Two weeks ago, this week’s series between the Cardinals and Brewers looked like it could be a playoff preview. On Sept. 2, the Cardinals had a two game lead on the Brewers and a four game lead on the Pirates.
With a month to go, the N.L. Central looked like it would go down to the wire with all three teams.
In the days since then, the Brewers are under .500 (5-7) while the Pirates and Cardinals have the best records in the National League, 8-3 and 8-4 respectively, creating some separation with Milwaukee.
Despite losing that ground, this was going to be a huge series for both teams. The Cardinals skipped John Lackey in the rotation, setting up their top three pitchers for the three most important games of the season, making this series a battle on the mound.
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Game 1: Wily Peralta vs. Lance Lynn
Game one had an inauspicious start for the Brewers. Peralta loaded the bases without recording an out. After walking in a run, he induced a double play and got a groundball to end the inning, limiting the damage to just two runs.
The Brewers plated their lone run off of Lance Lynn with a home run in the fourth inning off the bat of Gerardo Parra. The solo shot made it 2-1. The game would remain that way until the ninth inning.
Trevor Rosenthal came in to close out the win for the Cardinals but ran into trouble right away. He walked Jonathan Lucroy to lead off the inning, followed by a double by Aramis Ramirez to set the Brewers up to take the lead.
Rosenthal got a ground-out right back to him and walked Parra intentionally. Matt Clark hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game. He escaped the inning with limited damage, but the game went into extra innings.
The Cardinals managed just one base runner in extra innings and the Brewers plated the winning run off of Kevin Siegrist with a little ingenuity.
A walk and two stolen bases by Carlos Gomez set up Hector Gomez for a game-winning bloop single in the twelfth. The Cardinals went 11 innings without scoring a run, while the Brewers fought for their lives to win late.
Game 2: Mike Fiers vs. Adam Wainwright
Game two was even more well pitched than the first. Mike Fiers took a no-hitter into the sixth inning but Wainwright broke it up with a single up the middle. Fiers was throwing up zeroes with Waino was matching him inning for inning.
By the time the seventh inning rolled around the Brewers had six hits and nothing to show for it. The Cardinals had just one hit but their bats came to life in the bottom of the seventh.
After a one-out walk to Matt Holliday, Matt Adams came to the plate. Adams found the hole with a single when Carlos Gomez slipped in center field and Holiday was able to score all the way from first for the game’s first run.
Peralta doubled the lead with a single and Wainwright took care of the rest.
Waino went on to finished off his fifth complete game and third shutout of the season, putting any thoughts of a dead-arm into the rear-view mirror.
Game 3: Kyle Lohse vs. Shelby Miller
Miller and Lohse made the series three for three when it came to well pitched games. Miller carried a no-hitter into the fourth, but the Brewers were able to put together some hits in the fourth and fifth to plate a pair of runs.
Lohse stiffled the hapless Cardinals offense for seven innings. In the eighth they rallied with a lead-off single and a force out, to force Loshe from the game.
Jonathan Broxton came in and got a ground ball to Mark Reynolds, who thought there were already two outs and simply tagged the bag.
That play was followed by a walk to Matt Carpenter and a base hit from Jon Jay to score the Cardinals first run. Holliday followed with a chopping ground-out that would be overturned after a review. Then Matt Adams drew a bases loaded walk to tie the game.
The Cardinals and Brewers remained tied into the thirteenth, despite putting runners on base in nearly every inning. Bad bunting and poor situational hitting postponed the ending but finally the Cardinals struck for the finishing blow.
The Cardinals got two of the first three batters to reach base in the bottom of the inning. That brought up backup catcher Tony Cruz who hit a line-drive up the middle allowing Matt Adams to score, finishing off the game and the series.
The Cardinals were one good outing by Rosenthal from sweeping this series despite an anemic offense. The games went back and forth, ending up nearly even.
The Cardinals had seven runs compared to the Brewers’ five. Cardinal pitchers fanned 26 hitters while the Brewers staff piled up 21 Ks.
And yet, someone had to win this series. The Brewers probably needed the wins a little more, but the Cardinals still lost a game off their lead with the Pirates sweeping the Red Sox.
The Brewers now sit 3.5 games out of a playoff spot after leading the division for nearly the entire season.
This may be it for the Brewers but they will have a head to head shot at the Pirates this weekend.