The St. Louis Cardinals split their last series of the home portion of the calendar in route to a final homestand that saw five wins and two losses.
It was the worst weekend of the 2015 season.
Not only did the Pirates not lose any of the games in that span, cutting the lead down to a level we never thought we’d see again this season, not only was Carlos Martinez ruled out for the season after seven pitches in game one, not only was it the Milwaukee Brewers that they split again, but there’s also the simple fact that they were leading in both losses late, including in the ninth in Sunday’s game.
I guess it could have been worse. We could be going into that Pittsburgh series tied for the division lead. That’s really about it, though. We’ve gotta recap it, though, so hold onto your lunch.
Friday (4-3 loss)
Hero: Jhonny Peralta. 3-4 with a run scored in a game that wasn’t overly offensive. (Well, there wasn’t much offense. The ending was certainly offensive.) The Cards only had nine hits total, so Peralta was a huge part of that.
Goat: Greg Garcia. It’s probably harsh, especially since he did get a hit in this one, but if he can pick up the grounder that Domingo Santana hits to him in the seventh inning, the side is retired without the tying run scoring. As it was, the game wound up 3-3 and stayed that way until Trevor Rosenthal allowed a homer in the ninth. Would things have been different if he was up 3-2? If nothing else, the Cards would have had more opportunities to get a win.
Notes: Rosenthal did give up the homer, though, and that inning, in retrospect, might be cause for concern. Not only did Khris Davis take him deep to start off the inning, but then Rosie gave up a two hits and a wild pitch (with a strikeout sandwiched in there) before a double play got him out of it. He’d had a few days off, so he wasn’t overtired, and he’s right about the innings level he’s had the last two years. It could be just a bump, but this weekend was a terrible time for it.
Martinez left this game after seven pitches, as mentioned above, and has shoulder stiffness that will keep him out of the playoffs. We’ve talked and talked about how that postseason rotation is going to look, but sadly baseball has a way of figuring those things out for you. Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons came in with a 1-0 lead and did well, striking out five batters in a row at one point. He did allow a run to score via a wild pitch in the fourth, which did seem to be more on him than Tony Cruz, and Mike Matheny immediately pulled him at the end of the inning, letting Matt Adams pinch hit for him after the Cards had scored a couple more runs. Lyons looks to get what would have been Martinez’s final start of the season, a matchup with Gerrit Cole in the last game of the Pirates series. Hopefully this won’t be the case, but the division could be on the line there. Then again, it could be the game after the Cardinals clinch. I’m rooting for the latter.
Two hits and an RBI for Matt Carpenter, which was nice, and a double, run and sacrifice fly for Tony Cruz, who so far hasn’t let the bar drop too far from Yadier Molina. Nobody’s comfortable if Molina was out much longer, but there’s not been a lot of talk about what he would have done had he been in there either. Given that the Cards haven’t said anything about Yadi’s condition, I’m guessing a return is still at least a couple of days away, at best.
Let’s talk about the eighth and the ninth, briefly. Cards get two on in the eighth, with Peter Bourjos replacing Mark Reynolds as the lead runner. With nobody out, Peralta runs it to a full count, then strikes out while the double steal goes into effect. Bourjos, who again is one of the fastest runners in pure speed on the team, can’t get from second to third in time and it’s a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play. Bourjos is now 5 for 13 in stolen bases, which is just terrible given his speed. He should have been able to get a great lead at second and beat that throw with no problems at all.
That said, I don’t know why the Redbirds waited until a full count to try this move. I was expecting it from the very beginning. If you do it earlier in the count, that gives you three chances to take a crack with runners on second and third. Even if Bourjos is caught, Jason Heyward is on second with Peralta still up there. Not saying the result would have been any different, but the approach might have been.
Then, the ninth. Earlier in the game, the Cardinals bunted runners on first and second, none out, and one run in. Greg Garcia came up and bunted the runners along. I’m not usually pro-bunting (and I completely understand what Pitchers Hit Eighth Nick was saying here) but look at what was coming up next. You had Cruz and the pitcher’s spot. If Garcia strikes out there, odds are no other runs score that inning. Garcia’s not exactly lighting the world on fire right now–he was 1 for 11 coming into this game–so that’s expected. If he hits into a double play, you have two outs, runner on third, and Cruz up. Could he come through with a hit? Sure, but that’s not what the odds would tell you. In that situation, I think it’s reasonable not to expect more than one run from the group of folks coming up and playing to get that insurance run wasn’t the worst thing. Again, I completely understand that you normally are better off not bunting there and I wouldn’t disagree with that at all, but I think there was some solid reasons there.
