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Cardinals rely on Molina and Flaherty magic to avoid Cubs sweep

Overall, a solid win that will only get more impressive if the Cardinals follow it up with a fine road trip in Philadelphia and Milwaukee.

I begin my latest batch of St. Louis Cardinals takeaways with a story.

A pair of Cubs fans got into my car after Saturday night's 6-3 Chicago win over the Cardinals for an Uber ride back to their hotel. I expected to be mad, but was pleasantly surprised. During the ride, I was asked who my favorite Cardinal was, and since I don't really have one, the default answer is always the captain, Yadier Molina.

"Nice choice, he is the best catcher in baseball," said the Cubs fan. You're right, he is.

Molina and Jack Flaherty helped the Cardinals avoid an ugly sweep at the hands of their rivals on Sunday night on national television, winning 5-0 with a helping hand from nearly the entire lineup. Let's take a look at the details.

5) The ESPN crew is always infatuated with the Cubs. Maybe it's the tortured history mixed with the new uprising, or perhaps they really do dig the new Joe Maddon art gallery website. Every time the Cardinals play them, the three-headed broadcast crew fawns over their abilities, be it a Jason Heyward take on a close pitch or a Kris Bryant swing and miss that could have been. It's unprofessional and annoying.

4) I love Flaherty's future, but he sure takes his time between pitches, especially with guys on base. Mike Shannon once said in a start earlier this month that if the kid were paid by the hour, he'd be a rich man already. Flaherty may mirrored Jeff Suppan in time between pitches, but he is deadly efficient. The kid put baserunners on and then mowed down sluggers like Kris Bryant with meaty pitch down the middle. He has the kind of stuff that is still raw yet so much fun to watch.

3) Marcell Ozuna collected two more hits, raising his June average to .411. The guy is hitting everything hard, which puts defenses on their toes and creates run scoring opportunities. It took awhile for the slug to show up, but it sure has arrived in style. Is it too late to clone him? No matter where 2018 goes, we'll always have Ozuna.

2) Molina hit a rocket to second base that turned into a double play and drove in a run, and then added an RBI double in the eighth. Molina also threw out his battery rival, Jose Contreras, which was the Cardinals' season low third caught stealing victim of 2018. However, it was noted on the broadcast that teams simply don't test #4, because they like staying on base. Check out the tweet of the night, via Birds on the Black's Tara Wellman:

Molina called a great game that included five pitchers and nine strikeouts. He had a very good night that a box score simply can't recognize.

1) I want to give a shoutout to Jedd Gyorko. He made a bad error late in the game, but he also drove in a timely runner with an RBI rocket to center field and played a key part in the Molina caught stealing throw. Contreras beat the throw, but Gyorko used simple fundamentals (which have been lacking lately), and kept the glove down to get the out tag. Good on him. The RBI was just his third of June. The Cards need Jedd to heat up.

Random beats: Matt Carpenter has 17 extra base hits in the past month. Bud Norris makes the majority of his saves look easy. Jordan Hicks bounced back well after allowing Heyward's big blast on Saturday.

Overall, a solid win that will only get more impressive if the Cardinals follow it up with a fine road trip in Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Two good teams with their own playoff agendas.

Take another step forward or fall two more steps back. The Cardinals are 37-32, which was good enough to keep the Cubs from getting sole possession of first place on Sunday night.

That's an accomplishment that deserves a sequel on Monday.

Thanks for reading and please forward your questions to buffa82@gmail.com.

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