Home BaseballSt. Louis Cardinals The St. Louis Cardinals sweep of the Chicago Cubs was not only memorable, but was statistically improbable

The St. Louis Cardinals sweep of the Chicago Cubs was not only memorable, but was statistically improbable

by Jeremy Bowen

This past weekend, the St. Louis Cardinals pulled off one of the most incredible and mesmerizing four game sweeps in the entire history of the organization. The Cardinals, then 85-67, found themselves with a two-game lead in the NL Central over the Milwaukee Brewers, and were heading into last Thursday night against the 82-70 Chicago Cubs, who were just one game behind the Brewers and three back from the Cards. Both sides knew the importance of the series and the outcome was likely going to decide postseason fates for both clubs. But the dust of the talk settled, and Thursday night came. Jack Flaherty took the mound for the Redbirds and the vaunted Kyle Hendricks was set to duel for the Cubs. Let the fun begin.

Former Cub Dexter Fowler got the scoring starting early, as he was able to hit in Tommy Edman but grounded into a double play in the process in the top of the 3rd. But that lead would not last long, as Anthony Rizzo, who was in his first game back from a sprained ankle injury, hit a solo homer in his return to tie things in the bottom half of the inning. As we reached near the halfway point of the ballgame, both pitchers were dueling. The game was still at a 1-1 tie until Harrison Bader came through for the Cards, as he knocked in Tommy Edman in on a single to center field in the top of the 5th.

The Cardinals offense would gain some momentum, because in the top of the following inning in the 6th with runners on first and second, Yadier Molina singled to left field. Paul Goldschmidt was the runner on second and given the fast speed that the ball reached LF Kyle Schwarber, Goldy would usually be held at third. But Schwarber partially kicked the ball and Goldschmidt was waved home. It was still a decent throw but Cubs Catcher Willson Contreras was unable to snag the throw and Goldschmidt scored to break the deadlock. But the Birds were not done there, as Harrison Bader came up big again, this time with a two out double that scored Paul DeJong and gave the Cardinals a 4-1 lead.

The Birds appeared destined for a win in the series opener, as Jack Flaherty tossed eight innings and only give up three hits, one run, and had eight strikeouts. Heading into the bottom of the 9th, ESPN had the Cardinals win probability at 95.2%. Cards reliever Carlos Martinez was then put on the bump for the 9th to try and close out the Cubs. Martinez walked the first batter, then gave up a single. Ben Zobrist then doubled which made it a 4-2 game and the noose was getting tighter for the Cardinals. Then Willson Contreras hit an infield singled which scored Kris Bryant to make it a one run game. With the tying run on third and potential game winning run on first, the Birds switched to Andrew Miller. But it was to no avail, as Jason Heyward would hit a grounder toward the left side of Tommy Edman where his only viable play was to throw the runner out at first, which meant the tying run scored. Miller would get the next batter to fly out which meant this one was headed for extras.

Dexter Fowler struck out to start the inning, and the win probability jumped to 53.7% in favor of the Cubs, the first time they were favored to win the game since the bottom of the 4th. But Matt Carpenter, who was in the MVP conversation last season and has struggled mightily this year following, was about to deliver one of the biggest moments of his career. On the first pitch on the at bat from Craig Kimbrel, Carpenter launched the ball to center field over the wall to put the Redbirds in front once again. Then in the bottom half of the inning, Giovanny Gallegos retired three straight Cubs hitters to end one of the craziest games of the season for the Cardinals. Onto game two.

St. Louis Cardinals on Twitter

Matt Carpenter ❤️s Wrigley! https://t.co/33Um2z6SyG

The second game of this series ultimately did not live up to the drama of the night before, but it nonetheless an intense one. The Cubs broke the scoreless deadlock first, as Kyle Schwarber scored on an error by Tommy Edman on a groundball hit by David Bote in the 2nd. Pitchers for both teams were holding one another in check, as Michael Wacha only allowed one run on five hits through four and Alec Mills allowed two hits and no runs through four and two thirds. We headed into the top of the sixth with the Cubs still leading 1-0, and Chicago was looking at a 72% win probability as the Cardinals could not get their bats going with just two hits through five innings. However, the Cardinals were about to break their silence. Pitcher David Phelps entered the game for the Cubs but struggled right away. Phelps walked Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna to start the inning, prompting Joe Maddon to put Steve Cishek into the game. However, that only would create more problems for the Cubs, as he walked the first batter he faced in Matt Carpenter. The bases were loaded with no outs for career Cub killer and future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina. Yadi does what he does best and delivered a single to center field scoring two runs to put the Birds up.