The ninth inning, though, was completely different. Garcia does actually single to start off the inning. Now, Garcia’s never stolen a base in the big leagues, but he did go 16 for 19 in Memphis this season. The guy can likely run (probably better than Bourjos can). So do the Cardinals try to steal second and get three cracks at the apple? No.
OK, fine, maybe you don’t want an inexperienced base stealer there. I can understand that. With Cruz up, given that he’s already had a hit and done a fairly good job this week (just 2-10 before this game with Molina out, but 1-2 in this one), you could let him swing away, maybe put a hit and run on and see if you can get something going.
Nope, a pinch-hitter. Sure, fine, you don’t want to risk Cruz being a double play threat. Been a lot of moves in this one, though, so almost the only person on the bench is Jon Jay. But, hey, we kept seeing him start because Jay was supposed to be a big part of this postseason, a good solid bat off the bench. So it’s a stretch, but fine.
And then Jay bunts three times.
The first two go foul, but Matheny wanted Garcia so badly to second that he risked a strikeout by having Jay bunt again. It worked, sure, but it gave up one of the last three outs the club had for a marginal gain. Â Which probably tells you all you need to know about Jay’s health right now. Even with Matheny’s passion for bunting, I can’t imagine he has Jay up there bunting with two strikes if he thinks Jay is fully ready to go. The fact that Jay hasn’t had a start since September 16 (which, to be fair, does have something to do with The Phantom Menace) probably tells you a lot as well.
Randal Grichuk (pinch-hitting for Rosenthal–perhaps he should have hit in Jay’s spot) and Carpenter then struck out to end the game, making the whole thing a terribly sour way to end a game, especially one that the Cards had a 3-1 lead in.
Saturday (5-1 win)
Hero: Jaime Garcia. Eight innings and he still didn’t reach 100 pitches. Eight strikeouts, only the one run allowed. Sure, he got staked to an early lead (5-0 after the second) but he was just on cruise control. The option for his service for next season looks more and more reasonable each time he goes out there. Could he be the Game 1 starter in the playoffs (depending on what that game is, of course)? I don’t think that’s out of the realm of possibility.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. 0-3 in the leadoff spot. Which, given the Cards scored four runs in the first after he led the inning off with an out, might not have been the run-depressor that we’ve expected it to be.
Notes: Nice to see Matt Holliday contributing again, driving in two runs with two doubles. I’d like to see him play an entire game, of course, or back-to-back games, but at least he’s not terribly rusty. A big day by Stephen Piscotty as well with two hits and two runs scored. Piscotty had been scuffling a bit, so it’s great to see him making adjustments and continuing to produce. A lineup with him hitting second after everyone returns could be a powerful thing in the playoffs.
A good outing again by Steve Cishek as well, possibly getting him closer to the postseason roster (assuming he’s not there already). As much as I think someone like Sam Tuivailala would be a very interesting weapon in October, the fact that he’s not pitching pretty much tells you all you need to know there. I talked about that more on Friday morning, but I think this pennant race is going to force Matheny (at least in his mind) to “dance with the ones that brung ya” even if some of the other folks might be just as effective, if not more so.
While five runs is a nice night, it’s still a bit problematic that all the runs were scored early and then the offense just shut down, especially against a team like Milwaukee. The Cards scored a total of 18 runs in four games against a team that ranked 11th in the NL in ERA. The worry about what they’d do against a better staff is quite justified and is one reason why everyone is so ridiculously nervous about this series with Pittsburgh.
Sunday (8-4 loss)
Hero: John Lackey. He did everything he could to keep the Cardinals in the game. Besides the home run allowed to Khris Davis, he was basically spotless, going seven innings and striking out seven. He didn’t even need the double play as much in this one as he has in his past few starts, though St. Louis did turn one. He kept folks off the basepaths by allowing just five hits and two walks. It might not have been completely dominating, but it was well good enough for a win and that’s what he should have gotten.
Goat: Trevor Rosenthal. No way to sugar coat this one. When you are given a two-run lead and wind up giving up a grand slam before the inning has its first out, that’s a terrible day at the office. After clocking Martin Maldonado in the head to bring the go-ahead run to the plate, you’d think perhaps Matheny might make a change. After Rosenthal walked the next batter to load the bases, it seemed a really, really good time to bring in Seth Maness, who was warming up. After all, this is as close to a must-win as you can get and you’ve got a guy that typically gets the double play. I know Rosenthal’s your closer but that doesn’t mean that you have to stick with him when he doesn’t have anything.
