First, Ian Happ cleared the Cardinal bullpen. Then, Kris Bryant cleared the Cub bullpen. And finally, Kyle Schwarber delivered the knockout blow, a 465-foot moonshot that went over Freese’s Lawn, landing on the strip of concrete above the grassy knoll beyond straight-away center field.
Friday at Busch Stadium was a home run derby, and Michael Wacha was serving ‘em up. The Cubs were a visit to Big Mac Land away from calling out B-I-N-G-O on the Cardinals starter, who saw his season ERA balloon from 2.47 to 3.12 in one fell swoop.
“They were all elevated middle of the plate,” Wacha said. “I just got to do a better job of locating and getting it where it needs to go.”
Chicago tagged him for eight earned runs in the most forgettable game the Cardinals have had in some time, a 13-5 loss to the Northsiders. The familiar line often uttered by the team’s manager after embarrassing losses at home was heard again on this occasion.
“Just one of those days,” Mike Matheny said. This time he was referring specifically to Wacha, who gave up a home run each on his fastball, changeup, and curveball. The pitcher who seemed primed for possible All-Star consideration a few days ago just didn’t have his best stuff against the team the Cardinals most strongly prefer to beat.
“Just falling behind in counts,” Wacha said. “A lot of 1-0, 2-0, and just too many mistakes. They didn’t miss too many of them.”
After Wacha’s departure in the fifth, the Cubs continued to tack on against the St. Louis bullpen, ultimately burying the Cardinals in a game that featured many of the usual trademarks of ugly Cardinal losses in recent years. In addition to the bullpen giving up five runs, the defense made a couple errors, and a runner was picked off the bases.
Yeah, one of those nights.
“The bottom line is we lost and it wasn’t pretty,” Matheny said. “But it’s a matter of trying to conserve arms, trying to get a couple guys off their feet and figure out a way to have some individual things that are done well to build on and have some confidence to put us in a better spot tomorrow.”
Outside of Wacha’s bad night, there certainly were elements of the game from which the Cardinals could conceivably draw some of that enthusiasm. Marcell Ozuna and Matt Carpenter homered, as did Tommy Pham, for his first extra-base hit of the month. Matt Bowman struck out two in a scoreless inning of work in his first game back off the DL. Sure, there were some positives if you looked hard enough.
But it also seems like the Cardinals could benefit from heading home a little irritated, a little agitated. Joe Maddon went to his bullpen in the ninth inning of an eight-run game because John Brebbia happens to bat left-handed. He claimed it was an issue related to pitch counts, but a more amusing read of the event is that the manager of the Cubs took the time to troll the Cardinals as he pummeled them out of their own building in the opener of the weekend series between the rivals. Would you really put it past him?
As the Cubs nip the heels of the NL Central-leading Brewers, the Cardinals are in third place and headed in the wrong direction. Immediately after sputtering to a 4-5 record against a trio of last-place foes, they rolled over to their biggest rival.
As we can say for a couple more months, there’s still plenty of time. But it’s a troubling trend for a team that doesn’t like to publicly acknowledge troubling trends.