photo: Harrison Bader (Brad Mills/Imagn)
Looking to become Major League Baseball’s champions for the third time in the 2000s, the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals leveraged strong pitching and solid defense to 91 regular season wins. They clinched a Wild Card on September 23, but did not capture the Central Division title until Game 162.
The Braves held a 4-2 edge over the Cards in the regular season, but that did not matter. After St. Louis nullified the home field advantage in a split of the first two contests in Atlanta, the Braves came back with a Game 3 win in St. Louis. However, the Cards won two straight elimination games, dominating in Game 5 on the road to take the series, three games to two.
The Cardinals fell far short in their Championship Series appearance, bowing out of the post-season in four games straight to the Washington Nationals. St. Louis had home field advantage despite the Nats having won 95 games in the regular season since Washington was a Wild Card. The underdog Nationals had eliminated the 106-win Dodgers in the LDS after dispatching the Brewers in the Wild Card Game.
In Games 1 and 2, Cardinals pitching held the visitors to just five runs in total, however, St. Louis’ offense scored just one. Heading to the Nation’s Capital down 0-2, the Cards were dominated in Game 3 by Stephen Strasburg and dropped Game 4 as well.
The NLDS roster
In the traditional 2-2-1 format for the best-of-five Division Series. SunTrust Park was the site of the opening two tilts between St. Louis and Atlanta.
The Cardinals went with a typical roster of 13 position players and 12 pitchers in the series. Though they had spent most of the season in Memphis, pitchers Genesis Cabrera, Ryan Helsley and Daniel Ponce de Leon, along with outfielder Randy Arozarena made the squad.
Among the excluded were two pitchers who had been with St. Louis all season – John Gant and Michael Wacha. The latter was dealing with a mild shoulder strain while the former struggled in the second half after dominating before the break. Another left off the roster was outfielder Tyler O’Neill.
Second baseman Kolten Wong returned from a hamstring injury that caused him to miss the final 10 days of the regular season and he started every game.
The Cardinals pulled out a one-run victory in Game 1 with a late offensive surge. St. Louis scored its first run and tied the contest in the fifth inning when Harrison Bader came home on Dexter Fowler’s ground out.
In the eighth and ninth innings, the Cardinals offense put up six runs. Paul Goldschmidt hit a solo home run and Matt Carpenter added an RBI single in the eighth. In the ninth, doubles by Marcell Ozuna and Kolten Wong brought four runs home.
Starter Miles Mikolas pitched five innings and gave up one run on three hits. The right hander struck out two and walked two. In the sixth, Tyler Webb surrendered two runs, one earned, before Giovanny Gallegos finished the inning without further damage. John Brebbia, Andrew Miller, and Ryan Helsley combined for the next 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Carlos Martinez gave up three runs in 1 1/3 innings to finish the game and despite the rough performance, was awarded the win.
In Game 2 behind Mike Foltynewicz, the Braves shut out the visiting Cardinals to tie the series at 1-1. St. Louis’ offense managed just six hits, all singles.
Starter Jack Flaherty pitched seven innings and gave up three runs on eight hits, while fanning eight and walking one. Two of the three runs given up came in Flaherty’s final inning on Adam Duvall’s back-breaking pinch-hit home run. Tyler Webb tossed a scoreless eighth, but the offense was unable to come back.
The Cardinals suffered a heartbreaking loss in the final inning of Game 3 at Busch Stadium. Adam Wainwright pitched a gem, going 7 2/3 scoreless innings while allowing four hits, striking out eight and walking two. Andrew Miller got the last out of the eighth, escaping a bases-loaded jam created by Wainwright. The game was lost in the ninth inning when closer Carlos Martinez gave up three runs on three hits.
The Cardinals scored their lone run in the second inning. Marcell Ozuna doubled and came home on a sac fly by Matt Carpenter. St. Louis missed other chances but still took a 1-0 lead into the ninth.
In the first of two elimination games, the Cardinals eked out an extra inning, one run victory to force Game 5 in Atlanta. St. Louis scored twice in the first inning on Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna back-to-back solo home runs. After the Braves put one on the board in the third, the Cardinals responded in the fourth on Ozuna’s second solo home run.
The Braves took the lead with three in the fifth, but the resilient Redbirds knotted it up again on a single by Yadier Molina in the eighth. After the game headed into extra innings, Molina was again the hero. In the 10th, after Kolten Wong advanced following his ground rule double, Molina’s sac fly to left field brought him home for the walk off victory.
Starter Dakota Hudson went 4 2/3 innings and gave up four runs, one earned, on five hits. The bullpen was the star, as seven pitchers combined for 5 1/3 scoreless innings – Tyler Webb, Giovanny Gallegos, John Brebbia, Andrew Miller, Ryan Helsley, Carlos Martinez and winner Miles Mikolas.
Faced with another win or go home game – this time in Atlanta for Game 5, the Cardinals chose the former in the biggest way possible. The Redbirds came out swinging in the first inning and didn’t stop until 10 runs crossed the plate, sending Foltynewicz to an early shower.
The scoring went like this. Marcell Ozuna singled to plate Dexter Fowler. Matt Carpenter walked to score Goldschmidt. Tommy Edman doubled to bring in Ozuna and Yadier Molina. Jack Flaherty walked and Carpenter scored. Fowler doubled to plate Edman and Paul DeJong. Wong doubled to score Flaherty and Fowler. The 10th run, delivered by Wong, came home on a wild pitch as Ozuna struck out.
The Cardinals added one run in the second on DeJong’s double. In the third, Harrison Bader pinch hit for Carpenter and singled in a run, and DeJong did the same to make the score 13-0.
