A New Half–and a New Era–Dawns

We’ll get to the interesting stuff about the promotion of Stephen Piscotty shortly, but let’s quickly recap this weekend’s series against the Mets.  This series saw the return of the team we’d seen much of the first half–somewhat frustratingly so–and thanks to a little help from our friends (at least for the weekend; I don’t expect the Brewers would term themselves that regularly) there’s a little more breathing room in the division.

Friday (3-2 win)

Hero: Lance Lynn.  There were some offensive performances that could be considered here, but you have to appreciate what Lynn did.  The first batter of the game, Curtis Granderson, goes deep.  You know that, with this offense, you can’t give up any more runs and have a legitimate chance to win.  So Lynn didn’t.  Seven innings, no more runs, only two more hits, and struck out nine.  The Cardinals rallied with the bats, but they wouldn’t have had a chance to if Lynn didn’t work his magic.

Goat: Yadier Molina.  0-4 and left four men on.  Matt Carpenter was a strong runner-up, avoiding the tag just because he drove in the tying run with a groundout.

Notes: While there were some great things about this game, like Kolten Wong going 2-4 with a stolen base, Jason Heyward with a triple, and Jhonny Peralta breaking the tie in the sixth with a home run, the lasting impression from this one was the continued struggles of Trevor Rosenthal.  To be fair, Rosenthal shouldn’t bear all the blame.  If Wong and Heyward communicate better and Heyward takes charge of a deep popup, Rosie has one on, two out, and probably gets through with limited damage.

That said, there were some balls hit pretty solidly against him, though at least one of those was turned into an out while a soft dribbler wound up scoring a run.  Baseball, man.  What bothered me the most about Rosenthal’s outing was that, even though he wound up striking out two of the last three guys, he had trouble putting anyone away.  Look at the number of pitches per at-bat in that inning:

Daniel Murphy: 3
Lucas Duda: 7
Kevin Plawecki: 1
Kirk Nieuwenhuis: 7
Ruben Tejada: 6
John Mayberry: 9

That last AB was particularly frustrating as a lot of people on Twitter, including Mets fans, were saying how Mayberry had absolutely no chance against Rosenthal.  He did strike out, but he pushed that AB out as far as he could.  Nobody was blown away by Rosenthal’s fastball in that inning, as he only got one swinging strike on the fastball at all.  Everything else was either a ball or a foul.  It took the changeups to retire the last two outs.  Changeups are good, I like changeups, but if folks are sitting on and not missing your 99 mph heat, that seems important.

Rosenthal threw 30+ pitches in that game and was still feeling soreness on Sunday, leading him not to be used in that marathon.  This soreness is starting to become a concern, though.  If Rosenthal can’t go on back-to-back days (assuming a regular pitch count; I didn’t expect him to return this weekend after this outing) then that’s a problem.  It’s definitely something to monitor over the next week or so.

Saturday (12-2 win)

Hero: Jason Heyward.  Five hits, two runs, two RBI.  That’s the kinda night we hoped to see more often out of Heyward (well, to the extreme, probably) and it was great to see it.  Heyward left this one with cramping after the fifth hit and didn’t do more than pinch-hit Sunday, but it shouldn’t be a long-term issue.

Goat: Kolten Wong.  All this offense and the leadoff man was 0-4.  He did draw a walk, but otherwise didn’t really contribute.  Of course, when the offense was clumped into three four-run innings, that’s not quite as surprising as it could be, I guess.

Notes:

You once wrote, there comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds to show you what’s possible.–Ray Kinsella to Terrance Mann, Field of Dreams

This game showed what could happen when the offense completely clicks.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  Wong and Carpenter at the top of the lineup combined to go 0-9.  If they had been involved, that would have been completely.  As it was, though, it was a wonderful showing and a great reprieve from playing so many tight games.  The last time the Cards had won by four or more was that 6-0 game to start the Chicago series, and even that was four runs in the ninth.  You’d probably have to go back to that June 27 game against Chicago in Busch, where the Cards won 8-1 after some early runs, to find a game that was relaxing to watch.

