It seems like shutouts used to be rare, one of those semi-unique things that you noted when they happened. Now, it seems like at least twice a week we see one. The only question is whether the Cardinals are doing the blanking or being blanked.
Last night was the latter, unfortunately. It didn’t have to be, but then there was the sequence that defines the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals in many respects.
After Yadier Molina was hit with a Tim Lincecum pitch, the Cardinals had bases loaded with nobody out in the third. Many fans thought, “Hey, great, they can get an early lead.” (Sadly, some fans knew better.) “This is going to turn the game…..”
[Allen Craig strikes out]
“Well, there’s just one out. Even a fly ball gets them a 1-0 lead. Nice solid hit here and…..”
[Jon Jay strikes out]
“Oh. Maybe Descalso can come through? I mean, it’s not likely but he’s surprised us before…..”
[Daniel Descalso grounds out]
So bases loaded, nobody out and the club still didn’t score. And this wasn’t 8-9-1 coming up, where it might be semi-expected. This is Craig, who was Mr. RBI last year, and Jay, who has been hitting much better this season. (Descalso, sure, that was pretty much a given.) When you fail in these opportunities, don’t expect to be given another chance.
And, of course, in the bottom of that inning Marco Gonzales stumbled, allowing single-double-homer to put the Cards down 3-0. No fan could have been blamed for assuming the game was over there given the offensive woes and it really was, though the Giants tacked on a couple more the next frame. The Cards had their opportunity to get to Lincecum and they didn’t do it. They paid for their lack of vision.
While I’m excited about Gonzales being in the bigs, it seems as clear as it can be with just two games to examine that he still needs some time in the minor leagues. He can get through the lineup once with his stuff, but major league hitters aren’t having much problem making adjustments. Given the lack of cushion this team is giving its starters on most days, he can’t learn on the job and he shouldn’t have to do so. There’s a reason that we have the minors. With Joe Kelly throwing four scoreless last night for Memphis, that might have been Gonzales’s last outing in the bigs for a while, though I have no doubt he’ll return before his career is finished.
The Goat will be Jon Jay, given his role in stranding the bases loaded and the fact he went 0-4 on the night anyway. At least one of the pitches Jay swung at in that defining at bat was way outside anyway, showing he might have been overeager to get a run in. Then again, knowing the state of this offense, he might have realized he was the only shot. Jay’s also hitting just .214 over his last ten games. The Redbirds have faced a lot of good pitchers in that time, so it’s hard to draw any conclusions, but Jay does tend to hit better when he thinks he’s competing for a job. Maybe a few center field starts by Oscar Taveras will get that bat going again.
I think I’m going to give the Hero to Seth Maness, who pitched 1.2 innings and allowed only one inherited runner to score. Coming into a bases-loaded, one-out situation, that’s not a bad thing. If the bats had been able to do something, he might have kept the game interesting. Matt Carpenter was almost the choice with a hit and a walk, but I liked Maness (and he probably deserves some attention for other great games as well) and I hated to do the same Hero three games in a row. Though that might tell you the state of the offense as much as anything.
With over half the season gone, it seems fair to ask, “Is this all there is?” We keep thinking that the Cardinals are underachieving, that they will eventually find something that clicks and start winning ball games. Will they? Sure, right now they are second, but with a loss tonight and a Reds and Pirates win, they would be sitting in fourth place. Fourth! Should a team that’s a serious playoff contender be a hair’s-breath from fourth place as the Fourth of July approaches?
We’ve never seen St. Louis be sellers at the deadline and I’m not sure that it’d start this year, but those exciting dreams of going out and adding pieces to this squad are getting more and more ethereal. Why do you try to prop up a team that can’t seem to get within five games of the division leader? Right now they are even a game and a half out of the wild card, though granted with no one between them and the last spot. Is this team worth fighting for, in other words?
I don’t know. On the one hand, 6.5 games and a lackluster squad seems so ripe for a “pack it up, let’s go home” approach. On the other hand, the Dodgers caught fire and wiped out 9.5 games in three weeks. It can be done, especially with a majority of the season series against the Brewers left to play. Something has to change, though. But what?
We saw Taveras get the call up and hopefully he can give a spark to things. I was concerned when I saw a weak chopper to second in his second AB last night that the plague around this team had reached him as well, but we’ll give it a few more days before we hit that panic button. Taveras did take some good at-bats last night, including drawing a walk in the eighth instead of trying to make some grand but futile gesture. I expect he’s here for the duration and I hope the club lets him play the way he’s used to playing. If nothing else, it’d be nice to see something besides a bunch of infield ground balls.
The Cards, incidentally, are fourth in the league in ground balls. Surprisingly, they have a 1.00 GB/FB ratio, which puts them tied for fourth with the Dodgers. The teams ahead of them? San Diego, Miami and Arizona. All three teams are sub-.500 and only Miami could be considered in contention, and that’s because the NL East isn’t all that strong. Perhaps a potent offense gets the ball in the air a little more often? (Actually, probably not. The three teams with the lowest GB/FB ratio in the NL? Chicago, San Francisco and the Mets. One of those things is not like the others.)
Something has to be done, but what it is, I have no clue. The pieces for a strong offense would seem to be there, but they aren’t acting like it. If there was some sort of offensive threat on the trade market, I’d be hoping John Mozeliak could go out and get it. However, what’s out there?
At least today is Adam Wainwright day, which usually means the bats don’t have to do all that much. Wainwright got shelled by the Giants the last time the two teams faced off, but the odds of that happening twice to him by a team that doesn’t play in Cincinnati have to be small, right?
The Giants have actually had pretty good success against Wainwright, but I think he can shut them down with the way he’s been pitching this year. Plus he’s got to have some fond memories of AT&T Park, since that’s where he hit his first career home run.
St. Louis has to deal with Ryan Vogelsong. Vogelsong is coming off a strong outing against the Reds (one run in six innings) and has been fairly solid on the year, with an ERA just under four. He does seem to alternate good starts with middling/bad ones, so maybe that pattern will hold.
Vogelsong hasn’t just shut down the Cards in the past, which is good. He gave up four runs in 6.1 innings when the Giants were in St. Louis earlier this season. If he does that again, with Waino going, I feel confident about our chances. Gotta hope for the positive, right?