Winning pitcher Flaherty went six innings and gave up one run on four hits while fanning eight and walking one. Giovanny Gallegos, John Brebbia, and Genesis Cabrera each tossed a scoreless inning of relief.
First baseman Goldschmidt and left fielder Ozuna, the third and fourth hitters in manager Mike Shildt’s lineup, powered the Cardinals offense in the LDS. Both hit .429 (9-for-21) over the five contests, including two long balls each. They each had a .478 OBP, as well.
Goldschmidt hit four doubles to Ozuna’s three, but the outfielder scored five runs to the first baseman’s four. Goldy drew two free passes to the Big Bear’s one, but Marcell plated five vs. two for his teammate. Both of their OPS’s were out of this world, with Goldschmidt holding the slight 1.383 to 1.335 edge.
Molina batted just .143 in the series, but had arguably the biggest moments. His RBI single in the eighth inning of the first elimination contest, Game 4, enabled the Cards to tie. His sacrifice fly in the 10th plated Kolten Wong and capped the comeback that led them to Atlanta, where they crushed the Braves in record fashion in Game 5.
Wainwright certainly deserves prominent mention for his 7 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 3. The 38-year old was saddled with a no-decision when Carlos Martinez yielded three runs in the ninth to take the loss.
Ace Jack Flaherty was outdueled in Game 2, but had yielded just one score over six frames before a pinch-hit two-run home run from Adam Duvall in the seventh gave Atlanta its winning edge. Though the offense delivered a record-setting 10 runs in the first inning of Game 5, Flaherty kept his edge on the road, holding the Braves to a lone run over six innings in the clincher. The right-hander finished with 18 strikeouts in 13 innings and a 2.77 ERA.
Dexter Fowler went 2-for-22 (.091) and both Harrison Bader (2-for-10) and Matt Carpenter (1-for-5) batted .200 in the LDS.
Carlos Martinez was in the center of the action, with a win, a loss and a blown save. The closer was responsible for six earned runs in 3 1/3 innings.
The NLCS roster
The Cardinals made no personnel changes between rounds 1 and 2.
After scoring 13 runs in their prior contest, the Cards were blanked by the Nationals 2-0, and were nearly no-hit by Anibal Sanchez in the process. A pinch hit single by Jose Martinez in the eighth ended the no-hitter and was St. Louis’ only hit.
Starter Miles Mikolas pitched six innings and gave up one run on seven hits. Giovanny Gallegos surrendered a run in the seventh before Andrew Miller, John Brebbia, Ryan Helsley, Tyler Webb and Carlos Martinez yielded no runs the rest of the way.
The Cardinals managed to scratch one run across the plate, but that wasn’t nearly enough as St. Louis lost its second straight contest to Washington at Busch Stadium.
Again, the Cardinals were nearly no-hit, this time by Max Scherzer, until Paul Goldschmidt’s single in the seventh inning. Pinch hitter Jose Martinez drove in the Cardinals’ only run on a double in the eighth after Paul DeJong singled for one of the three Cardinal hits in the game.
Starter Adam Wainwright pitched very well, but received no run support. Wainwright tossed 7 1/3 innings and gave up three runs on three hits. Two of the three runs scored in the eighth. Andrew Miller and Ryan Helsley collected the final five outs.
The Series moved to Washington for Game 3, but the script was similar. The offense-deficient Cardinals once again were the losers, this time spanked by an 8-1 score.
St. Louis’ offense pushed its lone run across the plate in the seventh inning on a single by Paul DeJong, one of only seven hits against Nats starter Stephen Strasburg.
Starter Jack Flaherty pitched four innings and gave up four runs on five hits. Tyler Webb and John Brebbia yielded three more scores between them before Daniel Ponce de Leon was charged with the final Washington run.
The Cardinals entered Game 4 with a slightly different lineup, but even with Jose Martinez and Harrison Bader starting, the result was the same. St. Louis lost 7-4, despite scoring more runs than in the previous three games combined.
After falling behind 7-0 in the first inning, the Cardinals got on the board in the fourth on a solo home run by Yadier Molina. Three more runs were added in the fifth inning. Tommy Edman grounded out to plate Bader. Martinez doubled to bring in Kolten Wong and Dexter Fowler.
Dakota Hudson didn’t have it. St. Louis’ starter lasted only 1/3 of an inning, giving up seven runs, four earned, on five hits. Adam Wainwright, Ryan Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos and Andrew Miller did not allow a run the rest of the way, but the damage was done.
What went wrong?
The lack of scoring was the predominant issue in the Cards’ poor showing, a weakness all season. Nationals pitchers completely shut down the offense, as the Cardinals plated only six runs in the four games. Their aggregate slash line was .130/.195/.179/.374.
Only Jose Martinez, who did not start every game, had an OPS above .800 during the NLCS. The next highest OPS was .702 by Yadier Molina. Middle of the order batters Marcell Ozuna and Paul Goldschmidt had OPSes of .438 and .125 respectively in the NLCS after leading the way in the Division Series win.
Two starting pitchers faltered. Dakota Hudson had a disastrous start in Game 4 after the letdown of Jack Flaherty yielding four runs in four innings in Game 3 (9.00 ERA). Miles Mikolas (1.50) and Adam Wainwright (3.00) were fine, as was the bullpen (2.76).
While the NLCS was a major disappointment, the 2019 season represented a successful turnaround for the Cardinals, with 91 wins, the division title and a place earned among MLB’s final four.
TCN’s Marilyn Green contributed to this article.
Link to master article with all 2019 award winners and team recaps for the entire system. This 50-article annual series is now concluded.
What is next?
Now that our recap of 2019 is in the books, starting on Monday will be our next series – the countdown of The Cardinal Nation’s Top 50 Prospects for 2020.
Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.
© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.