The last three series for the St. Louis Cardinals have been anything but pleasant for the fanbase clad in red. All three of them saw the Cards just manage one win. In the last two, that win came in the final game of the series, somewhat erasing the bad taste of the days before and leading to hope that things were turning around. That was a false hope after Chicago. We can only hope it rings more true after leaving Cincinnati.
Thursday (11-0 loss)
Hero: You really, really, really have to dig to find something good about this game. The bullpen was mainly ineffective, the starter was terrible, and no hitter had more than one hit. I’m going to go ahead and give it to Stephen Piscotty. One of two hitters to reach base twice and the other was Matt Carpenter, who went 0-2 with two walks. Piscotty did hit into a double play, though that seemed to be a hit-and-run called by Mike Matheny, which was an interesting call given how much trouble John Lamb was having finding the strike zone.
Goat: When your starting pitcher gives up six runs in 4.1 innings, they are usually going to find themselves here. While Jaime Garcia had a lot of competition, this was an atrocious game for him. It was tough to see because Garcia had been a bit immune to the struggles that the rotation was having. He was the only one with a real good start that last time through the rotation. In this one, though, he just didn’t have much. When you walk four in that short amount of time, it’s bad enough, but to allow six hits to go with it, two of which were doubles, made for a game that was quickly uncompetitive.
Notes: The game was pretty much over when Garcia left (it was 5-0 then, with one of his inherited runners scoring on a sacrifice fly later) but the bullpen did their best to make sure of it. Mitch Harris pitched a quiet sixth, then allowed a Brandon Phillips homer to lead off the seventh. He might have limited the damage had it not been for a throwing error by Mark Reynolds. After a walk and a groundout, Harris left and Sam Tuivailala came in.
We’ve had high hopes for Tui and we’ve seen good outings from him, but this shows that when he’s off, he’s off. He allowed a double to let Harris’s runs score in the seventh, then gave up a double and a homer in the eighth. Tui’s got very good speed, but when folks are able to make contact, that speed lets things go a long way.
Before the blowout, the Cardinals spent a lot of time swinging at pitches from Lamb, which was a terrible strategy given that he walked five in the first three innings. If they’d been more patient, they might have been able to score some runs and get him out even sooner. I mean, the first two guys of the game walk, then the next two strike out? In the third, St. Louis has the bases loaded with two outs, but Reynolds strikes out. Some different choices in the front half of this game might have made for a significantly different ending. Not to be, however.
Friday/Saturday (4-2 loss)
Hero: John Lackey. After seeing so many early deficits and games that have been out of control, getting a good pitching performance from Lackey was soothing. He didn’t get the win, but he did put his team in a position to get it, even if they weren’t able to capitalize. Lackey even got a hit and drove in a run, which is more than a lot of his offense did. (To be fair, the team did manage 10 hits, they just weren’t able to get many of them around to score.)
Goat: Jonathan Broxton. It has to be frustrating as a player to pick up a suspended game and see it immediately get wasted. I imagine it was difficult for Broxton to have the adrenaline and mindset that it was the eighth inning when it was the first inning played on Saturday, but giving up a home run to give the Reds the lead and let them go to Aroldis Chapman is a terrible way to start the day.
Notes: We don’t see suspended games very often, though I don’t think it was the wrong call at all. It just has to be strange to go out there knowing that you are in the eighth even though you are doing things like stretching, getting loose, all the things you do before a game starts. That mental framework is a little off and there’s no momentum, no fans that are really into it (then again, they were in Cincinnati, so the fan interaction was minimal at any point in the game), etc. I think as that game had gone along, if it’d gone into extras, the feel would have come back, but they didn’t get that option.
They ran on Yadier Molina in this one, as he allowed Billy Hamilton and Joey Votto to both steal second twice. Twice he was assigned errors as the ball skipped away as he threw down, but at least one of them should have been assigned to Jhonny Peralta. If Peralta had caught the ball that was right there, he gets Hamilton in the seventh. Molina had two hits, which is one reason (besides Broxton’s follies) that he wasn’t a Goat. Two hits for Jason Heyward and Greg Garcia as well, though Garcia struck out with a runner on second in the top of the eighth. A hit there could have been big.