But the tension would only increase, as Cardinals reliever John Brebbia was faced with a bases loaded two outs situation in the bottom of the 7th with Cubs star Kris Bryant at the plate. With an 0-1 count, Brebbia delivered a pitch high in the middle of the strike zone that Bryant drove deep. But the ball only carried to the warning track just short of the wall and Marcell Ozuna was able to make the catch to end the inning.

Then in the 9th, Andrew Miller got the first out of the inning in Heyward, and Carlos Martinez was then brought in by Cardinals Manager Mike Shildt for matchup purposes. Martinez got Nico Hoerner to pop out in the infield and put the Cubs down to their last out. But with two outs, Martinez walked Tony Kemp and in the back of the minds of Cardinals fans every came the thought of “here we go again” considering what had happened the night before. But Martinez worked Ben Zobrist to a 2-2 count, and then delivered his next pitch. Zobrist hit a hard grounder to third that Paul Goldschmidt was able to knock down and field, the stepped on the bag to secure the Cardinals second win of the series. The Cardinals had earned at least a split in this crucial series, which had you asked most people, a split would have been considered a success considering the circumstances and the Cubs would not have been able to gain on the Cardinals in the division race. But no Cardinals fan, player, or coach had any idea what was in store for what would happen on Saturday at Wrigley Field.

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The first two games of this intense rivalry series had seen relatively good pitching on both sides except for a few slipups here and there. The case would be the opposite on Saturday, as neither Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson or Cubs starter Jose Quintana would make it passed the 4th inning, as Hudson was pulled after three and Quintana was out after three and a third. Paul Goldschmidt drove in the first run of the game early in the 1st on a groundout that brought Tommy Edman in. But that lead would not last more than 20 minutes, as the Cubs rallied for three runs in the bottom half of the inning behind two bases loaded walks and a Jason Heyward sac fly. The Cubs led 3-1 and their win probability after the 1st jumped up to 71.4%.

But Paul Goldschmidt cut the deficit in half in the top of the 3rd, as he hit a sac fly that scored pitcher Dakota Hudson. But it would be the following inning in the top of the 4th where Jose Quintana would run into trouble and ultimately be pulled. The inning started with a Yadier Molina single, and after Paul DeJong struck out, the Birds followed it with Matt Carpenter being hit by a pitch and Harrison Bader being walked. Dakota Hudson’s day would be done right there, as his spot in the lineup was up and the Cardinals could not waste such a glorious opportunity. Shildt sent Rangel Ravelo up to the plate to pinch hit, who was getting only his 34th plate appearance of the season. But on a low outside pitch on an 0-1 count, Ravelo drove the ball into center field, bringing in the tying run in Molina. Jose Quintana’s day had now come to an end. The Cubs brought in Danny Hultzen to face Dexter Fowler with one out and the bases still loaded. Hultzen worked Fowler down to a 1-2 count, but on the next pitch hung a ball inside thigh high for Fowler, who subsequently drove the ball into the outfield just over the head of the second baseman to bring in two runs and give the Redbirds a 5-3 lead.

With Hudson’s day done, the Cardinals brought in Dominic Leone in the bottom of the 4th as the Cardinals held a 5-3 lead. But Leone would only last four batters, as he gave up a leadoff walk to start things off. Then with one out and a runner on first, Ian Happ of the Cubs drilled a ball 443 feet over the center field wall to even the score at 5-5. Leone would then give up a single to Anthony Rizzo and Mike Shildt decided it was time for a change.