Randal Grichuk had two home runs in this one, which was incredible as well.  When you go 3-3 with 6 RBI, you are having quite an evening.  We didn’t expect Grichuk to be short-changed when Matt Holliday returned and that’s proven to be the case.  While he may be streaky, he brings thump like nobody else on this squad.

With all this offense the pitching could be overlooked, but John Lackey had another fine home start.  He did allow 10 hits in his seven innings (the Mets just had three hits less than the Cards, but 10 fewer runs) but was able to work out of jams.  It probably helped that the Mets seem to have made an art form out of leaving runners on base, though.

Sunday (3-1 loss in 18)

Hero: Mark Reynolds.  It really was tough to figure out who to use here.  I mean, Wong hit the HR that let them keep playing, but that was also his only hit in eight at bats.  The pitching staff did well, but Tim Cooney didn’t get through the sixth and both Carlos Villanueva and Carlos Martinez allowed runs, though in four innings of work.  I’ll go with Reynolds, who went 3-8 in this marathon, though some of his work was undone by Molina.

Goat: Yadier Molina.  Three double plays in a game like this are just killer, but the last one was the most devastating.  Grichuk doubled to start the 11th and Peralta walked.  Two on, nobody out, bottom of the 11th.  You have got to get a run in here.  Reynolds did his part, lifting a fly ball that move Grichuk to third, though unfortunately not Peralta to second.  That proved vital when Molina hit the ball on the ground again and two were turned.  Molina did get two hits in this one, but not when they were needed.

Notes: Doesn’t it seem like every time the Mets come to Busch Stadium, there’s a game like this?  Dan McLaughlin early on in extras referenced the 20-inning affair in 2010.  I’m not expert enough or fully subscribed to Baseball Reference to come up with how often these two teams do go longer, though I see they went 13 innings later in 2010 as well.  I don’t know why I feel like that, but it does seem like these two squads are always going to give some free baseball.

Martinez pitched four innings and, if he was able to field a bunt in the 18th, could possibly still be out there.  It looked like he could have gotten the lead runner at third, but he flubbed it a bit and everyone was safe.  That said, he did a heck of a job for the fact that in no universe did he wake up that morning and expect to be pitching.  Relievers always are expecting it, starters never are.  Thankfully with the off day it’s not going to goof up the entire rotation, as Michael Wacha moves up a day to take today’s game and Lance Lynn will take Wednesday, both on regular rest.  Looks like Martinez will go Friday against Atlanta now.  It surely wasn’t part of the plan of resting these guys and not adding to their innings, though.

Cardinals headed to Chicago yesterday to prepare for the White Sox and they found a stowaway in their luggage.  Piscotty will make his debut tonight, most likely starting at first base.  While he’s only been a first baseman for about a week, there was no time left to let him learn the position.  John Mozeliak has 10 days to make a deal to help this club.  He needs to know if Piscotty can be the guy at first or he needs to go get someone else.  They can’t lollygag around with him, a point that I’m sure has been made with Mike Matheny.  Then again, given how weak first base has been, I don’t think Matheny is emotionally tied to any of those guys like he is to folks like Jon Jay.

It looks like the other side of the 25-man roster will be the demotion of Tommy Pham, who is no longer listed on the active Cardinal roster.  Pham’s demotion made sense anyway, given that, after those two stellar games at the beginning of his time in St. Louis, he’s gone 5-33 with eight strikeouts.  Holliday’s return meant there was even less time for him in the big leagues and, if something happens and a fifth outfielder is needed, Piscotty can do that as well.  We’ll have to see who is removed from the 40-man to make room for the new guy, but I’d think Dean Anna or Ty Kelly probably shouldn’t get too comfortable, unless they decide Jon Jay’s wrist is worse than expected and move him to the 60-day DL.  That would keep him out until September, when the rosters expanded.  I don’t think they’ll go that route, but the more I think about it, the less confident I am in that assessment.

