It wasn’t pretty. It raised questions. It had all the trappings of a terrible loss except the outcome. And yet, you add one to the left side of the record and everything is fine, right? Fine might be an overstatement, but much better to win than to lose, especially when you stake your starting pitcher to a 7-0 lead after 1 1/2 innings.
Jake Westbrook went into this game knowing that the results could be the difference between him staying in the starting rotation and him being cast into some sort of pitching limbo. Looking at the line and the fact that he almost squandered a seven run lead, you have to figure limbo (or the disabled list) is coming.
To be fair, I think the line is a little misleading. The first three runs he gave up came on an error by Pete Kozma (not Westbrook’s fault), a single by Jonathan Lucroy (who hit .500 in this series) and a home run by Aramis Ramirez, who began his career in Cardinal killing when he knocked a redbird out of a tree with a sling at age 6. In other words, the first three runs were pretty understandable.
If he’d stopped there, the tenor of this discussion would be different. Even if he’d just made it five innings, you could at least make the case that he had taken a couple of steps in the right direction. Instead, he’s unable to make it out of the fifth after giving up two more runs with four straight two-out hits. Kevin Siegrist came in (and made it even more interesting by issuing a walk to load the bases) and finally shut the door on that inning.
So Westbrook gives up nine hits and a walk in 4.2 innings. Given how close this pennant race is and how important the next stretch of games is, there seems little rationale for letting him make another start anytime soon. Westbrook thinks he improved today (though he wasn’t completely confident about it) but I think the club needed a more definitive statement given its situation.
Westbrook is the Goat, of course, though you do have to credit the bases-loaded double that drove in two big runs. He had some competition from Kozma, who besides making the error went hitless in two at-bats–running that streak out to 20 for the second time this season–and hit into a double play. Kozma can’t afford to make many, if any, mistakes in the field with the way he is hitting. Though, honestly, there’s nothing much the Cards can do about it save start Daniel Descalso there more often, which may happen. Dirty Dan is already being more of a platoon-type there than we expected.
The bullpen got a lot of work and it seemed to do a pretty solid “bend but not break” routine. Siegrist, as noted, walked a guy before getting out of the fifth, then gave up a double in the sixth. Seth Maness got out of that jam, but then allowed a single and a walk in the seventh. Trevor Rosenthal escaped that, but then put two runners on for Edward Mujica. Mujica hit Khris Davis, then got the strikeout that ended that threat.
Mujica had more issues in the ninth, apparently landing wrong and (at least to the minds of those on Twitter) possibly injuring himself before allowing a home run to Logan Schafer and a double to Yuniesky Betancourt. He pulled himself together and got the last two guys, but it was dicey. Mujica said he’d been dealing with some upper back discomfort and didn’t hurt himself Wednesday, but the trainers were going to be checking on him and seeing how accurate that statement was.
So while they got some big outs, I can’t in good conscience give the Hero tag to anyone out of the bullpen. There were a few hitting options, though. Shane Robinson went 3-4, David Freese got two hits, and Carlos Beltran had a home run and a single. I’m going to go with Allen Craig, though, who had a home run and a double plus a walk. It’s good to see Craig starting to get going again after a pretty extended slump.
It would seem entirely likely, given how the Cards ran through pitchers yesterday, to see another one of the now-regular Memphis shuttle moves for this weekend’s series against the Braves. Though, looking at the roster, I’m not sure what the move would be. You could send down Tyler Lyons or Michael Wacha, but they are not only your freshest arms at the moment but also the leading candidates to take over Westbrook’s spot in the rotation. I can’t imagine you’d send Maness or Siegrist down, even if they could return when rosters expanded in a week and a half. There’s not even an extraneous hitter, really, unless you wanted to demote Kolten Wong, which I don’t think is in the plans.