Given Garcia’s playing time of late, though, it would seem reasonable to expect that he’ll be on the postseason roster over Pete Kozma. I’m not saying that’s a guarantee, but we’re seeing more of Garcia in the last couple of weeks than I thought we might. Kozma is still fairly limited to pinch-running and defensive replacement, but Garcia is getting starts even at shortstop. You never want to try to guess what Matheny might be thinking, but that would seem to indicate when they have to go back down to 25 men that Garcia would get the call over Kozma. We’ll see, I guess.
Saturday (5-1 loss)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. Two of the team’s five hits. Scored the only run. While I’ve asked whether you’d like this Carpenter, with more power, less average and a whole lot more strikeouts, or the previous Carpenter, there’s no doubt that either version is quite valuable to the team. My feeling is that his strikeouts can sputter this offense when he’s leading off and the narrative that he’s a force leading off and slumping elsewhere seems to have taken a hit. That said, I realize he still has a high OBP and there’s no other obvious choice, so it’s not a real focus of ire. I just don’t think we see those grinding at bats by Carpenter any more, though I realize that as soon as I say that someone will come at me with pitch per AB data and I’ll be completely wrong.
Goat: Brandon Moss. The adjustments that Moss made that gave him some life have apparently worn off, as he is now 0 for his last 21 with 11 strikeouts. He’s not the only one slumping–I think I saw a stat that he, Peralta, and Reynolds are a combined 1-for-51–but it was especially tough in this game as he struck out all four times. Putting him and Reynolds back to back was a good way to short out any offense. At least Reynolds drew a walk.
Notes: Five hits from this team–two by Carpenter, one by Piscotty, two by Heyward. That means all the offense was concentrated on your 1-2-3 hitters. The rest of the club? 0-19 with three walks. It’s going to be difficult to get much going when you have things compressed like that. And still, until the Reds tacked on a couple late, they were within striking distance. In fact, in the seventh, when it was still 3-1, two of those walks came from a pinch-hitting Randal Grichuk and Garcia. Two on, one out, and the pitcher’s spot up. Matheny then went with Peralta. 90% of the fan base was pretty sure what was going to happen. Sure enough, five pitches later the Reds were out of the inning after Peralta’s 21st double play, which happens to lead the league.
I think this weekend everyone, including Matheny, really came to terms with how bad Peralta has been of late. And as “of late” we really mean since all those All-Stars were playing in Great American Ball Park. In the second half of the season, he’s hitting .227, has an OPS of .595, has three home runs, and has a K/BB of 3, compared to about 2 before the break. Whether it’s fatigue, whether it’s needing to adjust, whatever it is, Peralta needs to do it and until he can show that he’s hitting again, he doesn’t need to be hitting third or fourth in the lineup, as he seems to do more damage than good there recently.
Lance Lynn looked better this time out, but he got burned on a home run by Skip Schumaker. Skip Schumaker! When you allow Skip to go yard, not only do your chances of winning sharply decrease, but you really don’t deserve to win the game either. I know, I know, nobody feels worse about it than Skip, but it’s true. Schumaker’s a wonderful human being, an exceptional teammate, a pretty tolerable pinch-hitter these days, but he’s not a guy that should beat you. And he did.
Save that, I guess it was a good start for Lynn. He only went six innings and I wouldn’t say it was one of his best outings, but it was more in line with what we’ve seen from Lynn in the past and talked most folks off that ledge of him not starting in the postseason. Steve Cishek‘s line looks interesting (0 hits, 1 run, 0 earned runs, 2 walks) but he might have been fairly effective had Garcia been able to catch the ball he tossed him to attempt a double play. (Unlikely they’d have gotten the DP anyway with Hamilton running.) Kevin Siegrist allowed that run of Cishek’s to score via sacrifice fly and then gave up one of his own in the eighth, which wasn’t great to see.
Sunday (9-2 win)
Hero: Tommy Pham. Others had better stat lines and the final score doesn’t indicate how important it was, but Pham’s home run in the sixth, breaking that 2-2 tie and putting the Cardinals ahead for once, was a shot in the arm for this ballclub. When I saw that notification on my phone as I was coming home from lunch after church, I couldn’t help but thrust my fist in the air, knowing that it was a huge moment and so desperately needed.
