MILWAUKEE — The Brewers and Cardinals met Monday tied for first place, then bid farewell after Thursday’s 6-4 Milwaukee win still tied for first place, not to meet again until August.
Tyrone Taylor hit a go-ahead three-run home run in the fourth inning and Willy Adames homered for the fourth time in seven games as the Brewers split the team’s four-game series and pulled back into a tie atop the National League Central at 40-32.
What lessons emerged from the past four days at American Family Field?
1) These teams are remarkably evenly matched
Beyond their identical records, the season series between the Cards and Brewers has been as even as it gets. The teams are 6-6 head to head with splits in each of the three four-game series. St. Louis scored 48 runs in those games; Milwaukee, 44. The hits narrowly favor the Cardinals, 91-88. The Brewers own the home run margin, 15-13.
“I’d like to play them every day,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “Honestly, I’d love to play them 100-whatever times. That’s a good team over there. I like the way the rosters match up. They’re a good team over there, they’re managed well, and they have good pieces.”
“That tells you how talented we both are,” Adames said. “They play hard. They have a really good team, and we are always battling with them. It was like that last year, too. Hopefully, we can take the division, though.”
Does he expect the race to come down to the end?
“That’s what it looks like,” Adames said. “We’re going to keep pushing, keep fighting and we’re going to try — not try, but we’re going to end up winning the division. That’s what we need, and that’s what we want.”
One of the storylines in this series was who didn’t play. Starters Steven Matz and Jordan Hicks, closer Alex Reyes, catcher Yadier Molina and outfielders Tyler O’Neill and Corey Dickerson are on the IL for the Cardinals, and starters Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Aaron Ashby, reliable reliever Trevor Gott and second baseman Kolten Wong for the Brewers. Those are all impact absences.
Other than Reyes and possibly Peralta, who are question marks with shoulder injuries, all of those players could be healthy when these teams meet again Aug. 12-14 in St. Louis.
2) Brewers hitters need to diversify
Manager Craig Counsell never complains about his team hitting home runs, but there’s something to be said for having an ability to score in other ways as well. In this four-game series, the Brewers scored 10 of their 14 runs via home runs and were 3-for-28 with runners in scoring position, including a Victor Caratini single on Thursday that didn’t produce a run because Andrew McCutchen was thrown out on an awkward play at home plate.
Fortunately, Taylor followed with a fly ball that carried into the Brewers’ bullpen for a three-run homer and a 5-3 lead.
“We need to be better. We need to be better at executing when we have men in scoring position,” Adames said. “Moving the runner over, we have to be better at that. We haven’t been doing a really good job, including myself, and we need to be way better.”
Taylor, Adames, and the Brewers’ bullpen spared the team from paying a price after a rough start to the series finale. The Cardinals took a 2-0 lead against Jason Alexander three batters into the game on Paul Goldschmidt’s Little League homer — score it an RBI double plus two Brewers throwing errors — and Milwaukee missed a chance in the third when it loaded the bases with nobody out and came away with no runs.
“We stuck to it today,” Counsell said. “The tack-on runs from Willy and good at-bats in the ninth were important. You have to do everything right in these games to beat good teams. We did some things wrong today, but we kept at it and did enough things right the last six innings to get a W.”
3) You’d better get a lead by the sixth
It’s hard to envision many games flipping in the late innings against each team’s “A” relievers. Génesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley of the Cardinals and Brad Boxberger, Devin Williams and Josh Hader of the Brewers combined in the series for 10 scoreless innings with three hits and nine strikeouts. Williams has delivered 17 consecutive scoreless appearances. Hader logged his 21st save in 22 chances and his 23rd scoreless outing in 24 appearances.
The Brewers, with Boxberger getting out of jams in the sixth and seventh innings on Thursday, improved to 35-3 when leading after seven innings and 34-1 when leading after eight.
The Cardinals are 34-0 when leading after seven innings and 32-1 when leading after eight.
“I think good baseball teams generally have that formula and have guys who can finish games,” Counsell said. “Our guys did a great job. Box came into a tough situation. We asked him for four outs today and he made some great pitches.”
It will be nearly two months before the teams tangle again.
“Hopefully we can pull away here for a little bit,” Boxberger said. “But they’re a good team over there, and we’re a good team, so I think it’s going to be neck-and-neck the whole way.”