No St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff has performed this well in 47 years, and that’s why the team is pulling away in the NL Central.
A day after needing just two hits to extend their winning streak, the Cardinals look for Michael Wacha to continue his home success Sunday against the Atlanta Braves.
St. Louis (63-34) owns the best record in baseball, thanks largely to the pitchers’ combined 2.64 ERA – the team’s lowest since posting a 2.49 mark in 1968.
The staff has compiled a 2.00 ERA during a 7-1 stretch since the All-Star break as the Cardinals have increased their division lead on second-place Pittsburgh from 2 1/2 games to seven. Dominant pitching is why St. Louis has overcome the offense batting .212 with only 12 runs in the past four games.
The only hits Saturday were Kolten Wong’s double and Yadier Molina’s single, but the Cardinals extended their winning streak to five with a 1-0 win over Atlanta behind Carlos Martinez’s eight strong innings. Pinch-hitter Stephen Piscotty got his first career RBI on an eighth-inning sacrifice fly.
"It was just a cool moment and I’m just really glad it came through," said Piscotty, who is 2 for 9 in four games since being recalled from Triple-A Memphis.
St. Louis has won seven of eight at Busch Stadium, part of its major league-best 36-12 home record, and Wacha (11-3, 3.20 ERA) certainly has flourished there. He’s 11-2 with a 2.24 ERA in his past 19 home starts, including 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA over the last three.
The right-hander, though, has struggled on the road in his last two starts, surrendering 10 runs in 11 innings. Still, Wacha got the win in Tuesday’s 8-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox despite giving up five runs and two homers in five innings, his first start in 13 days due to the All-Star break.
"It really looked to (pitching coach Derek Lilliquist) and I that he was jumpy with his legs," manager Mike Matheny told MLB’s official website. "That’s something that happens when you get more rest than usual and your legs feel so strong."
Wacha, 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA in seven day games, has never started against the Braves but has thrown 2 2-3 scoreless innings in two relief appearances.
Freddie Freeman should face Wacha for the first time in his first start since June 17. Freeman flied out as a pinch-hitter Saturday, hours after he was unexpectedly activated from the disabled list.
"Hand doesn’t hurt at all," said Freeman, who missed 30 games with a wrist injury and was supposed to play a rehab game with Double-A Orlando.
Freeman is a .340 hitter in 14 games in St. Louis.
Atlanta (45-52) has dropped a season-high seven consecutive road games and 13 of 16.
Matt Wisler (4-1, 3.60) has a 5.17 ERA in three road starts and didn’t pitch particularly well at home Monday but beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving up four runs and eight hits in six innings of a 7-5 win.
"I feel like I belong here and I’m confident every time I pitch," said the rookie right-hander, who is 3-0 in his last four starts.
Reliever Steve Cishek could make his Cardinals debut after joining the team Saturday following his acquisition from Miami. The former Marlins closer, who has a 0.71 ERA in 13 appearances since a demotion to the minors, is thrilled to be joining the majors’ top team.
"I just remember telling my wife, if I would be traded to the Cardinals it would be the best possible situation," Cishek said. "It’s going to be sweet coming out here and every seat’s filled and the crowd’s just jumping. I’m beyond thrilled to be here."