The Cardinals went into Los Angeles with a little bit of offensive momentum. They then scored fewer runs in four games (four) than they did in their lowest scoring game in the Rockies (five).
Obviously, they faced a very good pitching staff. The Dodgers have the third best team ERA in baseball, after all, and two of their starting rotation have already thrown no-hitters this year. It’s a daunting task to try to score off of them.
That said, the Cards are sixth in team ERA, just nine points behind LA. The Dodger hurlers aren’t untouchable, nor does it take kryptonite or something similar to beat them. It does, however, take an offense that does more than sputters and lurches from game to game. That is something St. Louis just doesn’t seem to have.
Friday (3-1 win)
Hero: Jhonny Peralta. Not only did he have the big hit, the two-run double that provided the winning margin, but he also played some slick defense to keep it that way.
Goat: Allen Craig. The only starter that didn’t get a base knock. Craig didn’t even mitigate that with a walk and was double-switched out of the game late. Sadly, that move hasn’t drawn the outrage it used to given Craig’s lack of production.
Notes: Plenty of incredible defense in this game, especially Jon Jay‘s diving catch in center field. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a theme for the rest of the series. Carlos Martinez got the start and did fairly well, but was yanked with one out in the fifth. Given he was still shy of the 100 pitches that he was supposedly stretched out for, I was a little surprised at that. Still, he had two runners on and had been a bit erratic, so Mike Matheny pulled the trigger and Seth Maness came in and did what he does, got the double play.
The bullpen was outstanding in this one. Maness went 2.1 scoreless, Sam Freeman got a big out, and Pat Neshek and Trevor Rosenthal finished it up without too much drama. All in all, it was a nice game. It was the last nice game we were going to see.
Saturday (9-1 loss)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. Finding any high point in this drek is tough, but Carpenter did provide the lone highlight, a home run that kept the Cards from being shut out in three of the four games. It was his only hit, but since the Redbirds only managed four, that’s still an impressive achievement.
Goat: Lance Lynn. Look, it wasn’t all his fault and he did have a blister issue that didn’t help matters. He should have been out of the first without a run, but Daniel Descalso botched a double play. He couldn’t throw anything but fastballs due to his finger. That all taken into account, when you give up seven runs in two innings, you are going to get the Goat. Lynn’s been doing much better of late–this was the first Lynning I can remember in a while–and I don’t think this start engenders the angst that his bad starts used to. And, to be fair, they were in a big hole after getting down 1-0 in the first with Zack Greinke on the opposing mound.
Notes: Greinke had his stuff working–10 strikeouts in seven innings, with the Dodger relievers garnering three more. Matt Adams struck out three times and had a quiet series at Chavez Ravine after his booming series at Coors Field. Really, though, the less said about this game, the better.
Sunday (6-0 loss)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. You get three hits off of Clayton Kershaw, especially the Kershaw baseball is seeing this month, that’s darn impressive. Carpenter apparently cracked the code with that long at-bat in last year’s NLCS. Unfortunately, the rest of the team didn’t follow suit.
Goat: Shelby Miller. Again, he pitched better than the line really seemed to indicate. He had two walks that looked like strikeouts earlier in the at-bat, to Kershaw and Yasiel Puig. He gave up a bunt single to Adrian Gonzalez against the shift after the walk to Puig, which allowed a flare over the infield to turn into a run. Granted, later on he allowed a three-run homer to Andre Ethier, which had less justification, but overall, it wasn’t terrible. The problem is, you have to be almost perfect to beat Kershaw these days, and Miller was far from perfect.
Notes: The Cards actually got more hits against Kershaw than they did against Greinke, though that’s really because of Carpenter. Kershaw also struck out 13, giving St. Louis that total two days running. Tough to get much going when you strike out in almost half your outs. Jorge Rondon finally got to make his major league debut after being called up two other times with nothing to show for it. He threw a scoreless frame with only a walk to mar it.
St. Louis woke up today percentage points behind the streaking Reds, winners of five straight, and only a game and a half ahead of the fourth-place Pirates. We’ve naturally assumed that this team is a contender, that they should be buying to make a postseason push. What if that’s not the case?
There would seem to be too much talent for this team not to be in the race for October. That said, there seemed to be too much talent last year for the Blue Jays not to play postseason baseball, but they stumbled hard and never were a factor. There was too much talent for the Washington Nationals last year to be an also-ran, but they also sat at home watching the World Series. Baseball happens and it’s not always the way we want it to be. We’re used to a competitive team, a team that’s always going to be there–you really have to go back to 1998-1999 to find a team that wasn’t at least on the fringes of the race–but it’s not a birthright. MLB doesn’t grant exemptions for a disappointing season.
