The best teams in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals – a story that includes eleven World Series titles, second only to the New York Yankees – have been built around stars: Dizzy Dean, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson , Ozzie Smith and Albert Pujols. When the Cardinals missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season last season, it was the first time since 1999 that they did not have a big star. Matt Carpenter led the team with 4.9 WAR, in the first season the Cardinals had not had at least one 5.0 WAR player since 1994 and in the first strike-free season since 1990.
So the front office went off and the team got the star Paul Goldschmidt, who finished sixth at the 2018 MVP poll and had an average of 6.1
Wong did not start on Tuesday, but came off the bench and delivered two coups. In the seventh inning, he hit-hit and delivered an RBI double to give the Cardinals a 4-1 lead. In ninth, his RBI single extended the lead to 6-3. The other two biggest hits came from Yadier Molina: a homerun in the fifth and a go-go, a homerun in the seventh. The Brewers tried to make it interesting at the end of the ninth round when a single in the infield and a walk brought the draw against Carlos Martinez on the plate, but Dexter Fowler reached for the fence to finish the game with a sentence fashion:
Hernan Perez appears to have a triple home run, but Dexter Fowler jumps up to hook the Cardinals to a 6-3 win.  Was Wong the best cardinals player? His offensive stat line certainly fails with a .276 / .359 / .401 line and 31 extra base hits. Heck, 18 players have already struck 31 homers . Wong does all the things that are not necessarily in the boxing score. He has that respectable percentage of .359 on the base, so he does not chew the plate. He has played a terrific second base and with plus-14 saved defense runs all the second basemen of the league led (no one else is above plus -6) and should be a castle to win his first gold glove. He was also superb in terms of bases and stole 17 bases in 19 attempts.
Of course, the big point here is not that Wong is a kind of MVP candidate or anything. He is not. The point is that the Cardinals shot past the boy because they have a solid depth throughout the roster. The Cubs have Javier Baez and Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, but they stare at the Cardinals, even though they are in the power of the stars.
For the Cardinals there are two big keys lately. One of them was starter Jack Flaherty, who throws like the Cy Young candidate I thought was back in spring training. He's 4-1 over his last nine starts with a .80 ERA – that's five runs in 56⅓ innings since the batters only hit .144 / .221 / .222 against him. This looks a lot like Jake Arrieta's run in the second half of 2015 when he took the Cubs to the playoffs. Flaherty was probably too late to enter the NL Cy Young race (his season ERA is 3.32), but he is currently the hottest starter in baseball.
Then there's Bullpen, the secret ingredient of the team. The cards are the second largest card with a 3.64 Bullpen ERA (only Cleveland is better), and the relief team has not missed a stroke since Jordan Hicks fell due to an operation by Tommy John. Martinez is a 16-to-17-year-old when it comes to becoming safer (he has two more saves from earlier in the season as a setup player), and although he was sometimes bowed but not paused, he usually gets done the job. Manager Mike Shildt even used it on Tuesday like an old-fashioned firefighter to save five. Given the history of Martinez as a beginner, Shildt should consider doing so more often.
The type nobody talks about is Giovanny Gallegos, who was acquired last year in trade with Luke Voit – the one who repeatedly mentions everyone as a sort of monumental theft for the Yankees. Gallegos has given up a run on Tuesday, but he has an ERA of 2.07 with 80 rashes in 61 innings. He has a wipeout slider: hitters hit an anemic .133 with a strike rate of 43% against. Anyway, the playoff math has changed very fast. Prior to this 15-of-18 game, the Cardinals had a 29% chance of winning at FanGraphs and a 10.5% chance of winning. Now they are at 86% and 59.7% to win the division. Oh, and Flaherty starts Wednesday with the Cardinals making a round of brewing.
In other words, maybe the Cardinals do not need a star to win the NL Central.
