This series against an inconsistent Cardinals appeared like the perfect antidote for a D-Backs squad continuing to scuffle in their worst full month of competition since last September. Instead, it reiterated all of the underlying issues that have led to this latest swoon in the D-Backs’ postseason chances that have fallen from 79.8% at the beginning of the month to just 52.3% today according to Fangraphs. Frustratingly, it’s been a full team effort as the starting pitching, offense, and bullpen have all regressed substantially. Entering play today, the pitching staff had posted a 5.65 ERA this month alongside a 1.38 WHIP while the offense has managed just a .230/.311/.394 (.706 OPS) slash line. Those are all numbers well below their season averages for those units and below average for the league as a whole. While we can all hope that some reinforcements may be on their way via a trade, the core of this squad still has to perform to their capabilities.
In what could potentially be his last start in a St. Louis uniform with the looming trade deadline rapidly approaching, Jack Flaherty outdueled NL Cy Young candidate Zac Gallen. Flaherty demonstrated exactly the kind of value he could bring to a potential contender as he had to maneuver around significant traffic throughout his five-plus innings. He failed to complete a single clean inning, but was able to reach back every time he worked into trouble to keep the D-Backs off-balance and limited them to just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. While his final line (5.0 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO) is not particularly impressive, he was certainly able to keep his team close and allowed his offense to take advantage of an inconsistent Arizona bullpen. That kind of performance can be extremely valuable in the home stretch of the regular season and postseason - even if he can’t regain the form that awarded him fourth place in Cy Young voting back in 2019.
Conversely, one start after taking a perfect game into the sixth inning, Gallen surprisingly struggled with his command and emotions in his outing. Ordinarily a very stoic and steady presence on the mound, Gallen only managed two clean innings as he grew increasingly frustrated with Clint Vondrak’s inconsistent strike zone. While he was able to pitch into the seventh, he was not as crisp as he has been this year - especially against an offense that has struggled to find consistency throughout the season. This afternoon however, they were able to barrel up quite a few of his offerings: thirteen with exit velocities over 90 MPH. He also allowed multiple homers for just the fourth time this season to Nolan Gorman and Lars Nootbaar.
Gorman’s smash got the scoring started in the second inning as he took a middle-in fastball 437 feet to right center that gave the Cardinals an early 1-0 lead. They would add on in the next inning off a pair of singles from Brendan Donovan and Nootbaar as well as a spiked knuckle curve that scooted away from Jose Herrera and allowed Donovan to score to make it 2-0 early. The D-Backs responded in the home half off a Ketel Marte walk and Corbin Carroll double ahead of a sacrifice fly from the newly red-hot Christian Walker to get on the board 2-1. They weren’t finished however as they were able to tack on another run via a Dominic Canzone single that plated Carroll to knot the score at 2-2.
Just as Gallen started to find his rhythm, the D-Backs squandered one of several scoring opportunities in the home half of the fourth as Jake McCarthy collected a leadoff double (part of an encouraging 3-for-5 day), but was stranded courtesy of a pair of flyouts and groundouts. That’s in addition to the leadoff triple from Geraldo Perdomo followed by a Carroll Double (walk plus stolen base) in the second that were stranded from back-to-back strikeouts of Walker and Canzone. Regrettably, Gallen’s lack of control would bite again in the sixth as Nootbaar demolished a changeup to straightaway center that snuck over the yellow railing to give St. Louis a 3-2 lead. Happily, a solo homer from Emmanuel Rivera and single from McCarthy chased Flaherty from the game with the score tied at 3-3, but he would be stranded yet again after an Alek Thomas strikeout and groundouts from Herrera and Marte.
As a D-Backs fan, you would be forgiven for feeling cautiously optimistic with Gallen coming back out for the seventh inning with the score tied. That optimism would be misplaced however as Gallen allowed the fourth Cardinals’ run on a Paul DeJong double followed by a single from Andrew Knizner to break the tie 4-3 and end Gallen’s afternoon - but not his pitching line. Kyle Nelson entered and induced a popout from Donovan, but gave up a two-run homer to former friend Paul Goldschmidt to extend the St. Louis lead 6-3. The D-Backs got one back through consecutive singles from Carroll and Walker ahead of a sacrifice groundout from Canzone to keep the score close - until the eighth inning.
Just as many unfortunate events, the inning began inauspiciously with a Tyler O’Neill leadoff double off newly-entered Scott McGough. Gorman then earned his second homer of the game off a splitter out of the zone that he demolished to straightaway center to expand the lead another two runs to 8-4. McGough would nearly escape the inning afterwards, but Torey Lovullo elected to keep him in one batter too long. After a DeJong single, Knizner took an elevated splitter into the left field bleachers to put the game truly out of reach and mercifully ending McGough’s outing with a 10-4 score. Tyler Gilbert would enter and give up another run to add insult to injury. The D-Backs would muster a final rally in the bottom of the ninth to make the score appear a bit more respectable, but it was far too little, far too late.