SAN DIEGO — Not even a lefty could help the Cardinals unlock this consuming funk.
The Cardinals' search for any semblance of sustained offense will have to continue Thursday afternoon because Wednesday, like Tuesday and the Sunday before it, were as fruitless as they were scoreless. Groundhog Days are supposed to be more productive. San Diego lefty Blake Snell toyed with a no-hitter and had the compliant lineup to do it against as he led the Padres to a 1-0 victory Wednesday at Petco Park. The Cardinals were shut out for the third consecutive game.
If that produces a shiver of September remembrance, it should.
The last time the Cardinals failed to score in three consecutive games was the final three games of the 2015 season, during a series in Atlanta that unplugged the team to rest for the postseason and then missed the outlet to plug it back in. The Cardinals were bounced from the playoffs by their archrival Cubs in the first round.
People are also reading…
Snell struck out a season-high 13 batters, which doesn’t sound as bad as it was. He had 10 strikeouts by the end of the fifth inning. In the fourth inning, he had already struck out at least once every Cardinal but rookie Juan Yepez.
The Cardinals have gone 43 innings without an RBI. The one run they’ve scored in that time was good enough for a win, but it came in extra innings on an error. They have not produced an earned run against an opponent since the third inning of Saturday’s afternoon game. The offensive drought, usually measured in innings, is now shifting to days.
Snell took his no-hitter two outs into the seventh inning, and that was where it ended — not with a bang, but with a grounder. Albert Pujols, sitting at 698 for career homers, skipped a single through an opening on the right side of the infield. Yepez followed with a single to get Pujols into scoring position. That brought up struggling shortstop Paul DeJong. Snell struck him out for the third time to end the inning.
At that point, the Cardinals had six hits in the series.
Three of them came from Pujols.
The Cardinals entered the game with two of the best hitters in the majors against lefties — Paul Goldschmidt with an .846 slugging percentage and Pujols at .760 — and some of the strongest production against lefties as a team. As a lineup, the Cardinals led the majors with a .348 on-base percentage and a .471 slugging percentage, good for an .818 OPS this season against lefties. No team has produced more runs created against lefties. Even the only left-handed batter in their lineup Wednesday, Corey Dickerson, had two home runs off Snell in five at-bats for his career.
There would be not revival against this lefty, not this day.
The Cardinals have gone four consecutive games without scoring in the first nine innings.
Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas spent most of his start matching Snell zero for zero. Mikolas struck out six in six innings and did not allow an earned run on three hits. The only run the Padres got against Mikolas came after an infield error by second baseman Tommy Edman. Austin Nola, the Padres’ No. 8 hitter, flipped an RBI single with two outs in the second inning to give Snell that 1-0 lead to hold for the remainder of his seven innings. Snell turned the game over to the bullpen after seven scoreless.
Former Brewers closer Josh Hader, whom the Padres acquired at the trade deadline, handled the ninth for his 34th save of the season, his fifth since joining San Diego.
Snell announces his control swiftly
In the second inning, the Padres lefty made a point with a single pitch that would reverberate with greater significance the deeper into the night he dominated.
Pujols, the fifth batter of the game to face Snell, got ahead in the count 2-0 before he saw a strike from the lefty. Snell worked his way back into the count by challenging Pujols. Snell was able to get the count back full — and then deliver a 99 mph fastball. It’s one of the fastest pitches of the season and possibly his career.
Pujols swung through it for a strikeout.
Snell would close the second inning with another strikeout and start a run of striking out five consecutive Cardinals. Snell’s average fastball velocity through the first five innings got close to 97 mph, a full 1.1 mph more than his average this season. By the end of the fifth inning, Snell had faced 17 batters and struck out 10 of them.
Pitch-mixing Mikolas keeps Padres guessing
The way to a breezier, better start than some of his recent outings began for Cardinals starter Mikolas by having access to all of his pitches. At times in the past month, his curveball has misbehaved, and that’s distracted from the effectiveness of his fastball. When his fastball goes sideways, the curve becomes less effective, and opponents can start eliminating what they expect to see. Mikolas’ advantage is his ability to keep them guessing.
“When he has the curveball in play, it jacks up people’s overall timing, so that’s a pitch he’s able to use to slow things down, speed things up off the fastball,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “When he has that location, regardless of count, then that puts the hitter in between because of the speed differential. His biggest weapon is the ability to throw any pitch at any count.”
He had that early and throughout his appearance Wednesday.
In the first inning, Mikolas fell behind 3-0 before getting Juan Soto reaching for a 96 mph fastball on the outer edge of the plate for a strikeout. In the third, he worked a 93.1 mph sinker past Manny Machado, and then he closed the inning with Jake Cronenworth swinging over that 75 mph curveball. That was the 10th pitch of Cornenworth’s at-bat. In the sixth, Soto stared at a 95 mph fastball that veered over the inside edge of the plate for a called strike three. Mikolas seesawed like that, side to side of the strike zone, and could do so because the curveball got five swings and misses and was just as reliable and utilized as the sinker.
Mikolas struck out six batters in his six innings, and he got each of the Padres’ middle-order hitters twice. Only Soto struck out on the same pitch but in different locations. Machado swung past a sinker and by a four-seam fastball, and in the sixth inning, Cronenworth struck out on a 95.4 mph four-seam fastball to interrupt a potential rally.