Now, let’s be fair, Maness didn’t have anything either, allowing a three-run homer (which, since he came in with the bases empty, is pretty telling as well) that put the game out of reach. Still, though, you have to manage with urgency when the race is this tight. That was the entire lesson of the 2011 postseason, right? Tony La Russa swapped pitchers like there was an expiration date and he didn’t want to waste them. He realized that outs are precious and you’ve got to get them. Matheny, so far, hasn’t seem to feel that urgency. This is not a good thing.
Notes: Piscotty stepped up again in this one, cracking what looked to be the insurance homer after Carpenter’s game-untying blast in the seventh. He then robbed a home run in the eighth. Remember that impact we thought Oscar Taveras was going to bring to the Cardinals last year? Piscotty has followed through on that. Without him, and given the fact that right now the Cardinals are just 2.5 ahead of Pittsburgh (I’m writing this during Sunday Night Baseball), I think it’s safe to say we’d be fighting for the wild card positioning without him, at best.
Interesting move by the Brewers to take out Tyler Cravy with just three innings under his belt and only one hit allowed. You could say that it was only a matter of time before the Cards got to Cravy, which might or might not be true (nobody’s forgotten the first time the Cards saw him he shut them down and allowed just one run over seven innings), but I wonder if it wasn’t more a chance to get Kyle Lohse another outing in front of his former fans. While Lohse probably will be looking for a job this offseason, it’s not inconceivable that he could retire. Either way, it was the last time he’ll be in St. Louis this year and, depending on who he signs with, the last time in a long time. It was nice to see him get back out there, even though it was only two innings. Plus the Cards were able to tie it up off of him, which was nice.
Two hits for Matt Adams and a run scored. He’s not looking like he’s having any issues getting around and, like Holliday, it’s about time to see him play full, back-to-back games. We continue to talk about this team “getting healthy” but it’s not a significant health yet. It’s covered by the fact that rosters are larger, but once you have to go back to the 25-man roster, these guys have to be playing all the time or not taking up room. We’ve had the scholarship spot (in Joe Strauss’s words) before and I’m pretty sure that, 98 wins or no, this team isn’t good enough not to have a full deck.
Another good day by Heyward, who had been in a little bit of a dry spell recently. Two hits, two walks, and his normal good defense. I know that he’s not talking extension until the end of the season, but I surely hope that John Mozeliak has a pretty good framework all ready to go when the last pitch is made.
So the magic number stays at five, unless Jake Arrieta and the Cubs can help out the Cards tonight (and, as I type this, it’s 2-0 so there’s a good chance that they will.) If it gets down to four, all it takes is two wins in Pittsburgh to clinch. As dire as things seem, in some ways it is nice to have it all in their hands. Two wins in Pittsburgh. Two wins in Pittsburgh.
A couple of players may return during that series as well. Adam Wainwright threw 30 pitches in a simulated game on Saturday and seemed to have no ill effects in that or in covering first. Wainwright said he felt sharper in this one and hopes to take the mound in a real game next. If Wainwright could get to 50 pitches (which, I don’t know, seems possible but maybe it’s a stretch) it would seem to let Matheny pull a starter like Lance Lynn early if things are going downhill and still not have to ruin the bullpen. Would Matheny do that, though? Like we said above, does he have that urgency?
Molina is also going to have his thumb looked at on Monday. There’s not really been any updates on him, though I guess there probably wouldn’t be. I mean, he was supposed to not do anything for a week. He didn’t do anything for a week. Now we get to see if that meant anything. My feeling is that he still won’t play until Atlanta, if that soon. We can just hope that he gets a little postseason love.
Two wins in Pittsburgh. The Cards start on that with Lynn going up against J.A. Happ. We know that Lynn has scuffled some against the Pirates this year and that this was going to be a key start for him in his playoff positioning before Martinez went down. We know about the meltdown the last time he faced Pittsburgh (0.2 innings, six earned runs) but his last time in PNC Park was shaky as well, allowing five runs in four innings. Lynn’s going to really have to step it up in this one.
Happ, on the other hand, has been pretty much stellar since coming over from Seattle at the trade deadline. St. Louis has seen him just once since the trade, but in that game he allowed no runs over seven innings, with just three hits and eight strikeouts. That’s not been completely out of line with some of his other starts, either. Last time out was a little shakier (three runs in 5.1 innings) but it was in Coors Field and he got the win anyway. It’s going to be a tough chore for this offense to crack that nut.
As I finish this up (after taking some time to watch the lunar eclipse), the Cubs still lead late in tonight’s game. The magic number could be (through no help by the Cards) four at the end of the night. Two wins in Pittsburgh could end it.
Two wins. Let’s get ’em.