Cardinals suffer deflating loss to Pirates, miss chance to gain ground before key series vs. Reds

Going into the bottom of the ninth on Sunday, the St. Louis Cardinals held a 3-1 lead over the bottom-dwelling Pirates. A win would’ve meant the Cardinals had taken three of four against the Pittsburgh and put them just 2 1/2 games out of the second NL wild card position. Adding to the intrigue is that the Cardinals on Monday begin a three-game road series against the Reds, who presently own that second NL wild card spot. 

Now back to that ninth-inning lead over the Pirates. The Cardinals started the bottom of the ninth with All-Star closer Alex Reyes on the mound and, per win expectancy, a 91.9 percent chance of getting a victory. Reyes walked Bryan Reynolds to begin the frame, but then he struck out Colin Moran for the first out. 

That gave the Cardinals almost a 90 percent chance of winning even though the potential tying run was at the plate. Reyes then walked Jacob Stallings, which brought up hot-hitting Yoshi Tsutsugo as the potential winning run. With a mighty swing at a first-pitch slider Tsutsugo indeed ended it: 

That’s a 422-foot homer, that’s gone in every MLB park, and that’s a 4-3 Pirates win. Five of Tsustugo’s nine hits since being picked up by the Pirates have now been home runs. 

The Cardinals also lost the series opener of this four-game set via bullpen meltdown, so this is an especially painful split for St. Louis. Instead of going into Cincy on Monday just 2 1/2 games off the pace, they’ll instead go in 3 1/2 back. As such it’s now impossible for them to leave Great American Ballpark in playoff position. That wasn’t likely, of course, especially with the Padres still in front of the Cardinals in the queue, but it was at least in play. 

Coming into Sunday’s slate, the SportsLine Projection System gave St. Louis just an 8.0 percent of making the postseason. That’s not all that surprising given that their behind two teams in the chase for that last berth while also lugging around what’s now a minus-14 run differential for the season. However, they had a big chance to nudge that figure in a forward direction on Sunday. Instead, it’ll be reduced even further in advance of the Cardinals’ biggest series of the season. 

It’s also not going to be easy from this point forward. Of the Cardinals’ next 23 games, 20 come against the Reds, Brewers, Dodgers, and Padres. St. Louis this season is a combined 10-17 against those clubs. In light of that rough stretch ahead, Sunday’s stunning loss becomes even more of a blow to their hopes. 

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