What to expect from Piscotty?  Nothing less than the saving of the offense, right?  If he’s not hit a home run in his first three games, what’s the point?  (And yes, for those of you reading this incredulously, I am being sarcastic.)  I don’t know what Piscotty will show us.  He could start off hot and then tail off, like Pham did.  He could take a while to find his footing.  All in all, I’m not sure that whatever he does these next few games influences Mozeliak’s move a whole lot, but it could give him a lot stronger hand when dealing with other clubs and it might be that Piscotty shows enough that he can focus elsewhere on a move, perhaps the bullpen.

(Speaking of, I was watching Ant-Man last night when apparently I got swept into a Twitter conversation between our Prospect Preacher and my podcast partner.  Dan Buffa seemed to be advocating Edwin Jackson as a free and easy move for the bullpen.  While I’d admit Jackson is doing OK out of the pen, I’m with Josh on this one.  Even if there was a need for a long relief guy, which there’s not–Villanueva seems to be holding that down fine–we’ve got enough starters like Cooney and the Patron Pitcher Tyler Lyons that we could make do there, especially after Jaime Garcia returns, which will hopefully be this week.  I’m also not comfortable betting that the last 30 innings from Jackson are more relevant than the years of mediocrity that came before.  But that’s my two cents.  Isn’t this where I’m supposed to insert Kermit the Frog?)

When last we saw the White Sox, they used Chris Sale and Jose Quintana to sweep the Cards in Busch.  They’ll miss both those guys this time and hopefully will have a much better result.  The White Sox will send out Carlos Rondon tonight to face the Redbirds.  He’s 3-2 with a 3.80 ERA in 11 starts and 14 appearances.  Last time out, he shut out the Cubs over six innings, but both games before that he allowed four runs in five innings.  He strikes out a batter an inning but his walk rate is a bit high.  He’s also a rookie lefty the Cards haven’t seen before.  You know how much that fills us with confidence.

Michael Wacha’s on the other side.  Wacha has had plenty of rest, last being seen almost two weeks ago against the Cubs, where he allowed five runs in five innings.  That’s not typical Wacha, of course, and with the White Sox also struggling on offense, I’m hopeful that we’ll see a return to form by the burgeoning ace.  The Sox haven’t seen much of him, but the little they have they’ve not liked.

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Emilio Bonifacio 10 10 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam LaRoche 6 5 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 .200 .333 .200 .533 0 0 0 0 0
Total 16 15 1 0 0 0 0 1 3 .067 .125 .067 .192 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/21/2015.

Let’s hope tonight’s game is more like Saturday’s and less like Sunday’s!

  • Richard Uhlman

    Here is the main problem, and why winning lately is so frustrating, (even for the fans). Rosenthal is not, I repeat NOT a true closer, he’s not a Don Ekersley for example, he was converted into a closer, partly because he was good enough at the time, but also out of desperation. The Cardinals need to find a TRUE closer if they expect any success, this results in saves, and most importantly, wins, it’s their choice.

    • Cardinal70

      To be fair, Dennis Eckersley was a starter before Tony La Russa moved him to the ninth inning in Oakland and created the closer role. I don’t think that Rosenthal was moved to the bullpen out of desperation, but more because he had significant talent but not enough to move out some very talented starters.

      I’m not sure who you’d get to replace him. Rosie’s been a little erratic–more so last year than this–but he’s gotten the job done most of the time. It would seem to me that any upgrade to that position would be small when you looked at the bottom line.

      Who would you rather have in the ninth?

      • aprfool79

        Easy answer here is to see how Walden looks upon his return but few interesting options out there as well. Just say no to a Philly loudmouth but a certain Tiger could be had for much cheaper. Soria has long been a name that could make sense at the right time, and he could be part of the Detroit dealing (also an impending free agent).

        The outside-the-box idea that no one wants to look at involves a pair of young Cardinals already in the Majors. Tui may not be ready to assume a bigger role yet, but I’m actually putting together a post about how he and others fit into the roster equation. The elephant in the room is going to be the C-Mart innings watch going forward, and the easy fix is to just move the former set-up man back to the bullpen.