Cubs open in Citi Field: Buster Olney and I briefly discussed this series in the podcast of Baseball Tonight at the beginning of the day, with Buster suggesting that this series has a little do-or-die feel has, if one of the teams is swept. I pointed out that the Mets had played very well at home all season until the Braves swept them over the weekend, while the Cubs' problems were well documented.
"By no means will the Mets be swept away in this series." I said. When Pete Alonso shook Citi Field fourth with his franchise record 42 home run and put the Mets 1-0 in the lead, it certainly seemed like the night of the Mets. Instead, Addison Russell and Baez beat Homer in the fifth and sixth inning ahead of Marcus Stroman. Baez also added an RBI double and jumped the field. Yu Darvish settled down after the home game of Alonso and threw eight fantastic innings on. By the way, Darvish over his last nine starts: 55⅓ IP, 41 H, 3 BB, 72 SO, 11 HR, 2.93 ERA.
Anyway, that's four missions in a row for the Mets, with the offense giving a score. One and two runs in three of these games. The good news: Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom start the next two games. I stick with my remark that the Mets are not swept.
Verlander crosses the Cy Young showdown … until he is ejected: Maybe Justin Verlander wanted to see only a few Americans open. With the Astro's 9-0 success in the sixth inning after losing to Charlie Morton, Verlander went on to score a four-goal shutout when he spoke out against panel referee Pat Hoberg. Verlander thought he had beaten Tommy Pham with a 2-2 fastball on the outside corner, and Pham doubled up on the next pitch referee Pat Hoberg and is ejected for the outbreak.
Verlander had only four strikeouts at that time, so his series of seven consecutive two-digit strike-out games would probably end anyway. Verlander could also have been one step ahead of team-mate Gerrit Cole in the Cy Young race, at least until Cole took the placings on Wednesday:
Verlander: 16-5, 2.69 ERA, 184 IP, 243 SO, 33 HR
Cole : 15-5, 2.75 ERA, 163 ⅔ IP, 238 SO, 24 HR
(Here's a reminder that Mike Minor is leading Verlander in the baseball reference war and Lance Lynn in the FanGraphs war, maybe more than two Pitcher Race, a closer examination may be appropriate.)
Do not Forget Lucas Giolito in this discussion: The Twins defeated Giolito and the White Sox 3-1, but the young right-handed player had another Superb Game that allowed two runs in six innings with nine Ks – these are the Twins, both runs were made via solo homers by Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Schoop, both in the second inning:
Here's a good note on Giolito's recent High-speed Olume of Swing-and-Misses:
Lucas Giolito's Last 4 Launches
11. – August 13, 20 swing strikes
August 16 – 11, 23 swing strikes
21st – 12th August, 24 swinging hits
27th – 9th August, 18 swinging strikes
– Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 28, 2019
Giolito is 14-7 with a 3.20 ERA, but started the fourth day under the AL starters in baseball reference WAR (behind Minor, Verlander and Lynn) and fourth in FanGraph's WAR (behind Lynn, Morton and Cole). Giolito had two bad games in July, and I was afraid that his first half might have been a coincidence, but he now had six starts in a row and eight in his last nine games. These concerns have been resolved.
Matchup of the Day: We're about to join Bryce Harper against Felipe Vazquez. The Pirates made the starting signal from ninth place and went with 5: 4 in the lead. Rather, the Phillies gave them the starting signal. Hector Neris made two passes but seemed to have come out of the inning with a double save – except that Rhys Hoskins dropped the ball from Jean Segura, the ball bounced off Home Plate and Adam Frazier from second base struck. An ugly, ugly run that the Phillies have given up.
At the end of the ninth, two outs, no one on, and Harper swings with all his ferocity to try to tie the score. Vazquez goes 99 (swing and miss), 101 (swing and miss), 100 (outside), Slider (outside), 101 (foul), 100 (foul) … and then falls into a turn:
– Pirates (@Pirates) August 28, 2019
I mean, that's just not fair. What a duel. Hard loss for the Phillies. (Oh, and Harper beats .179 / .319 / .354 with empty bases and .341 / .433 / .668 with runners.)