There’s a baseball phrase that, honestly, I didn’t hear until a few years ago. It made a ton of sense, it just somehow hadn’t ever entered my lexicon.
“Momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher.”
I’ve used the phrase often in the past years, but last night brought to mind a different look at it. I’ve always used it in regards to whom the Cardinals are throwing, but last night illustrated that it doesn’t have to be YOUR pitcher that defines the momentum.
Because if there was really anything to teams “getting on a roll”, you’d think the Cards would have been ready to kick it into gear after the 14-inning, gift-in-the-ninth victory over Pittsburgh. Instead, Francisco Liriano came out and showed that he was all the momentum the Pirates needed.
It was not unsurprising that the team struggled with Liriano. After all, he’s having an incredible season, he’s a very talented pitcher who seems to be fully healthy for the first time in a long time, and he’d already shut the Cards down at different points this year. Factor in a lineup that is quite ready for Yadier Molina to return today and the chips were stacked against them from the start.
Which meant that most everything had to go right for them to win, which is an odd position for these two teams to be in. Bernie Miklasz wrote a few weeks back that Cardinal fans might have to come to terms with the fact that the Pirates were the team playing the role the Cards usually did. We’re used to St. Louis being able to win in multiple ways, to be the team expected to be celebrating at the end of the night. Instead, they are the team that, if they get stellar starting pitching and a couple of key hits, will beat you. If not, they won’t. It’s disconcerting.
But while Shelby Miller was probably already doomed after the two home runs he served up in the second, he’s not the Goat for this affair. No, that one has to go to David Freese. Not only did he go 0-3, including hitting into a double play in the second that took away the chance for the Cards to immediately respond to Pittsburgh’s outburst, but in the fourth botched starting a textbook double play that would have left Miller with two outs and nobody on. Instead, it was two on, nobody out and Pittsburgh took advantage. Could Miller have limited the damage? Sure. But he shouldn’t have had to try.
Speaking of that fourth inning, I’m becoming more and more aware of why people are ragging on Jon Jay‘s arm. The hit by Starling Marte to drive in two in that inning was a fairly standard single to center, but because Marte 1) is very fast and B) had no fear of Jay’s arm, he never stopped running and would up with a double. Now, the next batter grounded out and it didn’t matter, but it’s just the latest incident I’ve seen. The word is out around the league and people are running rampant on Jay. I don’t know what John Mozeliak will do about it in the offseason, though. Oscar Taveras (more on that in a bit) really isn’t likely to be a centerfielder, though they may try him there. Other than that, there’s not much in the system. I don’t know that center field is at the top of the shopping list, but it’s on there.
We pointed out yesterday that the Cardinals had a dynamic split in their hitting in wins versus losses. (While the split is wider than some, it may not be as surprising as expected. For instance, Pittsburgh is .271/.339/.438 in wins and .205/.272/.315 in losses and Cincinnati is .282/.360/.458 in wins and .198/.273/.298 in losses.) That was the case last night as the Redbirds only mustered four hits. Matt Holliday continues to find new and exciting ways to hit into double plays. The only run scored on a groundout in the ninth. It was not an fun game to watch offensively.
So we’ll give the Hero tag to Michael Wacha. Making his first appearance since returning from the minors, Wacha threw two innings and struck out four. While Wacha was supposed to be an impact, high-leverage kind of guy, those situations aren’t always available and given how much the bullpen had been used the night before, getting him into this game was pretty much of a necessity.
As mentioned above, Taveras was in the news as he is having season-ending surgery on that ankle that has been troubling him all year. I was expecting Taveras to get the call in September, even though he hadn’t played much, given some of Mozeliak’s comments. That won’t be happening now, though it at least sounds like it’s a “fix it now, no worries later” type of deal. You always hold your breath a bit when injuries and Cardinals are in the same sentence, but there seems to be no reason that he won’t be healthy by spring training. I’m still fairly convinced that, with a relatively strong spring, he will start the season in St. Louis next year.
The Cards have gone from the best team in baseball to now being just half a game away from playing the wild-card play-in game in Cincinnati. To be fair, there’s a pretty good drop between the wild card teams and the next team, as St. Louis has a six game lead over the Diamondbacks for a playoff berth, but this wasn’t supposed to be the way this summer was going to go. This team was supposed to challenge the 2004-2005 squad, not be the underachieving, struggling team that it’s been, honestly, quite often since then. There’s not been a team in the last eight years that’s just done what it’s supposed to. There may be external factors like injuries, but even 2006 and 2011 weren’t seasons that you’d point to as great regular seasons. The postseasons were outstanding and that’ll cover up a lot of flaws, but it seems like it’s just always a struggle for this organization, even as they wind up struggling at a high level.
It’s possible that the dog days are getting to them and they’ll rebound. I do wonder if getting a spark like Kolten Wong into the lineup would help. Shift Matt Carpenter to third, let Freese spend some time strengthening the bench, bring another level to the game. We may get a chance to see that in September, but will that be too late? It feels like this team needs something and the options are pretty limited.
What’s also likely to be limited is the Cardinal offense yet again today as they take on A.J. Burnett this afternoon. Burnett threw seven innings of three-hit ball last time in Pittsburgh and has had the Cardinals’ number all year long. Ever since they torched him in his first Bucs outing against them last year, Burnett has been a member of the Cardinal-killer fraternity.
We’ve pointed out that if St. Louis doesn’t hit, they don’t win. The problem is, the odds of hitting much today seem slim. I’d say a silver lining for the Cards was that the last time out, Burnett gave up five runs, but that was at Colorado and Liriano gave up like 10 in that situation. Obviously it didn’t carry over and it’s unlikely to today either. He’s been better in day games than night games as well, but he does have an ERA about a run higher on the road. Grasp that straw tightly!
Lance Lynn gets the unenviable task of trying to get a series win against Burnett. Lynn pitched quite well against Pittsburgh in their place, going six innings with just one run allowed and seven strikeouts. He’s coming off a little shakier outing against the Cubs, but if he’s on, this could be a very low scoring game. That’s at least a medium-sized if, though it’s been a while since Really Bad Lynn showed up.
He’s been able to hold these guys in check as well. Lynn also beat Burnett back in May, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice.
Enjoy the afternoon baseball. It’s a tough hill to climb but that would make a win all the more sweet!