ST. LOUIS — What Marcell Ozuna has lacked in the quantity of his hits lately for the Cardinals he has more than made up for with the quality of those hits.
Ozuna came into Monday night’s game against the Nationals at Busch Stadium with only 7 hits in his last 62 at-bats; he finished the game with nine hits in his last 66 at-bats, but those two new hits were the difference in the win which kept the Cardinals two games ahead of the Cubs in the NL Central.
His two-run homer in the first inning staked the Cardinals to a 2-0 lead, and after the Nationals tied it, Ozuna knocked in the other two Cardinals’ runs with a ground-rule double in the seventh inning.
Four of Ozuna’s nine hits this month have been home runs, increasing his season total to 28. Ozuna was 2-of-3 with runners in scoring position while the rest of the Cardinals combined went 0-of-9.
Ozuna also saved a run defensively, throwing out Asdrubel Cabrera at the plate as he tried to score from second base on a single to left in the fourth.
The Cubs defeated the Reds Monday night while the Brewers also won to remain three games behind the Cardinals.
Here is how the game broke down:
At the plate: The Cardinals had only two hits after the second inning until Ozuna’s double in the seventh, both singles by Tommy Edman … The Cardinals left five runners in scoring position between the first and sixth innings, three of whom reached base on walks … Dexter Fowler drew his second walk of the game with one out in the seventh and Paul Goldschmidt walked with two outs before both advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Ozuna’s double … Ozuna has 86 RBIs for the season, three behind Goldschmidt’s team-leading total of 89 … Over the last three games the Cardinals are 2-of-18 with runners in scoring position with both hits coming from Ozuna.
On the mound: Dakota Hudson scattered five hits over seven innings and earned his 16th win of the season. A two-out walk started the Nationals rally in the fourth when they scored one run and he then gave up a home run to Anthony Rendon leading off the sixth … Hudson has allowed two runs or less in seven of his last eight starts … Hudson retired the last six batters he faced before John Brebbia, Andrew Miller and Carlos Martinez combined to retire the Nationals in order in the eighth and ninth … Martinez needed just two pitches to get the final out of the game and earn his 20th save.
Key stat: The Cardinals stole four bases in the game – one each by Yadier Molina, Kolten Wong, Edman and Fowler – to increase their league-leading total to 109. It’s the sixth time this season the Cardinals have stolen four or more bases in a game; that matches their total of games with four or more steals from 2006 through last season.
Worth noting: Martinez had missed Sunday’s game with what doctors have now determined was breathing problems related to asthma and allergies. He was prescribed medication and was cleared to pitch, coming in to get the final out of the game … Edman started at third base for the fourth consecutive game and sixth time in the last seven games, keeping Matt Carpenter on the bench. “There maybe aren’t going to be as many at-bats (for Carpenter) but he is still going to have at-bats with a chance to impact the game,” said manager Mike Shildt. Carpenter is 4-of-15 as a pinch-hitter this season … Matt Wieters, who has not played since Aug. 31 because of a calf injury, could be available off the bench on Tuesday night once he receives final medical clearance to play.
Looking ahead: Miles Mikolas will get the start on Tuesday night in the second game of the series.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains