St. Louis Cardinals

Stellar pitching and solid defense matter little if Cardinals can’t get hits

Let me see if I can put this politely.

Nope.

The St. Louis Cardinals are in desperate straits as they contemplate Game 3 of the National League Championship Series Monday in Washington.

They haven’t led for so little as one inning in either of their two losses – a 2-0 defeat in Game 1 Friday and a 3-1 loss in Game 2 on Saturday. They didn’t get a hit until the eighth inning in the first game, and not until the seventh inning of Game 2.

All told: Eighteen innings played, one run scored, four hits.

“You can’t ignore the fact that we’ve been shut down for two games now,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We can’t make excuses.”

And now the task looms even larger, playing before a hostile crowd and facing the second of three (or is it four?) shutdown starters for the Nationals.

On the mound Monday: Stephen Strasburg (18-6, 3.32 ERA in 33 starts for the Nationals, facing St. Louis ace Jack Flaherty (11-8, 2.75 ERA in 33 starts).

Flaherty is 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA in the postseason, Strasburg 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA.

“Clearly, we’re going to fight for every game regardless of where we are,” Shildt said. “You’ve got to get to four (wins) somehow. Right now we’ve got to get to one.”

Except for the run drought, oddly enough, he said the team has played well.

“Obviously, being in an (0-2) spot is not ideal, but I still feel very strongly about our chances in this series, for a lot of reasons I don’t need to get into,” Shildt said.

“We’ve done everything we’ve wanted to do in this series but a big one, and that’s being able to put some at-bats together and score. Our pitching has been outstanding, our defense has been as good as always, our baserunning has been very opportunistic, we just haven’t had many opportunities.”

Bottom line: It won’t matter how Flaherty pitches if the Cardinals hitters don’t shake off the cobwebs. Just ask Mile Mikolas, who gave up one run in six innings in Game 1 and lost, and Adam Wainwright, who gave up three runs in 7 1/3 innings in Game 2 – and lost.

The Cardinals are hitting .132 (4-for-57) – no, that is not a typo – after a 1-for-28 showing in Game 1 and a 3-for-29 showing in Game 2.

Until their eighth-inning run Saturday, the Cardinals hadn’t scored a run since the third inning of Game 5 of the National League Division Series with Atlanta, a game they won 13-1 after scoring 10 runs in the first and then taking the rest of the day off.

Those quiet moments have continued the next two games, with Jose Martinez getting their sole single with two out in the eighth inning Friday.

Paul Goldschmidt singled to lead off the seventh on Saturday, only to be erased with a one-out double player grounder off the bat of Yadier Molina.

Paul DeJong singled with two out in the eighth, followed by ball misplayed by Nationals center fielder Michael A. Taylor into an RBI double by Martinez.

That let DeJong race home from first for the Cardinals’ only run in the series – they trailed for the final eight innings Friday and the last seven on Saturday – and that has been that.

That’s not nearly enough for Cardinals fans to hope a two-wins-in-three-games showing in Washington will get the series back to St. Louis for Game 6 next Friday.

The Redbird batters are hitting .207 in the postseason even with the 13-run first in Game 5 against Atlanta. Now, they have to deal with the likes of Strasburg Monday, Patrick Corbin (14-7, 3.25 ERA in 33 starts) on Tuesday, and Sanchez (11-8, 3.85 ERA in 30 starts) on Wednesday.

That’s the Sanchez who one-hit the Cardinals in 7 2/3 innings in Game 1, flummoxing the Redbirds and setting the tone for the series so far.

“When guys are pitching at that level … we’ve got to figure out a way to be that much better,” Shildt said. “It’s a challenge right now for us. We’ve got the guys in the clubhouse that are going to figure out what that looks like.

“But it gets down to getting good pitches to hit and putting a good swing on it.”

One option: Getting Martinez (two hits in two late-game at-bats) into the starting lineup, likely playing right field as Tommy Edman moves to third – or Shildt sticks with Matt Carpenter there.

Whoever plays afield, the Cardinals will line up behind Flaherty – 7-2 with an 0.91 ERA the second half of the season – and hope he can be better than Strasburg.

“We’re happy to have Jack going, we’re happy to go compete,” Shildt said. “This is a team where the word resilience has been used. … This series is far from over. We have a guy going that has really been the best guy going in baseball the second half, undisputed, going for us Monday.

“Like I said, I’m still very optimistic about this series.”

Joe Ostermeier, chairman of the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, has written about the Cardinals for the News-Democrat since 1985.
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