In the past three games, the Cardinals have allowed a total of seven runs. That’s not news at all–the pitching staff is the real reason this team now has 80 wins. However, in the past three games the Cardinals have scored 24 runs. That, my friends, isn’t common at all. In the eight games prior to this, they scored a total of 22. Seeing this kind of offensive prowess can warm any fan’s heart.
It would be foolish to say that things have clicked, that going forward we are going to see less of those games where it feels like pulling teeth to score a single run. There are plenty more games like that in the future of this team, most likely this weekend when they go into San Francisco (though the Cubs apparently had no such issues last night). You have to factor in that the pitching staffs of San Diego and Arizona aren’t strong, plus the favorable hitting environment of Chase Field as well. An increase in scoring was to be expected, even if not to this level.
That said, we’ve seen the Cards struggle against mediocre pitching as well. The same San Diego staff that they scored 10 against on Sunday held them to three runs in the two prior games of that series. It’s almost a meme now to see a pitcher with middling at best stats and expect them to look like Cy Young against the Redbirds. Take Matt Cain for example. Cain’s been a good pitcher, but he came into the game with the Cardinals boasting an ERA over 6. So against St. Louis he allowed just two runs in six innings. The two starts before that, he’d allowed five runs. Last night, in his first start since, he allowed six runs to the Cubs. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, the Cards have been usually willing to give you a confidence boost.
So the last three nights are encouraging. You look at this offense and there’s not much reason they can’t score on a regular basis. There’s a weakness at first, sure, but pretty much everywhere else on the diamond there’s a quality hitter. I’m not saying it’s the ’27 Yankees by any means, but it should be better than the 1906 White Sox, nicknamed the “Hitless Wonders”. If the offense is truly starting to click, plus if those injured folks returning can make an impact, it’s possible this offense could heat up at just the right time. Or, you know, it’s three games and it really doesn’t tell us anything. Take your pick.
Last night, the Cardinals started early, plating four runs in the first off Robbie Ray. (As an aside, I wrote the Bird’s Eye View for this series and looked at the pitching matchups, only to see them completely messed up from the get-go with the addition of Jhoulys Chacin. Ray had originally been set to go last night and Randall Delgado, who wound up in relief in this one, to go Thursday. My apologies to the readers, though I went with what ESPN said!) When you can force the starter to throw 45 pitches in the first inning, you know it’s probably going to be your night. Ray settled some, but couldn’t get much past the third, leaving two men on, both of whom scored via sacrifice fly.
It was good to see the Cards add on last night. So often, a big first inning is then followed with absolutely nothing, allowing the other side to get back into things. Instead, the Cards plated two in the fourth, two in the sixth, and one in the seventh and only the last run came via the longball. (With the late start, I went to bed after the sixth. Which is probably good, because if I’d seen Peter Bourjos go yard as he did the next inning, I’d have probably figured I was already dreaming!) There was good situational hitting, there was capitalizing on things like a hit batter and catcher’s interference, it was just a good offensive night. If you could bottle that and use it on a regular basis, there would be much less angst in Cardinal Nation.
We’re talking a lot about the offense because that’s what’s out of the ordinary. The pitching, that was right in line with everything else we’ve seen this year. Jaime Garcia continues to just roll along, allowing his only run after the club was already up 6-0. Garcia went six innings and struck out six while allowing just four hits, which is exactly what we’ve come to expect this season. Garcia has made 13 starts this year, three shy of equaling his total from the past two years. While we are always going to hold our breath when it comes to his arm, it’s becoming more and more believable that he’ll finish out the season and can make an impact on the postseason stage. Like I say, nothing is guaranteed, but the way he is pitching, we definitely would like to see him in October.
Seth Maness came in and threw two scoreless innings, which was nice to see given his recent struggles. Again, the Diamondback lineup has a couple of strong points but isn’t that deadly overall, but it’s still good when you can put up zeros.
We need to name a Hero and a Goat, I guess. The Hero is, as it has been a lot lately, Tommy Pham. Three hits, including hustling to take the extra base on a throw to third while FOX Sports Midwest interviewed his twin sister. When he hit his triple, I briefly thought we might see an inside-the-park homer. He’s already got more hits since his return than he did in his first stint this season in about five fewer games. It’s just a small sample, but there’s no doubt he’s been a welcome addition after the loss of Randal Grichuk. Can this continue? Will he be exposed as teams prepare for him more? We’ll see. Right now, though, he’s doing exactly what this club needs.
Goat is tough in games like this, as we’ve said before. Can’t be a pitcher, given their success. Every starter but one got a hit and that one, Matt Carpenter, scored two runs after reaching via walk and HBP. The RBI were spread throughout the lineup as well. I guess I’ll give it to Mark Reynolds, who went 1-4 but didn’t score or drive in a run. I know, it’s not like he really was a negative influence on the game, but someone’s got to get the title.
Before we leave this one and move on to the next one, let’s take a moment to recognize that some rest apparently did Kolten Wong quite well. Not only did he get a couple of hits, including a double, but he had some nice plays in the field. It may be a narrative on the lines of Garcia’s mental state in road games from a few years ago, but it seems no one needs confidence in this game like Wong. When he’s got it, he’s tearing up the place. When he doesn’t, it’s an ugly thing. Hey, Kolten, we believe in you! You can do it!
John Lackey will take the mound tonight for the Cardinals, hoping not to be undone by defensive lapses like he was in San Diego and, to be fair, hoping to pitch a bit better as well. Lackey’s August has been OK, though not as dominant as the rest of the season was for him. The team is 1-3 in his four starts and he’s put up a 4.10 ERA this month. Given his history and season, I don’t think we’d see him be the odd man out in the postseason rotation, but he might want to step it up a little to make sure. Lackey’s not seen much of these hitters, so maybe that’ll give him an advantage.
Patrick Corbin is up in the Arizona rotation. Corbin just made his season debut at the beginning of July after returning from Tommy John surgery. He’s had the erratic results you might expect from a guy that is still working his way back. For example, two starts ago he shut out the Braves over 6.2 innings. Last time out? Four runs in two innings against the Reds. He’s gone seven once, he’s gone less than three twice. The only person he’s faced that’s wearing the birds on the bat is Jason Heyward, who is 0-1 with a strikeout against him.
A left-hander the Cardinals haven’t seen before? That’s a narrative all to itself. Hopefully the Redbirds can flip the script tonight and keep showing this complete team concept we’ve seen lately.
Pittsburgh finally lost last night, putting them 4.5 behind the Cards. Cubs won, as you might expect from the comments above, keeping them 6.5 out. Tonight, Jeff Locke goes up against Chris Narveson of the Marlins and Kyle Hendricks faces off against Jake Peavy of the Giants. That latter one is on ESPN if you want to flip between it and the Cards game to keep track of the opposition. Let’s hope St. Louis adds to their lead!