After a terribly rough Cincinnati series, especially from the perspective of the offense, expectations were tempered for this weekend. Sure, the Rockies’ pitching staff was one of the worst in the league, especially if you look at it through the ERA lens, but we know what such statistics have been worth in the past. After all, the Reds weren’t a lot better than Colorado, but you couldn’t have proven it by those back-to-back shutouts. So it was pleasantly surprising to see the Cardinals take a four-gamer and keep their lead in the Central intact.
We’ve already talked about game 1 of this series, when Matt Carpenter discovered that, yes, he was still Matt Carpenter. Let’s look at the last three.
Friday (7-0 win)
Hero: Michael Wacha. The offense may have backed him enough that he didn’t have to be so sharp, but it was very good to see Wacha on his game. For most of this one, he was pitching with just a 2-0 lead but he allowed only four hits in seven innings and struck out seven to boot. We’ve worried some about Wacha over the past few starts, so having him look more like the top pitcher we are used to brings a lot of relieved sighs to Cardinal Nation.
Goat: Brandon Moss. A tough first start for the trade acquisition. Moss hit a lot of balls deep, but they just didn’t have enough to go out of the yard nor were they hard enough for the outfielders to miss them. Thankfully the game didn’t hinge on the five players he left on base, but I’m sure he wanted to make a better first impression.
Notes: Moss was the only starter without at least one hit. Carpenter continued to show that he likes the leadoff spot, hitting one home run and coming oh-so-close to another, having to settle for a double. Jhonny Peralta had two hits, including a two-run blast that capped off the scoring. All in all, seeing fourteen hits and seven runs is a beautiful thing. If only some of these runs could have been saved for the rest of the weekend…..
Saturday (6-2 loss)
Hero: Stephen Piscotty. I said in my last post how impressive I think Piscotty is becoming and Tara last night on Gateway pointed out the reason: he’s so consistent. He got two hits here, keeping his streak of a hit in every start alive, and drove in a run to boot. There’s no way he should be hitting eighth like he was in this one and, indeed, Mike Matheny moved him up on Sunday. I think the two slot is a great place for him, especially if we have a revived Carpenter on our hands.
Goat: Lots of people would go with Matheny for this one, but that’s not allowed by the rules I’ve set out. I’ll go with Lance Lynn, because it obviously wasn’t one of his better nights. Five innings (plus three batters), 10 base runners, two homers….ugh. Add into that mix his terrible attempt to bunt a runner over in the fifth (which we’ll talk about in a bit) and it just wasn’t his night. It happens, though it’s never not frustrating.
Notes: All right, let’s talk about some of Matheny’s decisions. With two on and one out in the bottom of the fifth, Matheny sends Lynn up there to bunt. Lynn’s already at 95 pitches and, while there are times that he can go 110 or so, it seems pretty likely that, at best, you get one more inning out of him. It’s 3-1 at that point, so the game is still winnable. Why don’t you pinch-hit for him there and take a shot at closing the gap? Even if you bunt them over, it’s runners on second and third with two out and the odds are long that you can get a run in, as it’d take a hit to do it. Lynn’s not cruising by any stretch of the imagination. It would seem a good time to get him out of there and start using some of those new arms in the bullpen.
Lynn, of course, faced three more batters, giving up a home run, walk, and single. Randy Choate came in, got a double play and struck out the pitcher. That’s good work by Choate and you’d think that he’d probably be done, since that’s a batter longer than he is often called on for. Especially since he’d pitched an entire inning the night before, it’d be surprising to see him trot back out there.
So, of course, he trots back out there. And give credit where it’s due, he did fine with the batters he faced. He got the two lefties out and the righty in between singled. That’s an exceptional job by Choate, it’s just a bit of a surprise that he had to work as much as he did.
Many folks thought that, when Choate left, you’d see Jonathan Broxton or maybe Steve Cishek. After all, that’s what these guys were brought in for, right? To help bridge the gap to Trevor Rosenthal and to take some stress off of the arms that were getting used all the time. Instead, one of those self-same arms in Seth Maness comes into the game. Maness was pitching in his third straight game and it showed as he immediately allowed a single, a two-run double, and a fly ball that would have been a home run had not Randal Grichuk gone over the wall to get it. Pitches thrown to those three batters: 4.
John Mozeliak removed Miguel Socolovich and Sam Tuivailala from the bullpen because he knew that Matheny was more comfortable with veteran, experienced arms out there in the bullpen. When you look at the roster now, there’s no Socos or Tuis or Mitch Harrises. These are either guys that have been with the Cardinals for a while or guys that have been around the league for a while. There’s nobody down there that you wonder what you are going to get. So there’s no reason to continue to go to the same well night after night. Hopefully Matheny will quickly learn that. Otherwise at least a portion of this trading deadline was for naught.
(On the record, I liked what Socolovich especially and Tuivailala lately had brought to the team and I think they could have provided probably as much if not more than Broxton and Cishek, but I do appreciate that experience helps in October. We’ll see if that experience is worth it!)
Sunday (3-2 win)
Hero: Jason Heyward. Two hits, two runs (including the game-winner), a double, a stolen base–Heyward can do it all at times and it’s a sight to see. Hopefully the Cardinals will tap into that upcoming FOX money and sign him up long-term before the season is over.
Goat: Steve Cishek. I can believe the wild pitch, as I imagine it’s tough for anyone to catch Cishek’s delivery and Tony Cruz hasn’t had as much experience with it as Yadier Molina. Still, that was a tough performance. Coming into a 2-0 game with a runner on and not only allowing that run to score but one of your own? Yuck. It’s Cishek’s first real hiccup as a Cardinal, though, and it was going to happen sooner or later. Hopefully that’s all it is, a hiccup.
Notes: Another two-hit day for Piscotty, who just continues to roll. Two hits also for Grichuk, which is always good to see. There was enough offense in this one to make you think bottom-of-the-ninth heroics weren’t necessary, but the Cards hit into three double plays, including a tough one by Wong in the eighth. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised at that. When there was just a runner on third with one out, I thought the Cardinals might get the run in, but once they walked Piscotty and set up the double play, I was pretty sure it was going to happen. Wong hit a shot, but right at the pitcher.
Cards take three of four from a weaker team (which was weakened further at the deadline) like they are supposed to do. Pittsburgh keeps matching them, winning when they win, losing when they lose, so they have a 5.5 game lead here at the beginning of August, which is pretty solid. As fans, we remember 2011 and I don’t think we’ll treat any lead as secure until there’s an x by St. Louis in the standings, but you have to like their position.
They also have a chance to improve on that with six games in Cincinnati and Milwaukee while Pittsburgh takes on the Cubs and the Dodgers at home. With Pittsburgh coming into Busch Stadium next week, it’d be nice to get that lead up to seven or so, wouldn’t it? There’s a day off today for the Cards (the Pirates start their series with Chicago tonight, but they’ll have Thursday off) but tomorrow we get a rematch of Star Wars Night, this time in Great American Ball Park. John Lackey will go for St. Louis, having allowed just the home run to Jay Bruce in eight innings last Wednesday. If he can do that again in Cincy, I think the results will be better.
Anthony DeSclafani faced off with Lackey in that Wednesday game and got the win with seven scoreless innings. That was the first time the Cardinals had seen him in 2015, so perhaps with him being fresh in their heads they’ll be able to do a little bit more in a more friendly offensive environment.
Maybe Moss can tell his new teammates the secret. Enjoy the off day!