It’s possible that Tommy Pham wants to prove a point.
After homering on Sunday against the Reds, Pham wasn’t in the lineup on Tuesday night. Back in there on Wednesday, he showed Mike Matheny what he’s missing when he keeps Pham on the bench, hitting two two-run homers and tossing in a triple to lead off the sixth. Four RBI, two runs (because of course the Cardinal offense couldn’t capitalize on the triple) and all of them vital after Jaime Garcia had a hiccup of an inning. Hey, wonder who should be the Hero of this one?
Matheny is fairly convinced that Jon Jay is the guy that they’ll be taking to back up center field in the postseason, assuming Randal Grichuk can throw farther than I can. Jay has hit a little better of late, but he’s still just four for his last 15 (.267), though to be fair three of those hits were doubles. It’s a small sample, of course, and the rest of the season doesn’t give you confidence that Jay is going to be able to be a regular contributor in the postseason. Then again, before last night Pham was 4-18 (.222), so even though he has more pop and probably still some upside, it’s tough to say that he’s the obvious choice for the bench. Some would say he hits better when he gets playing time–the Peter Bourjos Gambit–but he won’t be getting that in the postseason.
Would I rather see Pham than Jay? Probably. Could Pham really get into a groove and be helpful? Maybe. Obviously he’s got the potential for big games more than Jay does and he probably is at least a rangier defender, making some nice catches last night as well. (I’ve always thought Jay was good at catching what he could get to, though obviously he can’t throw much.) It’s probably a moot point if Grichuk can return soon, but more games in this vein and it’ll be tough for Matheny to deny Pham some playing time. It could really be a moot point if they construct a roster that doesn’t include either one of them, which would be possible given Stephen Piscotty and Jason Heyward could both cover center if necessary, but you have to figure at least one of these guys goes into October.
As great of a game as Pham had, he still had some competition for the Hero tag. Matt Carpenter also got three hits, including a home run and a double to lead off the ninth, though again the Cardinals couldn’t do anything with it. They didn’t have a ton of opportunities to squander, but they were efficient in squandering the ones they had.
Garcia was pretty good about limiting the opportunities for the Brewers as well. He had a tough fourth inning, when he entered the frame with a 5-0 lead and left it clinging to a 5-4 margin. It was a good night for long balls, at least early on, and Martin Maldonado made sure the home team wasn’t left out when he took one a pitch out of the yard for a three-run blast. Carpenter did make an error in that frame, though it didn’t change the complexion of the inning that much. Garcia just seemed to get out of his rhythm and it cost him a little bit. After the home run, though, Garcia retired eight in a row and 10 of his last 12, leaving after Jean Segura doubled against him in the seventh. All in all, given what Garcia did against the Reds last time out, it was a game that seemed to get him back on track.
The Cardinals had eight hits in the game, but six of them came from Pham and Carpenter. That means there were a lot of 0-fers to consider for the Goat. One stands out from the rest, though, and that’s Yadier Molina. He went 0-5 (most others at least were able to draw a walk, as the Cards drew six of those) with four strikeouts, which is unheard of for Yadi. It’s the first time he’s done that in his career and only the third time he’s struck out more than twice in a game. Matheny’s actually done a pretty good job of resting Yadi this month (as much as you can with an actual pennant race going on), giving him two full games off and pulling him early in two others, so it’s likely just an off night, though it does make him 0-9 in the series. With the series win assured and the lead pushed back to four games, it would shock nobody if Tony Cruz or Ed Easley got the start tonight.
Let’s tip the hat to Trevor Rosenthal as well. Working on back-to-back nights for the first time since the last two games of the Arizona series three weeks ago, Rosie was cracklin’, striking out the side. It’s amazing the difference a year makes, as last year at this time we were always worried about what Rosenthal would do when he got out there and whether he should be replaced before the postseason started. Now, most of us don’t worry much about what happens if the Cards have a lead late. It’s also good to know that Matheny can go to two or three other pitchers if Rosenthal starts getting too much work in October, though the off days really help.
(Interestingly, I looked back at the post from a year ago today to see what we were saying about Rosenthal and found that the Cards faced Wily Peralta and the Brewers, just like last night. Different result, though.)
So Adam Wainwright is going to have some tests on Monday, seeing how strong the leg is and if he can come back this season. Even if he gets a good report, there still going to be just two weeks left in the season. It seems unlikely that the Cards would just throw him right into a game situation, even if he’s been throwing more and more intense bullpens. Then again, they are rehabbing Holliday and Matt Adams as they go in the bigs, so maybe it’s not so crazy to think they’d put Waino in the bullpen and let him come into some low-leverage situations. I can’t imagine how many of those there would be in two weeks, though if they could clinch or get close, that’d make it a lot easier. My gut is the odds of Wainwright on the mound this season are probably 35%, with the odds of him being on the postseason roster closer to 5%.
As noted above, Chicago was able to take an extra inning victory from the Pirates last night. It’s probably noteworthy that Joe Maddon had Jake Arrieta out there in the eighth, even as he loaded the bases and was over 115 pitches. That note is the Cubs’ bullpen is not something Maddon wants to rely on, which could be a very good thing if the Cardinals faced them in the NLDS. Long way to go before that happens, of course. Today, those two teams wrap up their four-game set with Kyle Hendricks going against Charlie Morton. Should be another close game, but since it’s an afternoon affair, the Cards will know that outcome before taking the field. A Cub win coupled with the brooms coming out in Milwaukee would make for a five game lead, a 12 in the magic number column, and a lot happier Cardinal fanbase.
To get that sweep, St. Louis turns to John Lackey. While a lot has been made of his road woes this season, he’s actually done perfectly fine away from Busch save for that Colorado game and a couple of others. His last start was also in hostile territory and he allowed just two runs in seven innings to the Reds, though he wasn’t able to win that game. Last time he started in Miller Park, he allowed three runs in six innings and didn’t factor in the decision. This will be the fourth time that Lackey has seen the Brew Crew this season and that last outing was the worst he has done. If he can do something in that range tonight, the club will be fine, assuming the offense shows up.
Jimmy Nelson has been a focusing lens for the Cardinal offense this season, as he has a 7.50 ERA against the Redbirds in 12 innings pitched this season. They got him for seven runs (six earned) in five innings back in June and then four runs in seven innings when they faced him in Miller Park in August. He’s struggled in his last couple of outings as well, giving up a combined 9 runs in 10 innings in road losses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, though he did limit the Pirates to one run in seven innings the last time he pitched in his home ballpark.
Small sample size and all that, but that’s a chart you like to see. Hopefully the bats will be that active tonight and the brooms can get a workout as well!