Maybe it’d have been easier if they’d been blown out of both games.
After all, as someone pointed out on Twitter, the Cardinals sent out their seventh and eighth starters for the doubleheader yesterday at Wrigley Field. It wasn’t Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez out there, so losing at least one of the games was expected. (When the lineup for the first game was released and added to the fact that they were facing Jake Arrieta, one loss was almost guaranteed.) However, both games turned on key moments, moments that could have gone the Cardinals’ way. If they’d have split, perhaps we aren’t quite as worked up this morning. They didn’t and many are.
Game 1 (7-4 loss)
There was a distinct Memphis feel in the lineup for this one. Tony Cruz, Xavier Scruggs, and Tommy Pham all started. Peter Bourjos hit sixth. No Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, or Randal Grichuk. All of this against Arrieta, who was perfectly capable of shutting down the best Cardinal lineup, much less this hodgepodge.
For most of the game, it went according to script. Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons didn’t have the best command, which is often his fatal flaw, but got into the sixth with only a two-run third inning marring the scoreboard. He had almost worked out of that jam as well, allowing the first two batters to reach before getting two outs, but a wild pitch and a key hit had been the difference. Unfortunately, it looked like one hit was going to provide the entire scoring. The Cardinals had no answer for Arrieta, who got through the fifth in under 50 pitches.
Lyons might have had a chance to get out of the sixth as well. He allowed a leadoff single to Arrieta, who had two hits on the day which just fed the frustration, then got the next two outs before walking Anthony Rizzo on a 3-2 pitch. While he was at 100 pitches, he’d also handled Kris Bryant pretty well on the day. Still, Mike Matheny went to the bullpen.
It was fairly obvious from the lineup that Matheny was playing for the split. His reliever choices confirmed that. Instead of trying to keep the Cubs at two runs, he turned to Marcus Hatley, who had all of one inning in the bigs at that time. I get the fact that you don’t want to bring in Seth Maness or anyone like that in a game you are trailing with another one on deck, but heck, even Miguel Socolovich has more experience. Hatley walked Bryant on four pitches to load the bases and then took five pitches to walk Jorge Solar, forcing in a run, before getting the final out.
To be somewhat fair to Matheny, it really seemed that the run would be irrelevant. After all, they had to score two first on Arrieta for it to come into play and that seemed like a long shot. Until you remember that this is baseball, and baseball has a funny way of making seemingly inconsequential decisions loom large eventually.
Because of course in the seventh the offense stirred. Jhonny Peralta walked and it looked like that was it when Arrieta got the next two guys, but then Bourjos doubled in Peralta, Scruggs singled in Bourjos, Cruz got a hit and suddenly the tying run was at second and the go-ahead run was at third.
Which, sadly, leads us to our Goat. Arrieta leaves for James Russell and Matt Carpenter hits for Hatley. Four pitches later, Carpenter had looked at strike three and the inning was over. Old Matt Carpenter would have at least battled and put the ball in play. Whoever traded the Cardinals for some alternate-dimension Carpenter that is beginning to draw uncomfortable comparisons to Allen Craig needs to swap them back right now.
After a solid inning by Mitch Harris in the seventh, for some reason Matheny goes to Randy Choate to start the eighth. After all, Jonathan Herrera hits lefties better than righties, as does Dexter Fowler. Sure, Anthony Rizzo is third, but why not go to Choate if you need him when Rizzo comes up? There’s no reason why Harris couldn’t have at least started the seventh. It’s limited exposure, sure, but Harris has looked sharp since returning from Memphis. Again, I’m not saying you have to go bring in Kevin Siegrist or anything, but Choate was a pretty questionable call, made more so when he put the game out of reach with a single-double-homer run through those three guys. Mark Reynolds hit a two-run homer in the ninth, but that was about it.
For as much as it seemed strange to see him in that spot in the lineup, I think Peter Bourjos gets our Hero tag. Two hits, including that double that started the scoring and gave a little hope for a while. Jason Heyward had a couple of hits and Reynolds finally got another homer, but for the most part it was a long afternoon for the Cards.