John Mozeliak doesn’t have an obvious play here, not like when he’s had Fernando Salas or Michael Blazek or even Brock Peterson on the roster. The roster as it stands right now is about the ideal setting. Which leads me to believe that Westbrook will be placed on the disabled list today. We discussed this on UCB Radio last night but if you take Westbrook out of the rotation, you can’t really count on him out of the bullpen either. You could use him in games when you are up big or, more likely given the leads he’s whittled away, down big but that’s about it. Westbrook hasn’t looked really himself lately and the elbow is a convenient excuse, if the club wants to go that way, of getting him out of the picture temporarily. Given the lack of options on the roster right now, if that doesn’t happen this afternoon I’ll be completely surprised.
All of this overshadowed the fact that Yadier Molina played in his fifth straight game yesterday. A day game after a night game is usually when you rest a catcher. The fact that Molina didn’t have great numbers against Tom Gorzelanny (and, indeed, went 0-4 in the game) led to the idea he should sit as well. Plus the fact that the Cards play their next 17 games against the Braves, Reds and Pirates, games that Molina isn’t going to want to miss and the team isn’t going to want him to miss. So an afternoon affair with the Brewers would seem to have the best time to rest a guy just off the disabled list with a knee issue. Yet Yadi played.
I feel like Mike Matheny is taking the easy way out here. He’s had quotes that say something like “I can’t crawl inside his skin” and “He’s going to get a day off when he needs a day off. These are grown men. They know what they need.” I take issue with that, somewhat. Sure, on the face of it, those quotes seem to be realistic, but Matheny is a former catcher. He knows what the grind does on the knees and back of someone squatting behind the plate. He’s been a major league player that the pitching staff relies on. If anyone can get inside Yadi’s head and know what he’s going through, it’s Matheny.
And don’t give me that “They know what they need” business. These are competitive young men who have the confidence to be major league baseball players and some of the best ones that are out there. They may KNOW they need some rest in the back of their mind, but are they going to WANT it? And if they don’t want it, are they going to come up to their manager and say, “Hey, man, need a breather?” And I know that the clubhouse chemistry is strong, but do that too much or at the wrong time and don’t you at least personally fear what the rest of the team is going to think?
Seriously, if you are waiting for Yadier Molina to give you an accurate report on the bumps, bruises, aches and pains that he’s going through, get cozy. It’s not happening. We’ve seen it too much, Yadi wants to play every day and, if you give him the option, that’s what he’s going to do. You can’t give him that much power in the situation. You have to be able to say, “We’re sitting you down today so that you can be with us in the big games.” That’s what a manager does, especially one hired not for his tactics but for his ability to handle personalities and lead men.
To be fair, Matheny is getting a lot of input from medical personnel and has a lot more insight and information than this keyboard jockey, but from the outside looking in, this doesn’t seem to be the best situation going forward. Maybe, like Kevin suggested last night, they are going to try to push him hard through this next stretch, hope he holds up, and then rest him a lot the last two-three weeks against sub-par teams. That’s asking a lot of his knees, though.
I expect this would be a different discussion if Tony Cruz was available instead of Rob Johnson. A little easier to absorb that dropoff than the one you’d currently have.
Cards come home and try to avenge that sweep by the Braves at the end of last month. The Braves aren’t coming in at full strength either, as Jason Heyward took a pitch to the jaw yesterday and will be out 4-6 weeks.
While Heyward goes on the DL, Paul Maholm comes off of it. Maholm’s been out a month with a wrist injury, which meant the Cards didn’t see him in Atlanta. His ERA was under 4.00 until his last start before the injury, when he allowed seven runs in three innings. All in all, it seems like it’s been a fairly typical Maholm season.
It’s been a mixed bag for the Cards against Maholm. As a lefty, you’d actually expect him to do a little more damage against them and some of the big guns have some great numbers against him. Matt Holliday may not get many hits off of Maholm, but when he does they go a long way.
We all know what Joe Kelly has brought to the rotation since he returned to it, so there’s no need to rehash all of that. Kelly threw 6.1 innings of shutout ball against the Braves last month, getting a no-decision when the offense couldn’t score either and the Braves broke through in the eighth.
That was basically the only time Atlanta has seen him. Hopefully he can work around any hits he might give up and continue to keep the team in the game. If he could go deep into the game, that’d be good too. We’d appreciate that, Mr. Kelly!