For the fact that the Cardinals went 3-1 since we last got together, this is a fairly painful post to have to write. Let’s go through the rundown then we can talk about the ramifications.
Thursday (4-1 win at Washington)
Hero: There are some options, but I’m going with Michael Wacha. Knowing that he was drawing a tough matchup with Max Scherzer, all he did was allow one run in seven innings while striking out six. He had to be that good, because the offense didn’t kick in with a cushion until after he was out of the game. Given what happened the rest of the weekend, Wacha’s continued dominance could be a huge deal for the Cards.
Goat: Kolten Wong. Wong was one of only two starters without a hit and he three times led off innings with outs. The fourth time, he stranded Jhonny Peralta at second with two out. Not the greatest day at the plate for the young man.
Notes: The existence of Tony Cruz was confirmed as he made his first appearance of the season, getting a hit in four times up. Unfortunately, we saw a lot more of Cruz in Milwaukee….I don’t think I’d heard the term “Little League home run” until the last week or so, then it started appearing everywhere, including the description of Mark Reynolds‘s trip around the bases in the eighth, where he drove in a run with a double and then scored when the Washington pitcher threw the ball away….That combination of Jordan Walden and Trevor Rosenthal in the eighth and ninth is really paying off….Jason Heyward had two hits in this one, continuing to look like he’s finding his footing.
Friday (3-0 win at Milwaukee)
Hero: Jhonny Peralta. Three for four including a home run that gave a bit more cushion for Carlos Martinez. He did make an error, but it didn’t prove to be costly.
Goat: Jon Jay. 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on.
Notes: Heyward continued his improving results by parking one over the wall. That was his only hit of the night, though he did smoke one right at the shortstop, a hard hit ball that probably would have been a double had it gone through….Matt Carpenter continued to be a force, recording two hits though he didn’t actually score a run this time….Martinez was masterful, throwing seven scoreless innings and striking out eight. My fear with Martinez was always that he’d not have the control to be able to go deep into games, but he was very effective here and that worry is getting smaller each time he takes the mound. Martinez only walked two and, when you couple that with just four hits, shows that he can be a dynamic force. He may need to be…..Yadier Molina left this one after a foul ball went off his knee. It was the last we saw of Molina in this series, something we’ll discuss in a bit.
Saturday (5-3 win at Milwaukee)
Hero: Matt Holliday. He only had one hit, but it was a three-run homer that proved to be pivotal when the bullpen started having issues.
Goat: Seth Maness. His line looks nice–1.1 innings, no earned runs–but that’s the generally deceptive line of a reliever. Maness came in with two on and immediately hit Khris Davis, then gave up a double to Sith Lord Aramis Ramirez, letting the Brewers get within two. Maness got the next out and finished up the game, but it wasn’t as clean as you might think looking just at the box score.
Notes: We continue the YOU HAD ONE JOB tally for Randy Choate, who came in to face one batter and allowed an RBI single. So that brings us to seven opportunities, seven batters faced, and four batters reaching by hit or walk. When you can’t do your ONE JOB half the time, why do you have that job? Again, I know Choate had some scuffles in April last year, but some of that was Mike Matheny‘s insistence on trying to make him a regular reliever instead of a LOOGY. Seven of his 11 appearances last April were for an inning or more and he only had three where he faced only one batter (two of those were successful). If there weren’t other pitching issues to deal with right now, you’d start to wonder if John Mozeliak might be willing to bite the bullet on the rest of this year’s salary and give Choate an early start on free agency. Unfortunately, due to this game, Mo’s attention is elsewhere on the pitching staff.
Early on in this game, I started thinking about this team in relation to the 2004 team. Obviously they are winning in different ways but it seems like it’s been a while since we’ve seen the Cardinals get out to an early divisional lead and they obviously had the talent, especially the pitching, to possibly run away and hide. Then the fifth inning happened, with Adam Wainwright hobbling out of the batter’s box, and all those thoughts were put to rest. Again, we’ve got a whole section on these injuries to get to, but obviously this one is the biggest one and the one that will impact the season the most.
We did get to see the debut of Mitch Harris in this one, completing his incredible story from serving his country to major league player. Harris technically should have gotten the win since he pitched the fifth inning and the Cards never trailed after he came into the game to replace Wainwright, but the official scorer has some discretion in these matters and he felt Matt Belisle had been more effective, which was probably true. Belisle did get some big outs and lived up to the Matt name.
Sunday (6-3 loss at Milwaukee)
Hero: Jon Jay. Three hits, which was even more impressive because he came in as an injury replacement for Heyward, who thought he’d be a team player by getting hurt as well. Jay scored a run as well, though it was one of the rare times when you can follow Carpenter, get three hits, and never drive him in as Carp was 0-fer on the day.
Goat: Lance Lynn. On June 28, 2014, Lynn had a disastrous outing against the Dodgers, allowing seven runs in two innings. Since that time, he’d not allowed more than three runs in a start until yesterday, when everything caught up with him. His teammates did him no favors, stranding runners left and right and giving him no room to maneuver, but there are just those days that nothing is working. With the club being a bit flat with the injuries and it being the end of the road trip, it’s not terribly surprising that things snowballed. We’ll see how he does against the Pirates this week before we think this is more than just a blip on the radar.
