Last night’s game had a lot of positive things going for it. For the first, the Cardinals won while Pittsburgh lost, pushing their lead in the Central out to five games. We saw offense, even though they were facing a lefty they’d never seen before. We saw Stephen Piscotty get his first major league hit. We even saw a fairly strong outing out of Trevor Rosenthal, locking down the team’s 59th win.
All of that is good and we probably should be focusing on that this morning, but I want to lead off with who probably should be the Goat of the game, even though he’s not going to get the tag. Because when you are handed a 7-0 and, before you leave the game, you make it a save situation, that’s not a good outing.
Bernie Miklasz noted yesterday that Michael Wacha had been struggling lately. (At least I think it was Bernie, but I can’t find the article on the Post-Dispatch site right now.) Since his first start in June (a fairly random place to start, sure, but it basically encapsulates two months), he’s 4-2 with a 4.41 ERA. The K/BB ratio is still there (52-9 over that stretch of 49 innings) but balls are being hit more often and finding more holes. Last night made it back-to-back starts (and third in his last five) where he’s given up five runs in a game. This offense isn’t often going to bail you out from a night like that, though he did get so lucky last night.
There doesn’t seem to be any physical issue going on here, as far as we know. You can’t really judge by the results anyway, since in the starts right before he was shut down last season he had a 3.30 ERA and the first time in 2014 he gave up five runs was after his return in September. You can’t ever completely rule it out with pitchers, of course, but I don’t think we can immediately jump to that conclusion.
So what, if anything, is wrong with him? Could be nothing, just some random bad starts and it’ll even out over time. However, I looked earlier in the year at the relationship between high run starts with Wacha and his number of strikeouts. Let’s look at that again, updated for this part of the season.
As I noted earlier, there seems to be some strange correlation between his ugly starts and how many strikeouts he gets. Out of his top five strikeout games, four of them saw him giving up four or more runs. I’m not a sabermetrician, likely to do the digging on Brooks Baseball to find out pitch types, location, etc. but I can give you my completely uneducated theory. He may be pitching too much in the strike zone. It sounds strange, of course, but if you aren’t keeping the hitters guessing, you’ve got to get them out completely on your stuff. That can happen–heaven knows Greg Maddux got into the Hall of Fame doing a lot of that–but it works better when you can get them swinging at balls as well as strikes. When the hitters know it’s in the strike zone, they are more likely to put wood on it. As we know, bad things can happen when the hitters do that.
Wacha’s BABIP for the year is .276, which is in line with his first two seasons. In fact, all of his numbers are in line with his first two seasons. It’s just he had a dominant start to this season and we are seeing some decline. It’s all about how you make up those numbers, at least to those watching every day. It most likely is just a bump in the road, but I don’t think you can use fatigue as much of an excuse, given that he had almost two weeks off before last night’s start. Anyway, I look forward to more theories about Wacha in the comments.
As for the rest of the game, it was pretty nice. Save for that 12-run explosion on Saturday, it’s been a while since the bats just started clicking. Matt Holliday gets the Hero tag, signalling he’s getting back to normal with a single and a grand slam. Mark Reynolds also contributed a home run and walked three times, which probably had something to do with Piscotty on deck during his ABs but is still pretty incredible to note.
We saw Matt Carpenter get two hits, though the last one looked more like a golf swing than a baseball swing, just serving it over the infield with no follow through. Whatever works, of course, but we’d hate to see Carpenter reduced to a Punch-and-Judy hitter. Two hits on the night when he slides down the lineup, though, can’t be overlooked. It would seem prudent to keep him there for a few days and see if he can get something resembling his stroke back.
Just like they did against the Mets in that 12-run game, they did all of this with no help from the top two spots in the order. Randal Grichuk will get the Goat tag, going 0-5 with a strikeout. I’m not sure about Grichuk in the second spot, though on his good nights that’s a great place for him. We’ll see him there for a bit, I’d think. Kolten Wong was a close runner up, going 0-4 with a HBP, which eventually led to scoring on Holliday’s slam. I’m a big Kolten fan, but he’s hitting .190/.288/.241 in the month of July. He’s hitting .244/.308/.400 in the leadoff spot. It may be time to shuffle him down the lineup as well, though we’re running out of folks to put at the top.
Also, great to see Piscotty get a hit in his debut, though it wasn’t surprising that he struck out twice as well. Prospects don’t always appear on the scene fully-formed, which is so hard to remember. I also thought it was a bit ironic that, after all the concern about whether he could play first base, his first big league error comes in the outfield. Because baseball!
Lance Lynn tries to nail down the short series sweep tonight. He faced the White Sox in Busch and allowed just one run in six innings, but was going against Chris Sale and that doesn’t win you a lot of games against Chris Sale. His last outing was against the Mets when he allowed one run on three hits. Hopefully he can do something similar this evening.
John Danks is his opposing number. I still think of Danks as being a pretty good pitcher, but he’s not had an ERA under 4 since 2010. This year, he’s at 4.98 and none of his other numbers seem to indicate that’s a fluke. His last start he did shut out the Royals over six innings, but that came after allowing six runs in four and a third to Toronto. Let’s hope there’s more of the latter than the former tonight.
Unsurprisingly, Jhonny Peralta has seen him the most. Nobody’s got a great track record against him, but there’s been limited exposure, especially lately. The offense got going last night. We’ll see if it can continue!