        That is easier on paper, and thankfully the game is played on the diamond. As you mentioned Daniel going to be a crazy second half!

        • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

          I’m all for bullpen help at the deadline, relievers are really fungible so it’s good to pick up a guy having a good year to replace someone injured or having a bad year and it’s typically relatively cheap for a good middle reliever as long as unless you aren’t trying to overpay for a closer or giving a lt up for a reliever I say go for it, but why are we wanting to pretend Rosenthal his bad. His first year closing was better because he was just soo amaxingly good that year but this year he has almost as good via context neutral stats and better via descriptive stats and the bullpen makes any stat hard to read in a small sample so the ERA may tell us just as much. He’s been terrific.

          I get maybe concerned about arm tightness or a possible injury but seriously, he had one bad game in extra innings against a very good offensive team on the road pitching his third day in a row? Why do we think he’s not good now? It makes no sense

          • aprfool79

            Ever since Walden went down (overuse?) the concern has been that the Cards don’t have a true 2nd option. I’m completely in favor of using Rosenthal as little as possible the next few weeks or even putting him on the DL when Walden does come back as it may be the only way Matheny can’t call on him.

            Sarcasm aside there have been some warning signs as Daniel pointed out well before the Pirates exploited the eagerness of player and manager. Straight balls travel very far we have found in the big leagues, and I don’t remember Rosie ever getting hit as hard as he is recently. The velocity is still there as are the secondary pitches to keep hitters guessing, but the 97-99 isn’t fooling many hitters.

            There is still a long way to go, and the cautious approach has to be taken to get the most out down the stretch.

          • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

            his fastball has fantastic arm side run, it only looks straight on tv because of the camera angle. Per brooks it moves 4 INCHES to the right. that’s a lot. his change up is way better and has better movement than people realize too. Though as I said to C70 before, I totally understand injury concern with his heavy use and the recent reports I just don’t get why we would actively replace him as is his performance is lacking or think that one bad inning against a really good team on the road pitching his third day in a row would be any indication of a performance or health issue

          • Cardinal70

            I don’t want it thought that I don’t think Rosenthal is good (and I don’t believe that you think that, just getting it out there for the record!) but I’m worried more about a potential injury given all these reports of soreness. If he can pitch tonight and not report any issues, that goes a long way in closing that book. If he doesn’t pitch tonight in a situation that would normally be his, I think some more questions need to be asked.

            If he’s healthy, though, I’m more than content with the 2015 version of Rosenthal pitching the ninth inning.

          • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

            yeah, I get injury concern. he is used a lot, has been the last few years and has had some tightness. again I’m all for cheap bullpen help and I get injury concern, as long as we are not actively trying to replace Rosenthal like it’s a performance issue or something

          • Cardinal70

            Absolutely. You tell me it’s nothing and we’ll go from there. Apparently Matheny (as you probably saw on Twitter) said there’s nothing physically wrong with him, just “tired”. Which is a bit distressing given how many off days and such there have been.

    • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

      um?

      it’s DEnnis Eckerley, not Don. Eckersley was a starter in the majors before becoming a closer, Rosenthal was a starter in the minors but was always a closer in the majors.

      In save opportunities teams already have the lead and very few outs left to make so it’s not nearly as important of a role as say a starting pitcher or position player the team can succeed wildly without as good of a reliever. Most “saves” are two or more run leads in a single inning and most relievers have an ERA around 3 or give up 1 run every 3 innings they pitch so by definition even the most average relievers would convert most “saves” and leaves many “blown saves” in ties or even 1 run deficits that can be overcome.

      Rosenthal is the Cardinals best reliever, whom should be your closer. I hate the defined role and wish the best reliever would just be used in the highest leverage situations but over the course of the season most closers lead the club in LI anyway, so ,eh

      Anyway if you take descriptive stats Rosenthal has a 1.66 ERA and is 27/29 in “save opportunities”

      If you take context neutral stats to better isolate and measure performance, Rosenthal has a 2.23 FIP.

