Halfway through the season, it seemed as if the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals were on similar paths, bobbing up and down near the .500 mark.
With Sunday’s 9-2 win, the Cardinals not only finished a three-game sweep of the Giants at Busch Stadium, but they tightened their grip on a Wild Card spot in the process. The Giants are simply playing out the string in the wake of multiple season-ending injuries.
San Francisco is playing out the string with veterans, while the Cardinals made moves to play their stellar young prospects, and those fresh faces — combined with a few shrewd moves in free agency — took center stage all weekend as St. Louis (87-69) won a pair of tight games before Sunday’s laugher.
The Cardinals freed up an outfield spot by trading Tommy Pham to the Tampa Bay Rays at the trade deadline, and doing so opened up opportunities for Yairo Munoz and Jose Martinez to play, and each of them two drove in a pair of runs on Sunday.
Munoz, a utility man acquired from the Oakland Athletics for Stephen Piscotty last December, drove in the game’s first run with a second-inning single and knocked one in as part of a five-run sixth.
Martinez, a gifted hitter who has struggled to find a spot defensively, added a two-run double in that sixth inning to stretch the lead to 6-0.
While the Cardinals did trade Pham and have gotten very little from Dexter Fowler, they do still have one major veteran bat in the lineup in Matt Carpenter, who hit his 36th homer of the year on Sunday — a two-run blast off Casey Kelly in the bottom of the eighth for the day’s final runs.
Carpenter entered the season with similar expectations to what the Giants had for Buster Posey, but whereas Posey hit just five homers and ended his season early to undergo hip surgery, Carpenter has been a massive power threat. He’s also become a cult hero in St. Louis because of his homemade salsa, an instant hit as he began a power surge in June and hasn’t slowed since.
Miles Mikolas, signed in the offseason after putting up impressive numbers in Japan, limited the Giants (72-84) to two runs in seven innings, as the Cardinals maintained a 1 1/2-game lead over the Colorado Rockies for the second NL Wild Card spot.
Mikolas, who picked up his 17th win to tie Max Scherzer and Jon Lester for the National League lead, helped out his own cause with an RBI single in the fourth. That was the second and final run allowed by Andrew Suarez, who lasted five innings and struck out five while walking just one, but the bullpen completely melted down in the sixth.
Ray Black walked Jedd Gyorko, allowed a single to Yadier Molina, and Harrison Bader bunted Gyorko home. Munoz followed with his second RBI single, and with Martinez’s two-run double off Pierce Johnson, the rout was officially on.
Brandon Crawford did spoil the shutout with a seventh-inning homer — a two-run blast off Mikolas for his 14th of the season — but it was the only offense the Giants would get. Over his seven innings, Mikolas struck out eight and allowed just two hits without issuing a walk, and only one of the two runs that came in on Crawford’s homer were earned.
With the loss, the Giants would be in line for the 12th overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, though they could finish anywhere between 10th and 14th, as they currently jostle for position with the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels. Last year, they turned the No. 2 overall pick into Joey Bart, who immediately became the organization’s top prospect, and finished his first professional season hitting .294 with 13 home runs, 14 doubles and a .613 slugging percentage.
San Francisco’s final week will be spent at home, where the club will have a chance to showcase its youngsters in a three-game set with the San Diego Padres before trying to spoil the Los Angeles Dodgers’ playoff hopes. The Dodgers currently hold a 1 1/2-game lead over the Rockies in the NL West.