Of course, figuring out what to do about it is a totally different thing. Do you cut bait with Craig after a rough three months? It seems extreme, but that would allow for Oscar Taveras to get into the lineup. Is Taveras even the answer? He scuffled a little bit (though not as much as the statistics seem to indicate) in his first time up. Do you sell high on Matt Adams, even though he’s providing a good chunk of the little offense you have? How do you improve this lineup?
Or can you? Do you double-down on your strength, go get David Price, hope that Michael Wacha is going to heal and expect to win a lot of 2-1 games with those three at the top of your rotation? We know that pitching wins pennants, right? Having those three going would make you feel better about running into the Dodgers in a series and matching up with Kershaw, Greinke and Josh Beckett.
I don’t know the answer and anyone that tells you they do is delusional. I honestly am not sure that John Mozeliak knows the answer either, though he has a better chance of it than most. Eventually, Mo’s going to have to make that stab in the dark and hope that it turns out like the Colby Rasmus trade in 2011.
However, I wouldn’t advise him to wait much longer. I know when we talked with him last week he didn’t seem to be ready to make a move, that he was going to wait until that trading period between the All-Star Game and the deadline. That said, he might want to remember that even after making the Rasmus deal, the Cards were seemingly out of it a month later before finally catching fire. Any move that you make might not pay immediate dividends, so the earlier you make it, the more time you have for it to click.
Interesting thoughts from Matheny about wanting the team to bunt to beat the shift. There are two things to take away from this. One, this offense is struggling enough that it makes sense, though you hate to see big sluggers bunting. Of course, that’s assuming they are slugging, which they aren’t. Still, while I understand it and don’t disagree with Matheny’s point, it comes across as playing small ball when the offense is already doing that. That’s just an initial feel and, again, I think he’s right that they should do it more. We saw how it worked for Gonzalez this weekend. Though, on the flip side, the person most shifted against was Matt Adams and he was beating the shift regularly with base hits to the opposite side. He was also doing it with limited power, so I’d tell Adams to keep doing what you are doing instead of tinkering with him again.
The second point is what I find more interesting. Matheny wants the guys to bunt more often in that situation. Last I checked, he was the manager. Either he can put on the sign for a bunt or he can make sure that the players get the message, either verbally or by something a bit more active, like yanking them from a game after missing that opportunity or benching them the next day if they don’t want to do it.
It’s one thing when fans like us bemoan them not taking advantage of a wide open left side of the infield. It’s another thing when the manager, who is supposed to be setting the tone, does it. That’s the sort of thing he doesn’t need the press for, I don’t think.
Hey, here’s a headline you never want to see. “Wacha’s injury perplexes Cardinals.” Which is even more scary when you remember just exactly how injuries tend to work in Cardinal Nation. It’s never a good thing when a pitcher has an injury that is “very unique”–again, that always brings Kyle Lohse to mind and how long it took him to get over that strange forearm injury.
What’s going to be frightening in this process, besides the loss of Wacha for who knows how long, is that most likely something is going to have to change to make sure this isn’t a recurring problem. Which might mean a different approach, different mechanics while he’s pitching. Will he be as effective if that happens? We won’t know until he gets back out there. Unfortunately, that seems less and less likely to be anytime soon.
Cards get a well-deserve off day before heading into San Francisco tomorrow to finish up their tour of no-hit pitchers. At least Tim Lincecum threw the no-no last time out, so the chances are pretty slim he’ll pull a Johnny Vander Meer. Overall, Lincecum isn’t what he used to be and his ERA is around four and a half. Save for his reputation and the no-hitter, he’s really a fairly average to slightly above-average pitcher these days and, as such, shouldn’t shut down St. Louis like the Greinke/Kershaw tandem did.
Past experience shouldn’t daunt the Cardinal hitters either. Most everyone that’s seen him much at all has done well against him, so I feel fairly confident we won’t see another shutout. Though I refuse to guarantee it.
Marco Gonzales gets to make another major league start, this time in a pitcher’s park away from the expectations of family and friends. Gonzales did well enough in Coors, save that one misstep of an inning, and hopefully he’ll have better results against a lineup that isn’t quite as fearsome (especially in the thin air) as the Colorado one.
Enjoy the off day!