      If you want to say Rosenthal can’t handle the “pressure” of closing well, he’s done it well for 3 years now. That’s before getting into that handling pressure is a silly narrative that infers that many get to the majors without handling immense pressure to get there(silly) and drives the idea that strange small sample size outcomes to define ability to perform (dumb) and worse personality traits. This should obviously be stepped away from but for some reason people parrot it as if it’s flawless, inspirational and the key to all things sports.

      I’m not sure what you mean by true closer, if you are going to care enough about Rosenthal fitting a definition of a word or phrase you should make sure that word or phrase has a definition and that those who you would discuss it with, or the general public is you are posting on a public forum, know what that definition is. A good way of doing this is defining the term explicitly in your post

      The common definition of a closer is a bullpen ace or the bullpen’s best pitcher who is arbitrarily assigned to “save” situations at the end of the game, which can mean as much as a 3 run lead with only an inning left but can also mean a 1 run lead with and inning or more left. As I mention above, this causes your best reliever to be kept from being used more effectively when needed at times but also over the course of the year winds up putting that reliever in the most vital situations.

      This team winning is not frustrating. This team has lost some extra inning games, close losses are always frustrating and extra inning games are by definition close losses that also take a lot of time out of your lofe to watch.

      The only issue for Rosenthal in the last 9 games is that in one of the 5 losses in the last 9 games Rosenthal gave up the lead for only the second time all season (in 42 appearances!). Expecting perfection from him is unfair, maybe more unfair than expecting to to literally be a HOF even if you don’t remember that HOF first name or that such a HOF “blew” 71 “saves” in his career and “lost” 43 games after moving to the closing role just in the regular season (Eckersley also gave up the famous Kirk Gibson homerun in game 1 of the 1988 WS).

      Before entering Pittsburgh 10 days ago the Cardinals were 25 games over .500 with the best record in the majors and a 4.5 game lead over the team with the second best record in the NL who happens to be in the same division. Now, the Cardinals are 24 games over .500 with the best record in the majors and a 4 game lead over the team with the second best record in the NL who happens to be in the same division and there isn’t much the Cardinals could have done to not lose that half of a game yesterday to Pittsburgh (they entered yesterday with the same 4.5 game lead as before the series at PIT) because they were off yesterday.

      3 extra inning losses especially with 2 being against the very good team chasing you for the division are frustrating, going a whopping 1 game under .500 for a whopping 9 games is frustrating because things are so good this year, but the Cardinals are in good shape, about to play 9 of the last 11 games this month at home, with a their superstar LF just back from the DL, a top prospect about to take over the weakest position by far, a good starter in Garcia back any day now, a great reliever in Walden back very soon, a good reliever in Belisle about to come back and the trade deadline to improve. Things are fine and Rosenthal not being a “true closer” in your mind does not change how well things are going for the Cardinals

  • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

    hmm, I would have gone Grichuk hero and Carpenter goat on Saturday but not bad choices for either and once again a good rundown. Did you see the link I left you yesterday in your last post? It was Mozeliak being announced GM officially at VEB which you were there for. It was funny looking back and seeing everyone’s reaction when we had no idea who Mozeliak was and thought he was a weak company man

    • Cardinal70

      No, I somehow missed that! The problem with blogging, etc. for long enough is that there is a record of what you thought at the time. 🙂 I’ve admitted often that I thought the Cards were just playing it safe, going the cheap route, etc. by selecting Mo, but he’s proven that he was much more than that. I’d have to look through my archives for my post at the time, but I’m pretty sure that’s basically what I said. (And I still comment occasionally at VEB, just not often. Usually can’t read their articles at work.)

      As for Saturday, I wouldn’t argue those points. I’d already put Heyward down before I remembered Grichuk had the two homers, and I felt like I’d be picking on Carpenter if I went with him again, though when you are in an 0-17, you deserve to be picked on!

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