MLB London Series: Contreras has big game against former team, Cardinals erase early 4-0 deficit in Game 2 win

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By Webdesk

Call it a split in the London Series. The St. Louis Cardinals overcame an early 4-0 deficit against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday to record a 7-5 victory (box score) in the final of the two-game London Series. The Cubs won 9-1 on Saturday.

This high-scoring series, though it wasn’t nearly as frenetic as the 2019 London Series, when the New York Yankees defeated the Boston Red Sox by scores of 17-13 and 12-8. This was a challenging series for defenders — the turf at the London Stadium was very bouncy and tee times made for difficult shadows — and wobbly defense was a common theme on Sunday.

Here are four lessons from Sunday’s London Series final, plus a brief preview of the future of the London Series and the future for the Cardinals and Cubs.

1. The Cubs took a big lead early on

Early on, it looked like the Cubs were about to run away on Sunday the same way they did on Saturday, when they hammered Adam Wainwright for seven runs on 11 hits and walks in three innings. Wainwright threw 71 pitches and gave up only five swings and misses, striking out none of the 19 batters he faced.

On Sunday, the Cubs jumped off Cardinals rookie left-hander Matthew Liberatore for four runs in the first inning, including three runscoring hits with two outs. St. Louis contributed to the rally with a trio of defensive misplays despite being charged with only two fouls. Here’s the four-run first:

Short stop Paul DeJong wobbled a possible groundout, second baseman Nolan Gorman couldn’t handle the throw on a stolen attempt, then third baseman Nolan Arenado let a hard grounder go past. The Cardinals are usually among the best defensive teams in baseball, but not this year. Their defense was terrible in 2023 and it hurt them in the first inning on Sunday.

Chicago jumped out of a 4-0 lead before ace and leading NL Cy Young candidate Marcus Stroman took the mound. They were in excellent condition, or so it was thought.

2. The Cardinals stormed back

That 4-0 lead only lasted a short time. The Cardinals advanced three runs in the second on a critical two-out error—Tommy Edman (one run) and Brendan Donovan (two runs) had RBI singles—when five batters reached base against Stroman in a seven-hit span . In the fourth, rookie Jordan Walker tied the game with an RBI single to center.

Walker, it should be noted, extended his hitting streak to 15 games with that RBI single. He had a record 12-game hitting streak to start the season and now he’s working on a 15 gamer. Since returning from Triple-A on June 2, he is hitting .333/.413/.561. He hits .302/.366/.475 all season. What an impressive year for the 21-year-old.

The Cardinals took the lead in the fourth inning on a single by Paul Goldschmidt — Lars Nootbaar followed with a sacrifice fly — that ended Stroman’s day. Stroman left with a blister, the Cubs announced, and he ended up giving up six runs (three earned) on nine hits and one walk in 3 1/3 innings.

Stroman threw 64 pitches before the blister became a problem. Ten of the last 15 batters he faced reached base.

3. The Cardinals’ bullpen stood upright

The Cubs tagged Liberatore for four runs in 2 1/3 innings on Sunday, so while he beat Wainwright, Liberatore wasn’t exactly good. The Cardinals had to lean heavily on their bullpen for the second straight day, and five relievers held the Cubs by one run in 5 2/3 innings. That run was scored on a 2-out sacrifice fly in the ninth, as harmless as can be with a 3-run lead.

Watch the St. Louis bullpen on Sunday:

That’s solid work from a Cardinals bullpen who has been unpredictable at times this season. The four-run comeback is the second-biggest for St. Louis in 2023. They made up a five-run deficit against the Washington Nationals last Monday. Even with the win, the Cardinals are 32-45 in the NL Central basement. Maybe they can build on this comeback?

As for the Cubs, the Sunday setback ended a four-game winning streak and prevented them from reaching .500 for the first time since going 19-19 on May 12. Chicago is 37-39 on the season. Even with this loss, they have won 11 of their last 14 games.

4. Contreras played a great game against his former team

Willson Contreras’ first season with the Cardinals is not going as expected. A few weeks ago, he lost the starting catcher’s job for a period and took a disappointing .207/.298/.364 batting line to London. Contreras has posted strong underlying numbers (discharge rate, etc.), but we are approaching the middle of the season here. He needs real hits now.

The goals came in on Sunday. Contreras went 4 for 4 with a double and two runs scored on Sunday. It’s his first four-hit game with St. Louis and heck, he only had one three-hit game this year that came into play on Sunday. That three-hit game was last Tuesday, so maybe Contreras is finally starting to come around? The Cardinals certainly hope so.

In five games this season, Contreras is 7 for 19 (.368) with two doubles against the Cubs. Of course, Contreras broke into the big leagues with the Cubbies, spending parts of seven seasons on Chicago’s North Side. He even started Game 7 of the 2016 World Series behind the plate. Now he’s on the other side of the rivalry and had a great day in the London Series final.

Next one

The London Series 2023 is over. MLB will return to England next summer when the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies meet in the 2024 London Series. As for the Cardinals and Cubs, they both go home and take Monday off. The Cardinals welcome the Houston Astros to Busch Stadium for a three-game series that begins Tuesday. The Cubs will play three games against the Phillies at Wrigley Field starting Tuesday.

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