The Cards have played two games in Cincinnati and split the two. Earlier in the year, I think we’d have been fairly happy with that result. Right now, when they are winning almost every game put before them, any sort of loss is a reason for anguish. (Oh, who am I kidding, anguish is part of any loss, no matter when it is.)
Monday (5-0 win)
Hero: Shelby Miller. Bernie Mikalsz talks about Miller adding his curve. There’s rumors that Justin Masterson taught him the sinker. Yadier Molina‘s return has helped. Whatever the reason, this looks like the Miller we always thought was going to be here, the top prospect that was going to head up a rotation.
Well, not exactly. Because many of us thought that he’d be a flame-thrower, piling up the strikeouts. In his last three starts, he’s thrown 21 innings (seven in each one) and has a fancy 0.86 ERA, but only has 12 strikeouts in that time. That’s not bad, of course, and I don’t think anyone is complaining about the results, but it’s just not what pops to mind when you think of Shelby Miller, I don’t think.
In that same period of time, though, he’s only walked five batters, which is really key. Being more diverse but being able to keep it in the strike zone is what makes good pitching and right now, Miller definitely is doing that. It’s still going to be tough for him to make the postseason rotation, but if there’s any crack in that door, Miller’s going to be able to jam his foot in there and keep it open.
Goat: As much as he might be helping the youngster, Monday was not Yadier Molina‘s night. 0-5 with two strikeouts and four left on. Which, given the pain it gives Reds fans when Molina does something good, was really a missed opportunity.
Notes: Matt Adams went yard again, tacking on a nice cushion in the ninth. That’s two homers since sitting for a couple of days. Perhaps a healthy and refreshed Adams can give this team a little jolt from time to time. I mean, this team is still dead last in home runs in the National League, so it’s not going to happen much, but everyone once in a while it would be nice to see. (The good thing about the Cards being last in homers? How often do you see stories about a team that couldn’t do X in the regular season doing X in the playoffs? I feel like baseball does that often, so maybe they’ll have a power surge in October.)
A number of folks had two hits on the night, but the most impressive might be Randal Grichuk, who came in as a pinch-hitter in the seventh (starting the first run-scoring rally) and got another knock later in the game. Pretty much anyone in the outfield is producing some now, aren’t they?
Tuesday (9-5 loss)
Hero: For a team that had 14 hits and five runs, coming up with a Hero while looking at the box score is a little tough. The hits were spread out (which is usually good) and only a couple got more than one of them. Plus the bench got emptied, which is saying something in September. We’ll go with Big Fill-In-The-Blank Matt Adams for this one, since he had two hits and scored a run. Matt Holliday was the only other player to get two safeties.
Goat: Looking at the box score and not having watched the game, you might think Michael Wacha was the shoe-in for this award. Most of you, though, watched the game, and even though Wacha wasn’t sharp, the score was just 4-1 when he left with a couple of runners on.
Why Mike Matheny thought this was the time for Jason Motte, it’s hard to know. Motte is a great guy and you respect what he’s done not only for this organization but off the field as well, but right now he’s not the player he used to be. Motte eventually got three outs, in part because Mike Leake grounded into a double play, but he allowed three hits and not only his two inherited runners but also one of his own to score. A 4-1 game became 7-1 and, while the Cards tried to rally, you pretty much felt the game was over right there.
Again, Motte’s been a key part of this team and we shouldn’t discount that, but you can’t put him into a game that you have a chance of winning now. You just can’t. Our friend Joe Schwarz has written about Motte’s decline in velocity and given that’s how he earns his money, it’s a major issue. You could have an Adam Wainwright return from Tommy John in a year because he has other weapons. Motte needs his fastball and right now, he doesn’t have it.
Put it this way: If Matheny puts in Motte when it is 7-1, it’s not a big deal. To put him in to make it 7-1 is.