Of course, as befitting a guy that just gave you a lead, he was immediately taken out of the game. I get that Matheny was trying to probably go into run prevention mode, moving Piscotty back to the outfield from first base and putting Reynolds in there. That said, 1) the difference between Piscotty and Reynolds is not huge. I know Piscotty’s new to the position, but I’ve not seen any major miscues from the young guy there. Reynolds is fine around the first base bag, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think he’s going to be the defensive standard bearer any time soon. I don’t know if that was a huge upgrade nor that it had to be done in the sixth inning. 2) Even if you do have to make such a move, why not move Pham to center (because that’s his normal position) and remove Jay? Pham’s defense in center is probably better than Jay’s–we know he has a better arm and seems to cover more ground, though I’ll admit that he does seem to not get to some balls he should at times–and while Jay did get two hits in this one, Pham’s provided more offense in one swing than Jay has in about a month. While I can understand Matheny’s thinking on this one, I’m not real sure I’d have gone that way and that early.
Goat: Really a good day all around as everyone got some sort of positive notation in the box score. I guess I’ll give it to Greg Garcia because he was 0-2, though he did draw two walks. There really wasn’t a great option here.
Notes: Molina finally caught Hamilton stealing, which was a wonderful moment and Yadi acknowledged that weight off his shoulder with some gestures in the game. Hamilton started his career stealing against Molina, so Yadi finally got his white whale.
Solid start by Michael Wacha in this one. Two runs in six innings, though he did walk four, which probably led to him not going an extra frame. He also drew a walk in the sixth to get Carpenter up with two on and two out, but Carp wound up striking out. It was very good to see the last couple of days good outings by the starters. Even when they lost, they lost games that we were used to seeing–close, low-scoring ones. It was very disconcerting to see these very good pitchers get hit around the yard. While Wacha, Lynn, Lackey weren’t necessarily as dominant as they can be, they kept the team in the game and that’s more than we saw last week.
Matt Adams homered in a pinch-hitting appearance Sunday and stated he’d probably be out in the field in Milwaukee. Which is great, of course, and I’ll be glad to see Big Fill-In-The-Blank back on the field. I think folks do need to temper expectations, though, as he was struggling before he was hurt. Reynolds and Moss and Adams seem to be three of a similar mold and I wouldn’t expect that to change a lot.
Speaking of health, Matt Holliday is getting close as well. They are doing some mobility tests today and while the article says he’s at 70-80%, I wouldn’t be stunned that if he passed things today he’s not in the lineup tonight or at least activated and in the lineup tomorrow. We’ll see, of course, but I feel like they’d like to capitalize on the win Sunday and the off day yesterday with the shot in the arm that would be his return. If he’s ready, though. They won’t rush him but I expect that he’ll probably be out there before they go to Chicago.
John Mozeliak says that they won’t be resting the starters again after that kind of blew up for them this last time through. I honestly think the larger portion of this was the fact that the pitchers themselves didn’t react well to it. Of course, if they’d gone out and thrown scoreless frames, they might not have worried as much about what they thought, but chemistry and happy players does seem to be a goal of this organization. Lynn and Wacha were–I wouldn’t say vocal, because that connotes they were griping or really adamant about it, but they did subtly let the press know they weren’t thrilled but would be good soldiers. I don’t know if that mindset then led into the results or not, but it’s probably worth keeping everyone on their regular rotation. That said, if the Cards clinch, I still think they’ll find some time for a spot start here or there.
Pirates and Cubs are facing each other today in a doubleheader, so best-case scenario for the Cards is a Cubbie sweep (so hard to write that) and a win by Carlos Martinez, who takes the hill for St. Louis tonight. Martinez looked better last time out, though he did give up ten hits in just five innings of work. He actually hasn’t faced Milwaukee since April, when he shut them out over seven innings.
Ariel Pena will be on the mound for the Brewers. Pena is making only his second major league start (third appearance) so the Cards haven’t seen him before. He is a right-hander, which should help some. In his first start, he allowed two runs in five innings to the Marlins. You’d like to see the Cardinals get to him and get into the Milwaukee bullpen, a bullpen that was unable to contain the Pirates this weekend. (While we appreciate what the Brewers did taking at least one from Pittsburgh, Sunday would have been even better if the Brew Crew could have held on.) Let’s hope for the best!