CHICAGO — The Cardinals have twisted and folded and explored every corner of their roster in recent weeks hoping that out of their transaction origami enough pitching would emerge to cover necessary innings.
They’ve promoted, demoted, debuted, and repurposed, and they will again Saturday for a doubleheader at Wrigley Field. They’ve gone to great lengths for short solutions when one way to save their concern was obvious all along, and it has been since the manager started trumpeting it way back in spring training.
The offense could carry them for a bit.
In a romp at Wrigley, the Cardinals flexed the versatility and power of their rookie-infused lineup and thoroughly trounced the Cubs, 14-5, on Friday afternoon. They had a comeback, extended their leads, and got a clutch homer from Paul Goldschmidt to extend his hitting streak to 25 games. The Cardinals stole three bases, hit five homers, and the top three spots in the lineup combined for six runs by the end of the sixth inning. Corey Dickerson hit his first home run of the season, and then went five whole innings before hitting his second.
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They didn’t wait around and rely on the three-run homer, but they got two of those, too. The second one traveled 420 feet into the right-field bleachers and came off the bat of rookie Nolan Gorman in his return to the lineup from back stiffness.
“There was a lot of different ways we scored,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “Even with two outs … we’re still taking advantage of the 90 feet when it’s there with stolen bases. We’re hitting homers. That’s what it’s going to take because there are certain days the homers aren’t going to be there. You have to manufacture runs, and we’re doing that. There are days when the homers are there — and you pile on.
“We’ve got the personnel for it.”
The 15-hit swell lifted Miles Mikolas to a win despite five laborious innings and allowed the Cardinals to cover leftover four innings with rookie Zack Thompson in his major-league debut. Thompson struck out three to earn the first save of three innings or more by a Cardinal in his debut since Brad Thompson in May 2005. The use of two pitchers to cover nine innings sets the Cardinals up for Saturday’s doubleheader with a full complement of relievers — a richness of depth that the team will experiment with rookie Andre Pallante as a starter for a game.
A three-run deficit at the end of the first inning had turned into a five-run lead by the end of four innings, and it grew to eight by the time Thompson took over. Mikolas pitched with a career-high 11 runs of support.
“That was big. That was big,” Marmol repeated. “It gave us the ability to actually go with Zack and keep him for the (extent) of the game. The offense doing what they did was the key to keeping our ‘pen fresh.”
The Cardinals entered the season confidant the cornerstones of their game would be golden defense and the consistent pitching that capitalized on those fielders. Injuries and inconsistencies have eroded the pitching staff — three starters are on the injured list — but the defense is still there to help, as Mikolas illustrated Friday. At least three times, third baseman Nolan Arenado had a near-miss on an incredible play. He turned one potential double into a single with a dive.
In the fifth inning, as Mikolas (4-3) reached to qualify for the win and not leave a mess for someone else to scrub, he had the bases loaded with no outs. He struck out Patrick Wisdom to find a clear path, and then followed his defense out of the thicket. Jason Heyward hit a flare snared by the wind and carried into shallow right field. Brendan Donovan caught it there, and turned to see the runner, in a five-run game, departing the safety of third base.
Donovan threw him out for a double play on Mikolas’ final pitch.
“Just the intent and attitude — nothing is getting by us,” Mikolas said of the defense. “That means a lot to me as a pitcher for the bats to come alive so I can dig in and try to get us through. They don’t just give wins away. To have that kind of lead and not be able to get through five, you’ve got to tighten your bet and say, ‘I’m getting through this.’ Grit your teeth and have at it.”
The Cubs jumped Mikolas for a three-run lead in the bottom of the first — all three runs coming on Wisdom’s two-out homer. The Cardinals answered with a run in the bottom of the second, and then seized their first lead in the third. A few minutes after being named the NL’s Player of the Month for his .404 average, .817 slugging percentage, and club record 23 extra-base hits, Goldschmidt continued his quick start on the June honor. Goldschmidt tagged a three-run, two-out homer for a 4-3 lead.
In the fourth, birthday boy Harrison Bader turned a two-out single into a runner in scoring position by stealing second. Andrew Knizner, the nine-hole hitter, delivered the single to score Bader, and the Cardinals never trailed. It helped that two batters later, Gorman launched a 3-2 pitch high into the air.
It fell several rows shy of ricocheting off Sheffield Avenue.
“When we’re going good,” Goldschmidt said, “the inning where we had two outs, stole (on) first pitch, and we end up (with) Gorman hits the homer — to me, that was something we have to do . Some days we’re not going to hit homers. Find a way to score. When you score a bunch it looks good.”
Gorman’s arrival in the majors and move to No. 2 in the lineup has been part of the pulse quickening for the lineup. So too has Donovan’s patience. Whether he’s batting lower in the order or fifth, Donovan’s ability to get on base has helped extend the threats within the lineup. He gets on base. Gorman, the first Cardinal rookie to have 10 RBIs in his first 11 games since Albert Pujols, clears them. One left-handed hitting rookie starts the rally. The other punctuates a crooked number. Lars Nootbaar added the Cardinals’ fifth homer of the game in the ninth when the Cubs turned to designated hitter Frank Schwindel to pitch.
Marmol insisted that the lineup would be “dynamic” and, during spring training, declared that it was ready to lead the league after three consecutive seasons of subpar slugging and production. Without their opening day leadoff hitter and No. 3 hitter, the Cardinals start weekend in the majors’ top fivein runs scored. The result is what Marmol predicted. The route, with contributions from rookies, is not.
“I do believe with the guys who we have, we have the ability to do that,” Marmol said. “We’re playing with guys none of us would have thought would be up here today having the type of years they’re having. We have the personnel. And we have the depth.”