By stocking their lineup with patient hitters who know how to work the count and get a pitch they can yank over the fence, the Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year streak without a World Series title in 2016.
If St. Louis’ 4-3 win over Chicago on Sunday night is any indication, the Cardinals seem intent on taking a page from their National League Central rival’s playbook. They’ll try to borrow from that again in the second game of the series Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.
For at least one game, the signing of center fielder Dexter Fowler from the Cubs appears to have transformed St. Louis into the kind of team that will drive opposing pitchers batty. Chicago’s Jon Lester required 73 pitches to obtain nine outs and departed after five-plus innings, having thrown 102 pitches.
That averages out to just over 20 pitches per inning, a ratio that will knock many starters out early and enable the Cardinals to wade into bullpens earlier in games. As the Cubs demonstrated last fall, the ability to force a bullpen to cover four or more innings often spells the difference between ordering rings and watching opponents celebrate.
Had St. Louis done anything with runners in scoring position against Lester — it was 0-for-7 with six strikeouts, all in the first three innings — it probably wouldn’t have required Randal Grichuk’s walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.
“When you’re facing a high-level pitcher, they bring out a different arsenal when they get into trouble,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “Lester’s a guy who’s been there before and he knows how to make pitches.”
So does Jake Arrieta, the guy St. Louis will face Tuesday night. Arrieta has a history of success against the Cardinals, going 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 13 career starts. He limited opponents to an MLB-low .194 batting average last year.
Arrieta, who went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA in a good follow-up to his Cy Young Award season of 2015, capped his year with two World Series wins over Cleveland.
Adam Wainwright gets the call for St. Louis, hoping for a more consistent year than the one he had in 2016, when he was 13-9 with a 4.62 ERA. Wainwright is 13-8 in 40 career games against Chicago, although he was cuffed around to the tune of a 7.98 ERA in three starts last year.
Wainwright had quite a high bar set for him Sunday night by Carlos Martinez, who worked 7 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing six hits and fanning 10 without a walk in his first Opening Night start.
“It’s a big order when you get it for the first time,” Matheny said of Martinez. “But he doesn’t scare. His stuff was electric, and I think it can set a tone for the rest of the staff.”
Not that the Cubs seemed worried after Sunday night’s game. Music played softly in their clubhouse — it almost never happens after losses in every other clubhouse in baseball — and they seemed almost energized by erasing a 3-0 ninth-inning deficit on Willson Contreras’ three-run homer.
“I loved the way we battled,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Their guy was really good, but we came back. It was a wonderful game.”