ST. LOUIS – For the second consecutive night, the Cardinals capitalized on a young Braves pitcher’s mistakes in one game-changing inning to take control of things without needing to hit a home run.
Friday it was two walks issued by Mike Foltynewicz in a four-run second inning. Saturday it was two batters hit by pitches from Braves starter Lucas Sims in a three-run fourth inning when the Cardinals broke open a previously tied game to take a three-run lead, then withstood Atlanta’s ninth-inning rally for a 6-5 win at sold-out Busch Stadium.
“It’s that one inning that’s hurting us,” said manager Brian Snitker, whose Braves have a five-game losing streak and a 6-18 record since getting to .500 on July 16, when they were 45-45. “We’ve just got to figure out a way to minimize damage in innings and stop bleeding, which is easier said than done.”
Sims said, “They took advantage of the mistakes. I didn’t execute as good as I could. It’s about winning, and I didn’t put us in a good position to do that.”
Freddie Freeman’s two-out, bases-loaded single in the ninth inning against Cardinals co-closer Trevor Rosenthal drove in two runs and got the Braves within a run before Nick Markakis struck out to end the game.
“That’s us,” said Freeman, who had his first three-hit game since April 29. “We don’t give up, but I feel like we have this conversation a lot more than the other side of it. We came close to turning it around but just came up a little short. Hopefully we can get back on the right side of things tomorrow.”
Brandon Phillips singled, homered and drew a ninth-inning walk to load the bases for the Braves, who are 0-5 against the Cardinals entering Sunday afternoon’s series finale.
Rookie Paul DeJong hit a team-high 17th home for the Cardinals, who have an eight-game winning streak and pulled even with the Cubs atop the National League Central standings with Saturday’s win and Chicago’s loss at Arizona.
“They’re living right, getting things to go the right way and they’re playing good baseball, so it’s a lot more fun over there,” Freeman said. “We haven’t been playing that great a baseball for a couple of weeks now, so we’re just looking for that one big key hit to come through and maybe that’ll get us going in the right way.”
Dansby Swanson started the ninth-inning rally with a single and Danny Santana reached on an error before Phillips worked a walk to fill the bases for Freeman, who singled to drive in two runs.
Rosenthal allowed just one run in 16 1/3 innings over his past 14 appearances before giving up two Saturday, both unearned due to the error by first baseman Matt Carpenter on a dropped throw on Santana’s would-be ground out. It was one of the few mistakes the Cardinals have made in the first two games of the series.
The Cardinals are 28-16 since June 25, second-most wins in the majors in that period behind the Dodgers (31 before Saturday).
In his third major league start, there were lessons to be learned for Sims (0-3), who was was charged with 10 hits, five runs (four earned) and one walk in 5 1/3 innings. That’s in addition to the two batters he hit with pitches in the fourth inning including Kolten Wong leading off.
He hit Wong with a first-pitch curveball, and hit Carpenter with a first-pitch curveball two runs and four batters later.
“That was a pretty bad mistake,” Sims said. “Conviction was there but the execution wasn’t. Tried to make a pitch do a little extra instead of just trusting it to do what it’s supposed to.”
The Braves did manage to stop one Cardinals streak by holding them to fewer than eight runs Saturday. The Cardinals had scored at least eight runs in each of their six games, the longest such scoring streak in wins in franchise history and the longest in the majors since the Braves themselves did it in six consecutive wins in July 2006.
Kurt Suzuki’s two-run single in the first inning staked Sims to a 2-0 lead before he threw a pitch. Phillips and Freeman had consecutive one-out singles and Markakis walked to load the bases for Suzuki, who singled to left to give the Braves a two-run lead before Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez (9-9) recorded his second out.
But Martinez retired nine of the next 10 batters and recorded 12 outs in a span of 13 batters before Phillips’ solo homer in the fifth inning, after the Cardinals had scored five unanswered runs to take a 5-2 lead.
Things came apart on Sims long enough in the fourth inning. Randal Grichuk followed the leadoff hit-by-pitch by hitting a double that set things up nicely for the fundamentally sound Cardinals, who got runs when the next two batters hit a ground-out and a single (by pitcher Martinez).
Carpenter was hit by a pitch before Tommy Pham’s RBI single pushed the lead to 5-2.
“They take advantage of everything that you don’t do right,” Snitker said. “You pay for every little mistake. It’s a hot team so you’ve got to make pitches, you’ve got to make plays, you’ve got to do everything right in order to beat a club like this right now.”
After giving up six hits in six innings in each of his first two starts, Sims was tagged for 10 hits without making it out of the sixth inning in his first road start. The five runs were also the most he’s allowed, though four earned runs matched what he surrendered in his previous start Sunday against the Marlins.
The Cardinals added a run in the seventh when DeJong homered off Jose Ramirez to start the inning.