Game 2 (5-3 loss)
The frustration boiled over in this one. A guy making his first start keeps the Cardinals quiet. They finally get a couple of runs, but it could have been more with better baserunning. Then they give those runs back on a questionable call by the umpire. Then, in the ninth, they rally, only to see another terrible at-bat from Carpenter. If you want to see folks worked up, you should have been on Twitter last night.
Tim Cooney pitched a pretty solid game. He went one out less than Lyons, but he walked four less guys and probably did just enough more to get to stay up and pitch that game against Pittsburgh on Sunday, with the Patron Pitcher returning to Memphis. Cooney was dented for one run in the fifth, when he allowed a double and a single to lead off the frame, but was able to work out of that jam. He left after walking Bryant and Maness (having been reserved for this game) came in and got things locked down.
Which meant that, since the Cards scored two (one on, of all things, a Reynolds two-out, two-strike single–when Reynolds has two strikes, it seems almost predetermined strike three is coming soon) in the top of the sixth that we went to the seventh with St. Louis up one. The top of the seventh looked promising, with Pete Kozma getting a “hit” (I missed seeing it with a storm coming, but apparently it was one of the softest hits you’ll ever see) and Pham walking with one out. Carpenter, though, again couldn’t come through and the opportunity was wasted.
It all went to pot in the bottom of the inning. Maness got the first out, but then walked Miguel Montero. He got Herrera to hit one of those ground balls that Maness so usually conjures up, but this one was hit hard enough to get past a diving Reynolds. Then he got Addison Russell to hit perhaps the most controversial ground ball in the history of the Cardinals and the Cubs.
It looked foul to everyone. Russell hesitated out of the box. Reynolds was right there and thought it was foul. Maness knew it was foul from his point of view. The only problem: the umpire didn’t think so. Bigger problem: he’s the one that matters.
It looked foul to me, but I admit I’m not always the best judge. The umpire was right there, so I’d like to think that he’d be able to tell, but we know that they aren’t perfect. In fact, that’s why we now have instant replay. I’m not a huge proponent of instant replay by any means, but if you are going to have it, why do you not allow plays like that to be reviewable? Yes, not every stadium has a great camera angle for those. Buying and installing cameras, though, isn’t going to break MLB’s budget. It may not happen often, but if you can do it for home runs, if you can spend minutes determining an out in a four-run game, you should be able to review a play that changes a game so drastically. Even if you don’t have the best angle, at least review what you do have. It may not have been conclusive, but at least give it a shot.
Maness was so worked up he went from the pitcher’s mound to the umpire’s face to the showers faster than Yadier Molina can hit a double. The tying run scored on the call and it put runners at the corners. A situation that Siegrist, who came in, almost immediately got out of, getting a one-hopper back to the mound from Dexter Fowler. At least, it seemed that way.
There’s a question whether Siegrist should have gone to second at all. It was instinctive, I’m sure, but with the speed of all involved, it might have been a very tough double play to turn. He probably should have gone home, where he probably would have gotten Herrera coming down the line.
However, Siegrist quickly turned that into a cow’s opinion, throwing the ball way behind the covering Peralta, allowing a run to score and letting Russell go all the way to third, where he scored on a sacrifice fly. Cubs tacked on another in the eighth, which became big when the Cards scored one off of Jason Motte in the ninth. Two on, one out, Carpenter up against Motte with a chance to tie the game….and he pops up on the first pitch. Seriously, Carpenter’s not right. A .676 OPS since returning from his fatigue episode with almost a strikeout a game, compared to a 1.024 OPS and a strikeout closer to every two games beforehand. Carp’s going to have to move down in the lineup until he figures out his stroke, I think.
Anyway, Hero for that game was Jason Heyward, who was the only person with two hits, and the Goat, if you look at the actual box score, should be Maness but you can’t give it to him with such a questionable play being a large part of his outing. I’ll give it to Kevin Siegrist, because he could have at least kept it tied. Though maybe it should go to Carlos Martinez, who did his part to add to the legendary rally animals by feeding a duck that wandered around the field last night.
