I was listening a bit to the KMOX pregame show last night and heard John Rooney and Rick Horton mention that it’s been a “very good road trip”. I thought to myself, “Guys, let’s not get carried away.” Sure, with a win it’s a good time away from Busch, but a loss would have them basically at .500 through this stretch of AL games on the road.
Given the way this Cardinal team has gone this season, of course it wasn’t a good trip.
When you give Michael Wacha a 3-0 lead, especially against a team that hasn’t scored a run since Sunday, you feel pretty good about your chances. Wacha’s not been perfect this season, but he’s been about as close to it as any Cardinal pitcher on a regular basis. However, like Mike Shannon says, only one man was perfect and they nailed Him to a tree. Wacha’s no-hitter ended in the fourth, as did his shutout and lead. You don’t often see big innings from Wacha, but that’s not the only thing that’s uncommon.
Not to sound alarmist, but in his last two starts, Wacha has struck out a single batter. One. Granted, both of those were against AL teams so he didn’t have a pitcher to face, but even so, that’s pretty extreme. Save for a seven-K performance against the Giants, his strikeouts have been on a fairly steady decline since he struck out 10 against the Mets back in April:
That’s a troubling trend to me. While there’s been no indication of any arm issues, which is a good thing (and not something the rest of the rotation can claim, as we’ll discuss in a bit), it may indicate that the league is starting to catch up to him a bit. He’s been pretty good even with lesser strikeout numbers, but that gives him much less margin of error.
This is also the second night in a row where Mike Matheny‘s taken out the starter short of his normal pitch count. Wacha only went five and threw just 83 pitches. I’m not saying that it’s the wrong thing to remove him from the game, especially since he wasn’t at his best, but the Cards were just down one and he’d thrown four scoreless innings out of his five. I’m a bit surprised that he didn’t get sent out there for the sixth. Again, given yesterday’s news with the ace of the rotation, this stands out a bit when you look at the box score. I didn’t get to watch the game, so it may seem more ominous or strange than it actually was, however.
While Wacha gets the Goat, it’s still worth noting that the Cards only scored three runs as the offense, save those couple of games in Toronto, still isn’t clicking. On this road trip, the Redbirds averaged 3.1 runs a game. While that’s better than some stretches, it’s still not exactly a high octane approach to hitting. (Interestingly, the seven games before this road stretch, the Cards ALSO averaged 3.1 runs per game. Of course, there were two shutouts in that stretch.) You shouldn’t expect your starters to always be able to make do on a low-run diet.
To be fair, they did have a chance in the fifth with the bases loaded and two out, but Peter Bourjos was robbed on a leaping catch by Kevin Kiermaier. Which seems to be the way of things for this team. Even when they get a chance, they get robbed. Often, they don’t even create chances, but last night they put 12 on, so you’d think they could have gotten another run or two across the plate.
Carlos Martinez got a chance to stretch out a little bit, but not as long as Matheny would have liked, I don’t believe. Martinez had an easy sixth but ran into trouble in the seventh, allowing a run and leaving two runners on while getting just one out. Randy Choate allowed one of them to score (tough not to when you come into a game with a runner on third and less than two outs) and it took Seth Maness to finally clean up the mess. It’s seeming more and more likely that Martinez will be heading down to Memphis once Joe Kelly is ready to go. There’s still some work to be done, it appears.
The Hero of the night goes to Yadier Molina, who shook off his slump to get two hits, one of which scored two runs with two outs in the third. Without that key hit, it’d have been an even longer night. Jon Jay and Mark Ellis both had two hits as well.
Of course, a lot of this was overshadowed by the news that Adam Wainwright went back to St. Louis yesterday to get an MRI on his pitching elbow. All the tests came back negative for any major issues, instead indicating some tendinitis. Initial reports seemed to indicate that the Cards knew he was hurting before he pitched Tuesday night, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, which is good. I wouldn’t think Matheny would run him out there if he thought there was a significant issue.
Even though it doesn’t appear to be a major issue, there’s still some question about whether he can take the mound for his next start, which should be Monday against the Mets. Given the way he’s struggled against the team from New York, if he had to miss a start, that might be the one to miss. However, who takes his place? I’d guess they’d dip down to Memphis and bring up someone, but the problem is none of the Memphis starters are on the 40-man roster. A number of relievers are, but none of the starters. Is it worth removing someone from the 40-man for a spot start? Tyler Lyons had a pretty good rehab start, but he’s going to need more than that. Kelly isn’t going to be ready. So who will pitch Monday? That’s a pretty interesting question.
We know that Lance Lynn will pitch Friday, though, as everyone takes another day off today to get ready for the Nationals. Lynn labored against the Blue Jays in his last start, approaching 100 pitches in the fourth, but allowed only two runs in five innings. Lynn fluctuates, as we know, but he usually keeps the team in the game and gets some run support. He may need it, because the Nationals have done OK against him.
Of course, when the biggest sample is 10 plate appearances, it’s darn close to the definition of small sample size. That said, Washington has a pretty good offense and Lynn’s going to have to be on his game to limit the damage to the level that the Cardinals can score enough to overcome it. And that can be a really low level.
Especially when you are going up against a guy like Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmerman is coming off a shutout of the Padres, which was preceded by eight scoreless innings against the Phillies. He’s only had a couple of bad games this year, as that 3.17 ERA might indicate. The only saving grace? The Cards have done alright against him in the past.
We leave the land of the DH, so Matheny has to start making outfield decisions again. It’s going to be tough for him to overlook what Jay has done, so expect him to start somewhere, most likely center field since the other spots would seem to be claimed.
I mean, you could make a case for him to be in right, but Matt Adams should be activated for Friday’s game, which will put him at first and Allen Craig in right, you’d think. My personal feeling is that Randal Grichuk will go down and they’ll figure out a way to play Oscar Taveras enough to make it worth him being up. Many others on Twitter see Oscar being the one making the trip back to Memphis to get regular playing time.
That’s a perfectly logical line of reasoning and I wouldn’t be shocked if it was the case, but my pick of Grichuk is based on three things. One, it’s obvious he needs more time in AAA, getting regular at-bats and growing his game. I don’t think that’s true of Taveras, at least not as much. Two, John Mozeliak has said they don’t want to yo-yo Taveras. My feeling is that when Mo brought him up, he intended him to stay up, even knowing that this position crunch would be coming. Three, I think that if they were planning to send down Oscar, they’d have played him yesterday instead of wasting their last shot of him in the bigs. It’s notable that Grichuk did start yesterday, which would line up with him going down.
Now, Jon Doble has the theory that Grichuk goes down now and Taveras goes down once they see how well Adams is doing. There’s something to be said for that, but 1) I am not sure they are clamoring to get Shane Robinson back on this roster and 2) if they didn’t think they’d get what they normally get out of Adams, I don’t think they’d bring him back up. Just because the 15 days has elapsed doesn’t require them to promote Big Fill In The Blank. I’d argue they are expecting regular Adams when he returns and, if you are just looking for security blankets, Grichuk might fit that role better. That may well be what they do, but I just don’t see it, honestly. My feeling is Taveras is here to stay, most likely. However, I’m often wrong, so I wouldn’t put any money on that if I were you.
Off days are OK, but they are better when they come rarely, not twice a week, don’t you think?