ST. LOUIS — This weekend of play did a lot to separate contenders from pretenders in the competition for the National League’s second wild-card spot. A late-season winning streak of eight games has a way of doing that.
The Cardinals matched their longest winning streak since Aug. 7-15 of 2018 when then completed a sweep of the San Diego Padres 8-7 at Busch Stadium Sunday before a paid crowd of 35,326. Over their past eight games, the Cardinals have beaten Cincinnati twice, New York three times and San Diego three times. All were second wild-card contenders when those series began.
Now, none of them is a stronger contender, notably the Mets, who are below .500. Both Cincinnati and San Diego found themselves four games out on the loss side after Sunday’s competition with the Philadelphia Phillies three games down on the loss side before their game at New York.
The Atlanta Braves, whose Eastern Division lead over the Phillies has been shrinking, may turn out to be wild-card contenders, too, but the Cardinals are ahead of them on the loss side, also. The Cardinals got to 10 wins over .500 at 79-69 for the first time this season.
The Cardinals scored five in the first off former Chicago Cubs star Jake Arrieta, a former Cy Young Award winner who may have made his final St. Louis appearance. Then they were forced to hang on as their bullpen struggled before Giovanny Gallegos posted his 10th save, striking out two of three hitters he faced in the ninth.
Arrieta, who entered the game with a 7.05 earned run average, left after facing six batters in the inning, due to a right groin strain.
The 35-year-old wasn’t helped by a dropped ball by center fielder Fernando Tatis Jr., on Nolan Arenado’s shallow fly. Ta Tatis, normally a shortstop, scrambled after the ball and fired home well too late to catch Tommy Edman when Tatis had an easy force at second.
Edman had doubled for a league-leading 41st time to lead off the inning and moved to third on Paul Goldschmidt’s single off the glove of diving shortstop Jake Cronenworth. Tyler O’Neill walked before Tatis’ muff.
Afterward, Dylan Carlson, who had banged into the right-field wall to make a remarkable, jumping catch on Tatis Jr., in the top of the first, hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Goldschmidt. Edmundo Sosa doubled off Arrieta for the third run and, after Arrieta departed, Harrison Bader doubled in two more off reliver Craig Stammen.
Happ exited for a pinch hitter after four innings and former closer Alex Reye made an early appearance in the fifth.
Reyes quickly restored order with a 1-2-3 inning and then the Cardinals upped their lead to four runs at 7-3.
Goldschmidt opened with a double to left center, executing a nifty slide to avoid second baseman Frazier’s tag. Tyler O’Neill, who hit key home runs in the previous two games, singled to score Goldschmidt and came home himself on Sosa’s bloop double to right where Wil Myers missed on a diving attempt.
Pham homered off Reyes to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 7-4 in the sixth. Lefthander T.J. McFarland threw his usual double-play ball in the seventh, with second baseman Edman making a slick tag of a runner and throw to first.
The Cardinals resumed their four-run lead in the home seventh when O’Neill was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on a single by Carlson, who drove in his second run.
But Luis Garcia had his major-league high of 25 1/3 scoreless innings snapped after he allowed one of McFarland's to score as the Padres surged for three in the eighth to slice the Cardinals' edge to one.
Pham knocked in his second and third runs with a two-run double. Advancing to third on shortstop Sosa's throwing error, Pham came home on an Eric Hosmer groundout against Genesis Cabrera.