We had reached the 6th inning still at the 5-5 deadlock, and the Cardinals were retired one-two-three in the top half of the inning. Then with Ryan Helsley pitching for the Birds, the Cubs would regain the lead. Nico Hoerner would drive a fastball to left for a homer to put Chicago up 6-5 before Helsley got out of the inning unharmed other than the solo shot. The Cardinals would not stay down for long however, as all it took was two batters into the 7th to put them back on top. Paul Goldschmidt started the inning with a walk, which brought Marcell Ozuna to the plate. Ozuna fell down to 0-2 in the count. The next pitch he got was nearly at his ankles, yet Ozuna drove the ball to deep center. The ball carried and eventually landed in about the seventh row of seats in center field, a vastly 420-foot hit ball to put the Birds on top 7-6.

In what was already a roller coaster of a game, we were far from the antics being over Saturday evening. Giavanny Gallegos entered the game for the Birds in the bottom of the 7th, hoping to serve a couple good innings as the setup man for Carlos Martinez. The inning started off good, as Gallegos was able to strike out Kyle Schwarber. But the 2016 World Series MVP for the Cubs would come through clutch again, as Ben Zobrist hit a double to put himself in scoring position as the tying run. The outing went worse for Gallegos, as he was called for a balk on an 0-2 pitch that would have struck out Tony Kemp and given the Birds two outs. But instead, Zobrist was moved to third with one down and Kemp had another chance. The next pitch, Kemp ended up driving it just barely over the wall in center field, improbably putting the Cubs back up 8-7.

In the top of the 8th, the Cardinals were able to get runners on first and second with one out, thanks to a walk and HBP. Goldschmidt then flew out to left field that moved potential game tying run Dexter Fowler to third with two down. It came down to Ozuna again who just delivered big for the Birds in the prior inning. However, Ozuna would be struck out by Brad Wieck on six pitches, guaranteeing the Cubs the lead heading into the 9th. The 8-7 lead would hold for the Cubs going into the 9th, and their win probability spiked up to 86.3% to start off the 9th inning.

Notable closer Craig Kimbrel entered the game for the Cubs, hoping to close out the Cardinals and earn the Cubs their first win of the series, keeping their playoff hopes alive. Kimbrel had to face Yadier Molina, who had been on a tear already throughout the series, to start the inning. But after the first pitch of the inning was thrown, the save opportunity was blown. Yadi took the first pitch of the at bat 379 feet to left center over the wall to tie the game and got Cubs fans saying, “here we go again.” But the damage would not stop there, as Paul DeJong was up next. DeJong, who played college baseball just two hours away from Wrigley in Normal, IL at Illinois State University, would not be giving the fans in the former state he played in much to cheer about. On the first pitch of his at bat, DeJong drove a ball to left center and knew from the moment he hit it that it was gone. Four hundred and forty feet. Back to back jacks on consecutive pitches. The words uttered by the legendary Dan McLaughlin captured the pure emotion of the moment: “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

St. Louis Cardinals on Twitter

The two biggest home runs of the season! https://t.co/H6a2qEUnDT

With seven lead changes in the game and Cardinals holding a 9-8 lead three outs away from their third victory of the series, Carlos Martinez once again took the bump for the Redbirds. Martinez walked the first batter Bryant, but then retired Garcia, Zobrist, and Baez all in a row to hold on for the win. The Cardinals took the first three games of the series in Wrigley, and the trip to Chicago was already being deemed a success, no matter what the fourth game’s result on Sunday would be. Although, the Cardinals put themselves in a position where they could clinch a playoff spot with a win at Wrigley on Sunday.

The final game of the series yesterday on Sunday actually lacked excitement and drama for the most part, unlike the previous three outings. Miles Mikolas pitched seven and two thirds for the Cardinals and while he gave up eight hits, only surrendered two runs on a wild pitch in the 1st and a solo homer in the 6th. Yu Darvish of the Cubs was one upping Mikolas, as he had gone eight full innings and only given up one run which came at the hands of a Paul DeJong solo shot in the 3rd. Darvish was near the 100 pitch mark for the day, but Joe Maddon decided to leave Darvish in for the 9th to try and throw a complete game. It seemed like a good decision, as Darvish’s pitch count was not terrible considering he had reached the 9th and also given the fact how masterful he had been throughout the afternoon with 12 K’s, only four hits and one run given up heading into the final frame. The Cubs were looking at an 89% win probability heading into the 9th.