Kolten Wong didn’t play in the second game after leaving the first with a head contusion. Apparently he did wind up with a small concussion, which may force him to the 7-day concussion DL. We’ll have to wait and see, but not having Wong, even when he’s the downside of his streakyness, against the Pirates would be a not-good thing.
There seems to be two schools of thought on Twitter these days. One is that the sky is falling, that nothing is going right, that John Mozeliak needs to move out half these bums and bring in new ones. Then there’s the section of Twitter that says, “Hey, still have the best record in baseball, no need to freak out, still can get to 93 wins even if they just play .500.” (I have to say, to me there’s a whiff of superiority in some folks that have the last attitude, like they are too good of fans to get worked up over a few losses. That’s just me reading subtext into Tweets that isn’t there, most likely.) My personal opinion is that both sides of that debate are wrong.
This is still a good team. They are going through a rough patch but their pitching is going to take them a long way. Will it work in October? I think we’ve seen more teams win with good pitching than with a slugging offense when you get into the postseason, so I’d like their chances. Choate may have blown up yesterday, but he allowed one run the entire month of June. We tend to blow up recent failures and let past success slide. I’d much rather be in the Cardinals’ position than pretty much any other team in baseball.
That said, if you aren’t allowed to talk about flaws, if you have to be happy just to be in first, that’s a fandom that wears extreme rose-colored glasses in my book. I don’t think my fandom credentials would be questioned–I spend way too many hours a week on this team for them to be, I believe–and I’m a fairly optimistic guy when it comes to the Cards. They aren’t perfect, though, and blindly ignoring the faults doesn’t do anyone any good. There’s no way Mozeliak is sitting in his office going, “Well, we’ve got the best record, no reason to do anything.” Yes, folks are happy with 50+ wins. That doesn’t mean that there are 50 more coming.
Those that question the team and get so worked up about it can be considered a bit myopic, a bit too close to the day to day not to see the larger picture, but even those that see that bigger canvas can be looking more at what has happened than what is happening. Right now, the Cardinals are scuffling. They’ve lost six of their last ten games. These streaks happen, of course, and no team doesn’t hit bumps. I’d worry less about the current slide if it wasn’t for one simple thing.
Since Matt Holliday went down, the Cardinals are 16-11 if I’m counting correctly. Over that same span, the Pirates are 18-9, which actually surprised me because it seems as of late that the Pirates will. not. lose. The team that was down nine games just about a week ago is now only trailing St. Louis by 4 1/2. We can talk about the Cardinals getting 93 wins if they play .500, but the way the Pirates have been going, 93 wins might just get them a berth in the wild-card game, which we all want to avoid. The Bucs did just lose James Harrison, of course, so we’ll see if that starts to affect them, but right now, they are a fearsome team.
It’s conceivable that, with a loss today and Pirates win, Pittsburgh could sweep the series this weekend and lead the National League Central as the game pauses for the All-Star Break. It’s not likely, to be sure, and it’s also possible that, with a win today and a Pirates loss, the Cardinals could sweep the series and lead the division by 9.5 games at the break (depending on what the Cubs did this weekend). That’s not expected either, as the results will probably be somewhere in the middle. Pittsburgh probably isn’t going away, though, and the Cardinals have to realize that a gaudy record doesn’t get you much cushion when the second best record in the game is in the same division.
The Cards look for the split of the series today with Michael Wacha going. As we hoped that St. Louis could at least do that much against both Chicago and Pittsburgh, I guess it’s not too much of a debacle if they actually get the split, but a loss does make things a bit dicey. Of course, if you need a win, going with an All-Star like Wacha isn’t a bad thing. Wacha’s only faced the Cubs once this year, limiting them to one run in six innings during that last series at Busch.
Jason Hammel goes for the baby bears. Hammel is having a strong season, as we noted last time when he faced the Redbirds during that set at Busch. Hammel was part of that rain delayed Sunday night game, allowing four runs in four innings around the raindrops. That was the only time he’s run up against the Cards this year.
The historical numbers against Hammel are pretty good, so let’s hope we finally see that offensive explosion and the Cards put some of those frustrations of ours to bed for at least another day!