So the Cardinals lost. Again. The Redbirds start the season 0-3 for the first time since 2007, which was not a good year if you aren’t remembering, one of the few missteps over the last 20 years. Still, things could be worse.
1) They could have been swept by the Cubs instead of the Pirates.
2) In 2007, Chris Carpenter went down on Opening Day and basically missed the next two seasons. All the Cardinal starters (on the major league level, at least) survived their first encounter with the season.
3) They could be San Diego, who just got swept by the Dodgers and were outscored 25-0 over the three games.
4) They aren’t the 1988 Orioles. I still remember that 0-21 start, wondering if and when that team would win. I guarantee this team won’t go that deep into their schedule before picking up a victory.
5) The 1998 Yankees won 114 games, but started their season 0-3. It’s a long season.
5) Star Wars: The Force Awakens could still not be out on BluRay to give a good distraction from the team.
Yes, things definitely could be worse. That doesn’t mean things are good now, though.
For the third straight night, the starting pitching was meh at best, the defense was choppy, and big hits didn’t come–hits of any kind were a rare occurrence, honestly. As Matt Carpenter said in Jenifer Langosch’s writeup, “Once we hit, we’ll be fine.” However, as we’ve debated all winter long, as we’ve seen the last couple of years, what if they don’t hit? There are no guarantees with this lineup that they are going to be even acceptable on offense. I mean, they aren’t going to hit .168 for the season, they are going to hit better than they did this series, but there’s a fair school of thought that wouldn’t expect things to ever fully click. When in your 87 outs on the year you have 37 strikeouts, that’s pretty ugly. They’ve struck out more in three games than Tampa Bay has in four.
Finding a Hero in this one isn’t terribly hard. When the pitching is iffy and the team can only muster four hits, go with the guy that put you on the board. Jeremy Hazelbaker got his first start in the big leagues, something that we knew was coming sooner or later, and made a difference, smacking a sixth-inning home run to put the Cardinals on the board. I think it says more about the state of the offense than any sort of positive spin that just shy of half of St. Louis’s runs have come via the home run. We worried about power and probably still should, but the Cards do have two homers (one solo, one two-run) in three games, putting them right in the middle of the pack in MLB when it comes to that. (The Rockies already have 10 long balls? And they weren’t even playing in Coors Field!) Hazelbaker also beat out a double play ball in the eighth (after it was reviewed) that kept an inning alive and allowed the Redbirds to semi-threaten when Greg Garcia followed with a double. Unfortunately, Matt Carpenter couldn’t bring either of them in.
Plenty of Goats to go around, and Carpenter’s 0-4 with two strikeouts definitely put him in the conversation, but I think for the second straight night I’ll go with the starting pitcher. Mike Leake was pretty much doomed from the get-go, throwing 40 pitches in the first, walking in a run (and was only spared more damage when he speared a comebacker for the final out), and having the bullpen start warming before three outs were obtained. The defense behind him didn’t help, what with the three errors and all, but you couldn’t even use that to really justify what Leake did out there. Three walks, one strikeout, and given the elevated pitch count couldn’t get out of the fifth. Not exactly how you want to debut with a new club.
Other notes, Matt Bowman made his major league debut and seemed to do pretty well, throwing two scoreless frames. We’ll see how often he’s used and what kind of decision the club will make on him later in the season, but so far so good. Patron Pitcher Tyler Lyons gave up a run on a hit and two walks, which isn’t great. Lyons’s issues in the past have been with control–his remarkable run down the stretch last year seemed fueled by a better idea of the strike zone–so it’s not good to see him struggle in that regard.
I was a little surprised (not much) to see that Aledmys Diaz didn’t get the start at short last night. After that key error in Tuesday night’s game, it would have been in character for Mike Matheny to run him back out there to try to get a better experience under his belt. Instead, Jedd Gyorko started at shortstop. Given Gyorko has one of the two Cardinal home runs on the season, I guess that’s not a bad thing, but in his career Gyorko has really struggled with right-handers. It would seem to be better to let Gyorko alternate with Wong and let Diaz get those ABs he needs by playing regularly at shortstop, but we all have questioned Matheny’s lineups from time to time. And by time to time, I mean basically every time they are posted.
The top four in the lineup went 0-14. That right there may be the most telling sign. If Carpenter and Stephen Piscotty are going to struggle, it’s going to be very hard for this lineup to catch fire. That said, the Cardinals were up against a very good team. If these struggles continue against the Braves and the Brewers, we’ve got a much bigger issue to deal with.
Marco Gonzales is out with a left elbow injury. When you start hearing “elbow injury”, you pretty much never get anything good after it, including Tommy John surgery. He’s getting a second opinion before they announce anything, so maybe it’s not as drastic as TJ, but it’s still not good. Gonzales needed this season to rebound from last season’s shoulder injury and had looked strong enough in the spring that it appeared he’d be able to do it. Now, if he’s out for any extended period of time, it becomes harder and harder for him to make it back to the big leagues. Hopefully it’s not quite that severe, but the pitching depth that we’ve always seen the Cardinals have is drying up. Tim Cooney was slowed this spring and Alex Reyes is still suspended, so hopefully the big league starters can stay healthy for quite a while.
A couple of articles talking about how Matheny is “evolving” in his usage of Trevor Rosenthal in tie games. It’s nice to see someone in the front office got him to realize that saves don’t happen if you don’t win the game, and sometimes winning the game means you need your best reliever while it’s still tied. If the front office didn’t fill him in on this, I know about 1,247 Twitter accounts that could have.
A day off today–the hardest thing about the beginning of the season is the stop-start nature of it–and then the Cardinals make their last trip to Turner Field, facing off against a Braves team that lost their first two games against the Nationals. Somebody’s gotta win. St. Louis will start the series with Jaime Garcia, hoping to improve upon what we’ve seen out of the rotation so far. Garcia’s last start of 2015 was against Atlanta, after the Cards had already clinched the division. He allowed two runs in four innings and took the loss.
He’s up against Matt Wisler, who also pitched in that closing series last year and just went 8.2 innings without allowing a run. In other words, things may not be looking up as much as we’d like.
If you can, enjoy the off day. These things would be much easier to deal with after a win, wouldn’t they?