With the pitcher’s spot starting off the 9th inning for the Cardinals down 2-1, Jose Martinez was brought in to pinch hit for Tyler Webb. On a 1-0 pitch, Martinez drove the ball to deep center. Cubs CF Robert Almora Jr. played Martinez a little too shallow and had to get on his horse to try and catch the hard-hit ball. The ball reached near the warning track, and Almora leaped to try and catch the ball from an awkward angle, only for the ball to go off of his glove and land and the foot of the center field ivy wall. Martinez in his tall stature at 6’5” used his long strides to leg out a leadoff triple and put the tying run 90 feet away.

Mike Shildt put Tyler O’Neill in to pinch run for Martinez, just in case the speed was needed. Dexter Fowler stepped in with no outs, and hit a pop fly out to left center. Almora would make the catch and had a chance to redeem himself by gunning out O’Neill at home. However, Almora did not take a great hop step, as his throw was a one hopper to the plate and O’Neill scored the tying run with ease on the sac fly. Despite the game being tied, Yu Darvish was left in the game with one out and nobody on. Tommy Edman then singled into left field, putting the go-ahead run on board. Edman would then steal second while Paul Goldschmidt was up to bat, putting himself in scoring position. Goldschmidt then hit a double down the left field line, scoring Edman and rallying the Cardinals to a lead in the 9th once again.

Taking that 3-2 lead into the bottom of the 9th, the Cardinals put the game in the hands of Andrew Miller. He was able to get Zobrist to pop out to start the inning, then struck out Contreras on four pitches. Jason Heyward then singled off Miller to left center, giving the Cubs a slight glimmer of hope. But that is all it would be is a slight glimmer, as Miller retired Nico Hoerner with a pop out to center to end the game. The Cards had completed the four-game sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley and clinched a red October in the city of St. Louis. The Cardinals had bolstered their record up to 89-67, while the Cubs fell to 82-74. The four-game sweep pushed the Cubs back seven games in the NL Central, and four games out of a wildcard spot.

St. Louis Cardinals on Twitter

They. Just. Won’t. Go. Away https://t.co/PqoSx0WnJP

Not only was the four-game sweep unpredicted, at times it was statistically improbable and unprecedented. In that first game, the Cardinals relinquished a three-run lead in the final inning of the game and a win seemingly slipped through their grasp. The momentum had completely swung to the Cubs, especially with the win probability. But there was Matt Carpenter to save the day with a solo shot in the 10th. The next day, the Cardinals could not get anything going offensively and the Cubs had over a 70% chance to win the game. But one bases loaded single up the middle by Yadi changed everything and was all the Cardinals needed. The third game of the series was unarguably the craziest of them all. Seven total lead changes and the Cardinals were only given a 13.7% chance to win the game headed into the 9th down 8-7. Then one pitch to Yadi and one to DeJong was all it took to change the outcome of the game. Then finally, the final game yesterday, once again, could not get the offense going and only had an 11% chance to win heading into the 9th. Then came a leadoff triple, sac fly, single with a stolen base, and a double put St. Louis back on top.

In three of the four games in this series, the Cardinals either trailed or were tied going into the final inning of the game, with the only exception being the 2-1 win on Friday. The Cardinals also had a lower win probability in the 6th inning or later in each game of the series and had a lower win probability in the 9th inning of three of the four games. Yet, the Redbirds came away with wins in all of them. You could not write the endings of these games in a movie they seemed so unreal. But winning those kinds of games is what gets teams into October and into a lengthy postseason run. This four-game series was undoubtedly one of the most absurd, insane, and memorable regular season series’ in our lifetime. Not only did the Cardinals sweep the Cubs at home, they clinched a playoff spot on Wrigley Field and eliminated the Cubs from having a chance to win the NL Central. While they did not completely eliminate the Cubs from postseason contention, they made it awfully hard for them to get into a wildcard spot. The Cubs are currently four games behind the Brewers for the second wildcard spot, meaning the Brewers would have to go 1-5 and the Cubs go 6-0 over each teams’ last six games for the Cubs to get in. It is a great day to be a Cardinals fan.

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