the St. Louis arsenal continued to assert themselves.

In the seven games Arenado batted .400 with a 1.340 OPS. Goldschmidt batted .304 with a 1.086 OPS. Together the All-Star corner infielders used the seven games to combine for a .354 batting average, .466 onbase percentage, a .652 slug.

That’s not all. Goldschmidt and Arenado also teamed up for four doubles, five homers, 14 RBI, 10 walks and 13 runs and were a combined 5 for 12 with runners in scoring position.

Goldschmidt has been cast as the NL favorite in the early MVP discussion, but it’s a mistake to downplay Arenado’s chances. Through Sunday Arenado leads the NL with 5.8 WAR (FanGraphs version), with Goldschmidt a close second at 5.4 WAR. Goldschmidt is fine defensively this season but Arenado is saving all sorts of runs at third base – and defense matters in the WAR formula.

The Cardinals are fortunate to have these two pillars to lean on. And teammates owe it to them to do everything they’re capable of doing to win the NL Central. No passengers. Drivers only.

8. The Cardinals continue to win the home-run battle. There wasn’t much difference in the weekend series – the Cards had two homers, and the Yanks hit only one. (That total, one NY homer, was near the top of the most impressive aspects of the STL pitching performance.) The Cardinals have popped 26 homers in the last 16 games and have a 12-4 record to show for it.

I wouldn’t have wagered as little as one dollar on this proposition: the Yankees would come to the plate 118 times in three days at Busch Stadium and homer only one time. No chance of greatly subduing a team that leads the majors with an average of 1.71 homers per game. But the Yankees were tamed.

“They kept us in the ballpark other than DJ (LeMahieu’s homer) at the very end (Sunday), and that’s the difference,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

9. With the Yankees out of the way, the St. Louis schedule lightens up significantly. Starting Tuesday with their three-game trek to Colorado the Cardinals will play nine of the next 12 series – and 32 of the next 40 games – against teams that have a losing record.

As for the entire remaining schedule, the Cardinals have the easiest slate in the National League and the second-easiest calendar in the majors, playing teams that have a combined .457 winning percentage. Milwaukee has the 12th-most difficult schedule overall, and the sixth-hardest itinerary in the NL – facing opponents that have a combined .508 winning percentage.

The Brewers have lost seven of their last eight games and are 1-5 since trading closer Josh Hader to San Diego. The Crew will play 12 of their next 15 games against Tampa Bay (2), St. Louis (3), and the LA Dodgers (7.) The Brewers will also have three against the Cubs, but so far the Cubs have a 7-6 lead in the season series between the teams.

10. The quotes that sum it all up:

– Arenado: “We’re playing good baseball, complete baseball. The way we’re playing lately, we really weren’t able to do that the whole first half, but now we’re hitting, pitching and playing defense. I remember saying that we hadn’t put it all together yet, but in this homestand, we put it all together.”

– Arenado, on Sunday’s push for the win despite facing an early three-run deficit and multiple NYY rallies: “I feel like in the first half we would have [had] trouble rallying there. It’s just great to see us fighting and working at-bats against great pitchers over there.”

– DeJong, speaking about Sunday’s battle royale: “That was one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played here. It’s been so much fun since I’ve been back, and I’m enjoying every day here.”

– DeJong: “I’ve played every game since I’ve been back, and it kind of feels like my old self. Being able to go out there and know that I’m going to be in the lineup, there’s going to be some off days, of course, but I want to be in there. I want to play and I want to help this team win, especially down the stretch.”

After their 6-0 happiness on a memorable homestand, have the Cardinals turned their season around? It sure feels like it, but the reality warns us to wait. But that was some vibe at Busch Stadium this weekend, and it’s fun to ride the vibe for as long as it keeps going.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

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Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

 

 

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.