Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It seems to be an aphorism that is following the St. Louis Cardinals around these days.
That’s a bit extreme–knock on wood, there’s been no major injuries or other dramatic things–but when you get between the white lines, it seems to apply. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. If it’s not that, something else breaks. A step forward, two steps back.
It all came to a boil last night as the Cards continued to put themselves in a position to win, only to see Kansas City say, “Not so fast, my friend.” After two straight games of no offense, the bats got loose and active, only to see the pitching staff decide–as they have with some frequency over the last few days–to take the night off.
First Kolten Wong breaks that long scoring slump with his first-ever home run–a grand slam, to boot–and you start thinking things are going to be all right. Jaime Garcia has been rolling and he was so again last night. The Cardinals had been stymied in the first with a Yadier Molina double-play ball with the bases loaded, but putting those two innings together you could be optimistic that things were going to be different during this game than they had been recently.
Opportunities continued to mount and pass by. If replay isn’t involved, Oscar Taveras is on base to score on Jhonny Peralta‘s double in the third. A rare double play in the fourth, where Garcia is doubled off second on a sharp Wong liner. (Which might be baseball’s way of saying you don’t bunt the pitcher over with nobody out in the fourth with your leadoff batter.)
So we’ve seen the offense have one big swing but still not click. What else can go wrong? Oh, what about Garcia having his worst inning ever as a major leaguer?
Six runs is a lot of runs and it’s not often you’ll see a pitcher labor through an inning like that, especially in the middle of the game, without getting yanked. I didn’t watch this portion of the game, but both game stories make notable mention of Garcia’s agitation on the mound. Given the stretch of games, Mike Matheny‘s argument that they needed innings from him makes sense, especially since Garcia’s pitch count wasn’t elevated, but he is also coming off of shoulder surgery and making only his fourth start of the season. There’s probably an argument for going to get him and trying to stop the bleeding, especially given the bummer of the last few days, but I don’t know that it’s an overwhelming one. Like I say, not watching that inning unfold, I can definitely see Matheny’s point.
(By the way, after having a stretch where basically no starter was having a “Lynning”, every one of them besides Michael Wacha had one this time through the rotation, and most of them weren’t the bare-minimum three runs either.)
Then the Cards, showing more spirit than we’ve given them credit for lately, immediately tie it back up. Then in the next inning, Peter Bourjos, who surprisingly (and probably significantly) didn’t start even though he had good numbers (sure, small sample size, but we’ve seen Matheny use it before) against James Shields, cranked a home run to give the Cards a 7-6 lead. Maybe, just maybe, this could be a feel-good day after all.
Not so much. Mr. Murphy is still lurking about.
Pat Neshek, who had been nails lately out of the pen, so much so that he’d taken the eighth inning from a struggling Carlos Martinez, of course winds up allowing three hits and letting the tying run score. Because baseball. I mean, Neshek hadn’t allowed a run of his own since April 9. Almost two months! But because the Cards could use a scoreless inning out of him, Murphy’s Law said they couldn’t have one.
Given that and the fact that the offense mustered two total baserunners after Bourjos’s homer, both of which were Matt Carpenter, the ending of this game was almost a fait accompli. Even though Trevor Rosenthal had been pitching better of late, I don’t think anyone was shocked to see double-single in the ninth to put the Royals ahead for good.
To tie up the paperwork: Matt Carpenter for Hero, given that he was on base four times last night and his one out was the sac bunt, Jaime Garcia for Goat, barely edging out “celebrating a decade in the big league” Molina, who went 0-5 and left five men on base.
The old baseball saw is that every team wins a third of their games and loses a third of their games. What they do with the third in the middle indicates what kind of team they are. This was one of those games that was squarely in the middle third and the Cardinals coughed it up. Which seems to be the kind of team they are.
Back on May 11, the Cardinals ended a long road trip. The prevailing line of thought was that they’d played so many road games the first part of the season that if they could just get home, have the routine of being in their own park, they’d click and take off.
It looked like that theory had credence when they went 7-2 before the quick three game run to Cincinnati. They won two of three there and everything looked peachy. However, whatever mojo they had stayed in the Queen City as they went 2-7 on the back half of this bunch of home games. So everything was lined up for them to push, to get their feet under them, and they basically are exactly where they were when they came into Busch. They were a .500 team and five games behind the Brewers when they got there, they are two games over .500 and five games behind the Brewers when they leave.
Which may be what they are. Maybe this team really isn’t the juggernaut we thought it would be back in the spring. You look at the roster and you see the talent, but it seems pretty clear that the power isn’t actually going to show up like we expected, since this is the second straight year they are in the bottom of the homer rankings, and without historic levels of hitting with runners on, there’s not enough to support what still is a good pitching staff.
This season’s not unsalvageable by any means, but the longer the Brewers are sitting up there with a comfortable lead, the less likely a repeat divisional crown is. The immediate road isn’t any easier, either. An American League road trip to Kansas City, where they’ll see young phenom Yordano Ventura; Toronto, who has the best record in the AL East; and Tampa Bay, who admittedly are having even a rougher season than the Cards. If the Redbirds are able to do more than break even during this stretch, it’d be out of character from what we’ve seen of them this year. I’m all for some out of character work, though!
Before we talk about tonight’s pitching matchups, I do want to address something that Christine Coleman talked about in her post yesterday. She discussed the idea that the Cardinals seem too laid-back, not intense enough, and that could be part of the problem.
There’s no doubt that the dugout mentality is probably different without Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols there, and perhaps a mental adjustment is needed. However, I also think results influence that perception a lot. Last year, when the team was winning with a similar mindset, they are professional, even-keeled, don’t get too high or too low, just come focused on the task. Now, they need a spark, some intensity to get going.
It goes the other way as well. A winning, jocular clubhouse is “loose”, a losing, jocular clubhouse is “not taking things seriously enough.” A player that produces with an attitude is “fun”, a player that doesn’t produce with that attitude is “divisive”. I mean, heck, Nyjer Morgan was the same guy but his act was seen much differently when he wasn’t getting hits and scoring runs.
Does this team need a kick in the pants, a mental adjustment? Maybe. Perhaps John Mozeliak will give that kick as well with a move or a shakeup. It could work, but remember, even the big Colby Rasmus trade didn’t pay real dividends for three weeks or so in 2011. Shakeups aren’t scientific experiments–you never know what you are going to get.
Just as long as he doesn’t make a move for a player named Murphy, we’re all good.
If the Cards are going to get out of this funk, you’d think Adam Wainwright would be the guy to do it. He had his bad outing last time (boy, did he ever) and he’s unlikely to have that happen in back-to-back starts (at least ones that don’t involve the Reds.)
We’re going to have to rely on Wainwright’s unlikelihood of struggling twice in a row, because those numbers don’t give us much hope in and of themselves. A lot of small sample sizes, of course, and the ones that have faced him the most haven’t been as strong as those that haven’t.
Cards will have to go up against lefty Jason Vargas, which means Wong probably would be sitting out today even if he hadn’t jammed his shoulder last night. We’ll see who gets centerfield, whether Bourjos’s homer got him a reprieve or if Randal Grichuk will be back out there. Vargas is coming off back to back games where he gave up one run in basically six innings. Of course, the game before those, he gave up seven to the White Sox. I’d like one of those games, please.
Well, if this is any indication, we’ll see Grichuk. The Cards haven’t seen much of Vargas, though Matt Holliday seems to be a fan. Baseball games are like the famous box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. Let’s hope we’re not puckering our lips after biting into this one!