Notes: As stated, this was a bit of a step back for Wacha, though he’s still fine physically (as far as we know). There’s a reason why rehabbing a pitcher in the middle of the pennant race is problematic. With Marco Gonzales ready behind him, most likely we should have seen Matheny pinch-hit for Wacha at the top of the inning and let Gonzales start the bottom of the fifth. However, Wacha only had 61 pitches at that time and was supposed to get closer to 75. Matheny left him in, even though we could tell that it wasn’t prime Wacha-ness.
Now, to be fair to Wacha and Matheny, Wacha could have gotten out of the fifth undamaged. After a leadoff walk, Todd Frazier hit a grounder to second that Kolten Wong couldn’t come up with as he tried to tag Brayan Pena going from first. If Wong gets a handle on that, he at least gets the runner at first and possibly turns the double play. The game might have gone a little differently than that, though since no one else was warming up, unless Wacha finished the frame Motte would have still come in and there’s no reason to think the results would have been much different.
Matheny did his best to use everyone last night, with 24 names showing up in the box score, including all three catchers. Tommy Pham and Sam Tuivailala both made their major league debuts and quickly found out that they weren’t in Memphis anymore. Pham struck out batting for Holliday in the ninth and Tuivailala allowed two runs on three hits and a walk and couldn’t finish the eighth.
The Cards did try to rally in the ninth, but the problem with any ninth inning rally against Cincinnati is that, eventually, they just bring in Aroldis Chapman and usually that’s when you reach for the light switch. Chapman against Mark Ellis, which is how the game ended, was a pretty obvious mismatch, though give Ellis credit for battling him for 11 pitches (five which went over 100 mph) before striking out.
The Pirates and the Brewers lost (man, the Brewers–you just have to shake your head. Bases loaded in the eighth in a tie game with nobody out and you don’t score. You aren’t winning that game.) so the Cards keep their lead and whittle on the magic number. It’s down to 14, which doesn’t have oodles of history. Obviously, it’s Ken Boyer‘s number and that’s plenty, but other than that, the only people of semi-recognizable fame to wear it were both Mort and Walker Cooper and Dave Ricketts wore it as a coach in the ’70s.
Joe Strauss has an article up about Matheny, and shorn of its mockery and snark (well, if you take that out of a Strauss article, there’s very little left), there is a point. We’ve done a darn good job of cataloging Matheny’s errors, as we should. He’s made them and they should be discussed. However, you also have to give him credit where it is due. This team is in first and they’ve battled to get there. This hasn’t been a cruise-control team. You could argue he’s pushed the wrong buttons at times and perhaps made it more difficult than it had to be, but the team is winning and the manager has to get some of the credit for that.
The general manager does as well, of course, since John Mozeliak limited his options with Allen Craig and apparently interceded on behalf of Trevor Rosenthal, which seems to have worked. There are a lot of factors that go into play with a first place team, especially one that right now sits just five runs to the good in run differential. We have to acknowledge that Matheny has had some positive impacts on this team as well. It seems likely that another manager would have had much worse results.
Talking about worse results leads us into today’s game. John Lackey has been hit or miss while he’s been in St. Louis and part of that reason seems to be declining velocity. He better have the speed today, because Great American Ball Park is no place to try to get by with less than your best.
At least he’s had some good success with the Reds in the past, though he’s obviously not seen them terribly often. If he can limit them, you feel good about what the offense has been doing lately and you would expect a win. However, those five-plus run games that Lackey has a habit of tossing get you worried about what you’ll see in this one.
Cardinals will have to try to do damage against Alfredo Simon. That wasn’t too hard last month, as they got eight hits and three runs off of him in 5.1 innings. Another day like that wouldn’t go amiss, I don’t believe.
Simon’s last start was a four-inning, six-run affair against the Mets. It’s hard to believe that he was once the league leader in wins, but the second half has not been good to him. He’s 1-7 with a 5.27 ERA since the All-Star Break.
Hopefully this team gives us less to complain about tonight. I mean, we’ll always find something, but at least make us hunt for it!