Crank it up to 11: Cardinals win 11th in a row, but Arenado leaves 10-2 rout after tarp tumble

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Derrick Goold St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

MILWAUKEE — While division-leading Milwaukee have become the latest opponent dazed and unable to slow or even impede the Cardinals’ blitz toward October and a 14th consecutive winning season, there was beneath their rout a cold shiver of concern.

Take a breath. It involves a tarp.

A few innings after diving over a tarp to complete a catch in foul territory, Nolan Arenado left the game with lower back tightness. The extent of his injury was not immediately known and likely would not be until Thursday. Arenado had already contributed two runs and two hits to the Cardinals again throwing too much at Milwaukee in a 10-2 victory at American Family Field. The win was the Cardinals’ 11th consecutive and 13th in their past 15 games. While tightening their hold on the National League’s second wild-card berth, they show no signs of slowing.

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Tyler O’Neill and Paul Goldschmidt both hit two-run homers in the thunderous win against the Brewers, and more than the offense is hitting its stride at the right time. Miles Mikolas had his strongest start in years with seven solid innings. The right-hander, now more than a month removed from the injury list, allowed two runs on four hits and struck out three. He did not walk a batter and he did not allow a run until the Cardinals led by seventh.

At 82-69, the Cardinals have secured their 14th consecutive winning season, all of them coming in the 14 years John Mozeliak has headed baseball operations. They have not had a losing season since 2007, and that was their only losing season in the 21st century.

Still, the evening came with a gulp that carries into the morning.

In the second inning of a game the Cardinals already led, 6-0, Arenado raced into foul territory to track down a popup from Brewers’ catcher Omar Narvaez.

Due to a defensive shift, Arenado started where the shortstop usually stands, and still had enough closing speed and room to make the kind of catch he’s made a signature play. It’s one of the myriad defensive plays that he practices, and one he gets used to going back on high popups that drift into foul territory is by using a football and treating that infielder’s play as if he was running a wide receiver route. His career is festooned with highlights of him racing into the foul territory well beyond third base, out where usually only left fielders or security guards tread, and making the catch, sometimes his glove to the backhand.

Arenado caught Narvaez’s fly ball several strides into foul territory, and his momentum carried him into the tarp that rests along the barrier between field and seats.

Arenado’s torso followed his glove into the gap between tarp and wall, and umpire Jeff Nelson followed soon after. He had to go over the tarp to get the right angle to see if Arenado had maintained control of the ball for the catch. He had. Nelson signaled him out.

Arenado returned to his position.

It wasn’t until three innings later that he left the game with soreness. The immediate tell was that Paul DeJong entered the game to play shortstop and move Edmundo Sosa to third right before Arenado’s spot in the order came up for a fourth time. Arenado had already singled, doubled, and hit a sacrifice fly for a second RBI in his first three plate appearances. With a day game to conclude the four-game series in Milwaukee and then a bus ride to Chicago, Arenado will be re-evaluated Thursday morning to determine the severity of the soreness and how long it might linger.

The Cardinals’ 11-game winning streak is the first for the team since 2001. The last winning streak of this length stretched through August and ended with a shutout of the Philadelphia Phillies. In that win, Mark McGwire had three hits and four RBIs, but not a homer. Kerry Robinson batted third for the Cardinals. And Scott Rolen played third — for the Phillies.

The club record for consecutive wins is 14.

In the current streak, all 11 wins have come against teams that were within six games of a playoff berth, and with Wednesday’s win the Cardinals secured their fourth consecutive series victory against a team that started the series with a .500 or better record.

For the fifth time in their past six games — all of them, of course, wins — the Cardinals scored in the first inning. O’Neill, a force since moving to the No. 3 spot in the lineup, sandwiched between Goldschmidt and Arenado, hit his 29th homer of the season for the 2-0 lead before the cleanup hitter came up.

A few days before the Cardinals will give Jack Flaherty the chance to do the same at Wrigley Field, the Brewers had lefty Brett Anderson make his return from injury in a major league game, in an abbreviated start. Brewers manager Craig Counsell said that the bullpen would have to carry most of the game and that Anderson’s appearance would be “short.”

He did not mean as short as it was.

Anderson saw the length and depth of the Cardinals’ lineup but the did not make it through the second inning. The Cardinals chased him from the game with a sacrifice fly that scored two runs and then three consecutive doubles in the second inning. That burst of four runs widened their lead to 6-0 before the Brewers got a sixth out. Sosa and Harrison Bader moved to third and second, respectively, with one out after Mikolas’ sacrifice bunt. Tommy Edman lofted a fly ball to the wall in center field, where it was caught by a leaping Lorenzo Cain. Cain tossed the ball to a teammate to make the throw, and Bader capitalized. He broke from second base on the tag-up, didn’t slow around third, and scored to give Edman the rare two-run sacrifice fly.

Doubles followed.

Goldschmidt doubled.

O’Neill doubled home Goldschmidt.

Arenado doubled home O’Neill.

A day after waiting till the ninth inning for their first extra-base hit, the Cardinals had four by the end of the fifth. They had 11 hits through seven and five of them went for extra bases, with a Cardinal often stretching for second when the ball went toward left fielder Christian Yelich. The Cardinals spent much of the series testing the former MVP’s arm by advancing that extra 90 feet. Bader did in the seventh as he doubled home the Cardinals’ eighth run.

Anderson’s outing was complicated by an error, and the Brewers, on the brink of clinching the National League Central division title, stumbled into Cardinals’ rallies.

After O’Neill’s homer, the Cardinals next five runs runs were unearned. The left side of the Brewers’ infielder, which did not feature shortstop Willy Adames on Wednesday, committed two errors in a water-slicked infield that contributed to the Cardinals opening up a 7-0 lead before Milwaukee got its first run against Mikolas.

In his seventh start since returning from the injured list, the right-hander was at his most effective and appeared his most comfortable.

Mikolas had yet to pitch through the sixth inning in any of his previous six starts. His pitch count climbed. Or the runs against did. Or the Cardinals needed offense and replaced him a pinch-hitter. Or all of that.

Against the Brewers, Mikolas retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced. The lone hit he gave up was a double to No. 8 hitter Cain that ricocheted off Bader’s diving attempt to catch it. Four of the next five batters Mikolas faced didn’t get the ball out of the infield.

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