The Cardinals entered the ninth inning on Friday evening in Atlanta down three runs and seeking to advance their first runner of the game to third base.
They did not succeed.
A sputtering offense wasted a strong start from Jack Flaherty as the Braves picked up a 3-0 victory to tie the National League Division Series at one game apiece in the best of five. The series resumes on Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium.
“You want to be in a position to be up 2-0, we leave 1-1,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’re always looking for the best-case scenario, but we’re going back home with breaking the serve, so to speak.”
If the Cardinals have broken serve, they’ve done it while struggling to strike the ball flush on the racket.
Fifteen of their 18 innings at-bats in the first two games ended without pushing a run across, and Friday’s game came and went without a single St. Louis hitter drawing a base on balls. Their only inning Friday with multiple hits was the ninth, and the only other inning with multiple base runners came in the second thanks to an Ozzie Albies fielding error. Atlanta starter Mike Foltynewicz breezed through seven innings with only 81 pitches, striking out seven.
“Gotta give (Foltynewicz) credit,” Shildt said. “The guy was around the plate a lot and he was around the edges of the plate and he was on and under the plate. Us not having the walks was really as much as how well he threw the ball as much as us being impatient.”
Second baseman Kolten Wong described Foltynewicz as “touching the box” with his pitches, referring to the outer edges of the strike zone which are less likely to draw hard contact.
“When you come against a guy who’s on, a good pitcher’s gonna beat a good hitter nine out of 10 times,” Wong said. “That’s one of those things. He was on today. He didn’t really make many mistakes down the middle.”
Wong was among the St. Louis hitters who seemed almost astonished by Foltynewicz’s pitch selection. Of his 81 offerings, only eight were recorded by MLB’s Statcast as a traditional four seam fastball. The Cardinals only made contact on one of those eight, as Tommy Edman hit a hard line drive to right field for an out as the second batter of the game.
Wong declared that he saw only one fastball in his four at bats against Foltynewicz. Center fielder Harrison Bader, who struck out in all three of his plate appearances, exclaimed that he saw none while venting significant frustrations in the clubhouse after the game.
Bader, who struggled to provide offense throughout September, is a likely candidate to see his playing time reduced as the series proceeds and the Cardinals seek out more consistent offense.
“We try not to live in too big of a silo,” Shildt said, “but we do recognize these games are silos and they have weight to them. We’re always looking to field our best total team. There’s a lot of factors in that.”
Matt Carpenter, who delivered a game-tying single while pinch hitting for Bader in the eighth inning of Thursday’s game, is on the upswing after a tough offensive season. He would an option to play third base, moving Edman to right field and Dexter Fowler to center.
“Harrison’s obviously capable offensively,” said Shildt. “Carp is in a really good spot as well offensively. It can’t be ignored, and it will be factored seriously in the lineup on Sunday.”
Wong, who was out of action for two weeks with a left hamstring strain, has hit seventh and sixth in the batting order in the first two games of this series. Prior to his injury, he was primarily sandwiched between Fowler and Goldschmidt in the second spot; he hit .309 with a .479 slugging percentage in 25 starts batting second this season.
Edman, hitting second in Wong’s stead, is 2-for-9 thus far in the postseason and could be a candidate to move down. Of Edman’s seven outs, none have been via strikeout, which could be beneficial to a Cardinals team struggling to make contact in the bottom half. Wong, Paul DeJong and Bader combined to go 0-for-10 with seven strikeouts and a double play on Friday from the sixth, seventh, and eighth spots respectively.
“When I’m down in the lineup it’s more about trying to figure out a way to create, try to drive runs in or put myself in a situation to score,” Wong explained. “You definitely want to see pitches, but you want to be aggressive. Usually in that position of the lineup you’re getting attacked with a lot of fastballs. They really didn’t do that today.”
The Redbirds did not adjust to the Braves’ adjustment and have connected only with a series split for their trouble. Atlanta will attempt to return serve, and it will be left to the Cardinals to hold the advantage they’ve earned.