I’ve used the “define the word” intro before, otherwise I’d be spelling out just what momentum is supposed to mean, because the Cards sure have a terrible idea about it. Doing a search for that at the old site, I’m struck by how often in the last few years we are complaining about momentum, about the Cardinals being unable to get anything going or capitalize on a big or emotional game. You’d think we’d be used to it by now, but each time is more frustrating than the last.
With Pittsburgh sitting at home and watching, St. Louis had an excellent chance to cut the gap to a half-game. Well, perhaps an excellent chance if Joe Kelly was on the mound. Unfortunately (or, given the opponent, perhaps fortunately), Kelly doesn’t go until tonight in Pittsburgh. Which meant Lance Lynn was on the mound and, sadly, we’re getting to where expectations aren’t real high for a guy that has won 31 games in the last two years.
For once, Lynn was able to avoid the big inning that he is now famous for. Instead, it was the drip, drip, drip of solo runs in every inning. He got through the first, but then got homer happy, allowing shots in the third, fourth and fifth. I guess we should be glad nobody was on base for those, huh?
He’s not had what I’d consider a “good” game since August 4. Since that time, he’s 0-5 in six starts (the Cardinals did win the one he didn’t get a decision in) with a 6.88 ERA and a .959 OPS against. To put that OPS in perspective (something I tend to need to do, not always having a great feel for the scale of things), a .959 OPS from a hitter would lead the National League by almost 30 points. (Right now Paul Goldschmidt has a .931 OPS to be the top hitter in that category.) That’s skewed from last night a bit–.922 OPS before the three home runs–but it still points to the fact that Lynn isn’t pitching into that much hard luck right now (though there probably is some–his BABIP is .381, which is a little high).
Whether or not Lynn is pitching as bad as we think (and I understand the advanced statistics may indicate he’s not), he’s not getting the job done for a team right now that does have other options. We saw this last year, as he spent time in the bullpen before returning to the rotation. It might be fatigue (though the weight he lost was supposed to counteract that), it might be a slump, who knows, but I think it’s become time to think about swapping him with someone like Tyler Lyons or Carlos Martinez. Every game down the stretch is likely to count and right now Lynn’s not necessarily giving you a great chance to win.
He’s definitely not when the offense is sputtering like a politician accused of a scandal. On this road trip, look at this comparison:
|SL Hits||Opp Runs|
You can probably pick out the two games they won on this trip. When the opponent gets more runs than you get hits, you are likely having some troubles. Such was the case again last night. You give the Hero tag to David Freese for getting two of the five hits, including a home run, but you realize that you can only win games where you get six or fewer hits if the starting rotation is really clicking and, right now, it isn’t.
Obviously, all is not lost. Winning the series against the Pirates this weekend gets them a divisional lead, a sweep puts them up as much as they are behind right now. The Cards have played much better at home (41-25 there, 39-35 on the road) and have 15 of their remaining 22 games there. The division is well within their grasp.
The problem is, you wonder if this really is a championship team. It feels like a team that was going to make a postseason run would have done better on this gauntlet run through Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. True, winning two of three this weekend against the Pirates would put them at .500 for the 14 games, so maybe that’s the best you could expect against tough teams like this. I just feel like maybe a stronger statement would have been made by a team set up for a deep run into October.
That said, the 2006, 2011 and 2012 teams probably would have done the exact same thing so what do I know? I just know the Cards have a much better chance if they avoid the play-in game, just because you don’t know which team will show up. In five or seven games, you can absorb a dud. Not so much in a one-game playoff.
St. Louis did get a little good news in the fact that Allen Craig‘s foot was not broken, it was just sprained. Of course, even with a sprain, there’s no guarantee of if and when Craig will return. The club will take a look at it again early next week and see how it is healing. It’s going to be disappointing not to have him against the Pirates this weekend, but if he’s healthy for October, it’ll be OK.
The last showdown with the Pirates happens this weekend. Can we finally say it’s a big series? Everyone keeps saying “there’s a lot of baseball left.” There’s not, folks. 22 games is not a lot. It’s just over 10% of the season, sure, but you don’t usually gain three games in a week. The sands are still running through the hourglass and they don’t go back up.
Just look at the swing this series could bring. If the Cards sweep, they are up by 1.5 games. Win two of three, down a 1/2 game. Lose two of three, down 2.5 games. Get swept, down 4.5 games. The difference between winning the series and losing the series could be psychologically big as well.
A.J. Burnett is going for the Pirates. Last time out, he kept St. Louis off-balance and was able to beat them fairly handily. In the past, though, he’s struggled with the Redbirds at times. His last game at Busch, for example, he gave up five runs in 4.1 innings. We’d take some more of that tonight.
Interesting that Yadier Molina rested last night given his track record against Burnett would seem to make tonight a great chance to give him a break. We might even see Pete Kozma get back out there since one of his four hits since July 30 came off of Burnett. (Kozma is hitting .066 counting that doubleheader. He’s hitting less than 100 points more than you or I in that span and we’ve not actually done anything but sit in front of our computer and TV screens.)
The Stretch Run Savior is on the hill for St. Louis tonight. The Cards are 9-1 in Kelly starts since he returned to the rotation at the beginning of July. It’s in large part to the fact that he keeps them in the game–a 2.16 ERA and .656 OPS in that time. Kelly gave up one run in six innings to the Pirates in his last time out and shut them out in six innings back at the beginning of August. However, his worst outing of the year did come against them at Busch when he gave up four runs in 1/3 of an inning back in April when he was being bounced around in the bullpen.
Cardinals, I know you aren’t big believers in momentum, but we are. Let’s put some wins together and go into the playoffs on a roll, shall we? Sounds good to me!