It may have taken 35 innings to do so, but a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates left the St. Louis Cardinals with their best start in 70 years.
They were the kind of games that drive proponents of the designated hitter crazy: low-scoring, extra inning affairs that carried on for well more than three hours apiece.
But people who can appreciate tight, playoff-like pitchers duels were thrilled by the games which all concluded with as much drama possible: a game-ending score in the home team’s last at-bat.
The trio of walk-offs left the Cardinals with a 4-3 record this season in one-run games.
The Redbirds are 18-6 and 4.5 games ahead of the nearest competition in the National League Central Division.
As a Cardinals fan, it’s not just THAT the Cardinals have won well over two-thirds of their games. It’s how they’ve won them. After a shaky first week of the season in the field that saw the team lose two of its first three games and three of its first six, the club has really tightened up all aspects of its game.
Since that first week, the Redbirds are 15-3 and they’ve allowed an average of 2.4 runs per game while scoring 4.5.
On the downside, St. Louis continues to battle the injury bug, losing reliever Jordan Walden to inflammation of the biceps during the Pittsburgh series. Walden, who has an earned run average of 0.87 through 10 1/3 innings of work, has allowed seven hits while striking out 12 and walking four.
But the word is that the injury was more of a fatigue-related issue than a structural problem and Walden, who was doing a great job as the Cardinals set-up man, should be ready to go when his time on the 15-day disabled list expires.
The bright side is that the Birds have had a lot of success from the reinforcements they’ve called up from the minor leagues.
Mitch Harris has a 0.78 ERA in 5 2/3 innings of work. Sam Tuivailala gave up a home run in his first appearance Sunday. But he was able to settle after the solo shot to Pedro Alvarez, the third batter he faced. It was the only hit he allowed in two innings of work. Meanwhile, he struck out two while issuing no free passes. He threw 29 pitches, 22 of them strikes.
The Cardinals host the second place Chicago Cubs (13-10) starting Monday. They’re 1-1 against the Wee Bears so far this season, splitting a pair of games in Chicago during the opening series of the 2015 campaign. The middle game of that set was postponed because of weather -- despite the fact that it didn’t rain a drop during the time the contest was to be played.
Carlos Martinez (3-0, 1.73) will take on Travis Wood (2-1, 3.04) in the opening game of the series. Tyler Lyons will make his first appearance in the major leagues this season against Kyle Hendricks (0-1, 5.23) in the middle games and Lance Lynn (1-2, 3.07) will take on Jon Lester (1-2, 4.71) in the finale.