Notes: Peralta and Matt Adams were the only other hitters with multiple hits, though most everyone else got at least a knock somewhere along the way, as the team finished with 13. Reynolds played outfield and apparently played it fearlessly, crashing into the wall twice and being forced to undergo a concussion test in the dugout to see if he needed to be removed from the game. He passed, which was good for Holliday, who was taking the day off but would have been pressed into action if Reynolds had gone out…..hat tip to Carlos Villanueva, who continues to do well in tough situations. Villanueva threw two scoreless innings, which could have been really helpful had the bats been a little more potent….Cody Stanley made his major league debut as a pinch-hitter and got his first big league knock.
All right, let’s talk about the injuries in order of severity, in case I run out of time here and can’t get to them all. First up, Wainwright. The Cards are going to get a diagnosis today, but it would be stunning if it was anything other than a torn Achilles tendon that would keep him out of the entire rest of the season and perhaps impact spring training of next year. It’s a big deal, obviously. Wainwright was looking every inch like the ace he is and would be a huge asset all year long and especially in the playoffs, where he’d line up against the other aces and hopefully get the Redbirds off on the right foot. That’s not happening now. Even if it wasn’t a full tear, it would seem tough for him to recover and rehab enough to be able to be back on the mound and be effective come October.
Mozeliak is going to look at his internal options first, which is as he should. There’s a reason he stockpiled pitching depth and if you aren’t going to at least try that depth out in a situation like this, what’s the point of having it? My hope is we’ll see the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons return, but it could easily be someone like Tim Cooney. They could also bring up another reliever (or leave Harris in the spot) and shift Villanueva into the rotation, though I’m not sure that many of us would be excited about that option, given his numbers typically are much better when he’s in the pen.
Noted naysayer and general grump Joe Strauss believes that the Cardinals have to look externally for a solution. It’s true that none of the options currently available are top-of-the-line, at least not until Marco Gonzales or Jaime Garcia are ready, but given the effectiveness of the staff, do they have to be? Yes, Wainwright is a big loss but the gap from him to Lynn is not as large as the gap from Molina to Cruz. Put another way, if the rotation was a 90 average with Wainwright in the mix, they might be an 85 average with someone like Lyons or Cooney. Wouldn’t that work? Martinez is pitching much better than a fifth starter. That could absorb some of the dropoff of adding in a current option.
Mo has said that if the internal options aren’t working by June or so he might start checking out the market for starters. As Tara and I talked about last night on Gateway To Baseball Heaven, though, what do you deal to get a guy like that? You can’t really deal Gonzales because that’s more of a lateral move or at least not as much of an upgrade as you’d think. You can’t deal Martinez without creating another hole. Would Piscotty be good enough to be a centerpiece? I could see him being available, especially if they started talking extension with Heyward earlier than they had planned on. Locking up Heyward would probably mean that Piscotty was superfluous. Everyone is looking at Cole Hamels, of course, though there’s been the suggestion of John Danks, which wouldn’t be as dramatic but wouldn’t also be as costly either.
Of course, Wainwright’s injury then gets people talking about needing the DH in the National League, which is just silly. Wainwright could have torn that tendon jogging in from the bullpen at the beginning of the game. It’s not like he was trying to stretch a single into a double, he just was coming out of the box and it went. To use that as a data point for the DH is ridiculous. (Drew Silva pointed out on Twitter when Heyward was taken out of the game that perhaps we needed to stop outfielders from outfielding.) There is no need for the DH in the National League and I hope I never see it happen. If you can’t appreciate the nuances of how the pitcher hitting affects the entire game, if you can’t appreciate the fact that it means every player has to contribute on both sides of the ball, then I can’t help you.
As for our other injuries, Heyward hopefully won’t be out too long, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he was still resting tonight. Molina is a little more concerning. They were talking about him being available Saturday and Sunday, but it seemed pretty notable that they went ahead and brought up Stanley yesterday when they placed Wainwright on the DL. It could be that they just wanted another bat (though he wasn’t hitting much at Memphis) since the bench would be shallow, but it seems more likely that they are afraid Molina might be out a few more days. Which, if Heyward has to rest as well, means that two of the five bench players aren’t really available and a third is the backup catcher, which also is an option of last resort. Which then would mean the only bench options would be Reynolds and Peter Bourjos. Better hope they don’t have a long extra-inning game.
After an emotionally tough weekend, the Cards get back home tonight and they get to face the Phillies, who aren’t exactly lighting the world on fire. It could be a good way to get their footing again before facing off against divisional foes for the rest of the homestand. John Lackey has been much better under the Arch than away from it and hopes to continue that tonight against Philadelphia. He’s done well in limited time against these guys, though he should know that Ryan Howard always is a problem for St. Louis pitchers and it seems like he’s been hitting well of late.
Hamels goes for the Phils, which means plenty of discussion about his availability, whether he’d fit in St. Louis, what it would take to get him, etc. If nothing else, it might be nice to get him to make sure that no one else does and the Cards don’t have to face him in October, as he’s done pretty well against the club.
Should be a fun game this evening. Assuming everyone can stay healthy.