Just as Wednesday night’s NLCS Game 3 was supposed to be a pitchers’ duel and wasn’t, Game 4 of the NLCS was supposed to be an offensive shootout — filled with fireworks. And it wasn’t.
Yes, the Brewers had 10 hits and the Cardinals had eight. But the story of Thursday night’s game at a packed Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis was the pitching of Brewers left-hander Randy Wolf.
Wolf surrendered a solo home run to Matt Holliday in the second inning that barely creeped over the right field wall, then Allen Craig delivered a shot in the third inning that was more of a no-doubter. But that’s where the damage stopped.
Because of Wolf and the Brewers’ bullpen, the Redbirds did not score another run after the bottom of the third inning and Milwaukee was able to rally back for a crucial 4-2 victory in Game 4 of the NLCS.
Wolf pitched seven solid innings, scattering six hits and fanning six batters while issuing only one walk. He threw 74 of his 107 pitches for strikes and out-dueled St. Louis’ Kyle Lohse, who was yanked in the fifth.
Wolf, a 35-year-old in the twilight of his career, yielded seven runs in just three innings during a disastrous NLDS start against the Diamondbacks. But he rallied back in a big way on Thursday in the Gateway City, and insured that this seven-game series will head back to Miller Park, where the Brewers play so well.
The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.
The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.
For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.
The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.
St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.
The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.
Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?
Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.