Most people mark the current “Golden Era” of St. Louis Cardinals baseball from 1996, when Tony La Russa came to the club, the DeWitts were just beginning their tenure, and the Cardinals returned to the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Since that time, there’s no team that they’ve beaten with more regularity in the National League than the San Diego Padres. Baseball Reference notes that the Cards have won 94 of the 149 meetings between the teams, but that’s 1) not updated for yesterday’s win and 2) does not count the postseason, where St. Louis has also dominated. They faced the Friars in the 1996 (3-0), 2005 (3-0), and 2006 (3-1) NLDS. All that combined, the Cards beat the Padres at a .650 clip, which is a pretty solid bit of ownership over 20 years. This weekend wasn’t terribly different.
Friday (4-1 loss)
Hero: Randal Grichuk. His solo homer, briefly cutting the deficit to 2-1, really was about the only good thing to come out of this one.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. While many folks had a rough night, Carpenter’s was so bad it got him a day off on Saturday. 0-4 with two strikeouts would be bad enough, but to go down looking when the tying runs were at second and third with one out in the fifth was just devastating to the Cardinals’ chances. Normal Carpenter at least puts a swing on the ball and hopefully gets in one run.
Notes: It was great to see Mike return to the Conclave over the weekend and he had a lot of good stuff about this game. (I’m glad he mentioned Jon Jay‘s attempted sacrifice with a runner on second and nobody out late in the game. Either Jay learned way too much from Mike Matheny or other managers make the same ridiculous call.) We also talked about some of the early bit of this one on Best Dans in Baseball, since it was going on as we were recording.
The BDIB discussion really focused in on Adam Wainwright, who started this game and, while he probably had his best start since his opener (and was a very similar line to what he did against the Pirates), still hasn’t alleviated all the worries that the Cardinal fan base has for him. Meeting the quality start minimums used to be a middling outing for the staff ace, now it’s the best we’ve seen. What’s going on?
I had a discussion on Twitter with our good friend Bob Netherton (@CardinalTales) and some others and their opinion was that, even though Waino made it back at the end of last season in a relief role, the rust of missing another season was still on him. If that’s the case, we should see some strong comparisons to April of 2012, after he returned from Tommy John surgery, and indeed we do.
There are a lot of similar numbers up here, which does help back up the rust issue. Wainwright had a much stronger season from May on in 2012, so perhaps we’ll see the same out of him going forward as well.
There are a couple of differences, though. You’ll note that in 2012, he allowed more home runs, a fairly significant number given the small sample size. (A hat tip to Tara Wellman, who remembered that fact as I was doing some digging into the numbers last night on Gateway to Baseball Heaven.) Once Wainwright started keeping the ball in the ballpark (he allowed 10 more home runs the rest of the season in roughly 180 innings), things got better. That’s not the case so far here in 2016.
Even after Tommy John surgery, where command is supposed to be the last thing to return, Wainwright had a 4:1 K/BB ratio. This year, he barely has it over 1:1. While some of that is inflated by the five walks he issued in his second start, the fact is that he’s not striking anyone out, putting up just four K over his past two starts.
Put that alongside something Bill Ivie from I70 Baseball mentioned to me earlier this week, that he felt batters were just sitting and teeing off on Wainwright’s first pitch because they knew he was going to throw a strike and not want to walk anyone. Indeed, the first pitch stats from Waino should come with a parental advisory. When the first pitch is put in play, batters are 14-for-21 with seven doubles and a home run (that’d be Mr. Wil Myers from this last start) for a .667/.667/1.143 slash line.
As I’ve stated before, I’m not a pitch type expert, but just looking at the lines over here at Brooks Baseball (assuming I’m reading them right, of course), there’s no obvious change in speeds from last April (when Wainwright had an 18:3 K/BB while putting up a 1.44 ERA before his injury) and this April. It appears to be one of approach and if he does figure it out as he says he will, he can be successful again. We’ll just have to wait and see how long before all of his research and work pays off.
Final notes on this one: Matt Adams had another rough night, striking out three times and leaving three on base. The competition between him and Brandon Moss is quickly descending into “which one hurts you least.” I still think there’s potential in Adams, but there’s no doubt days like this hurt him badly…..Like Mike (if I could be like Mike), I was trying to figure out exactly who was going to play middle infield if the Cardinals had tied it up in the ninth. I mean, it was a long shot and I don’t blame Matheny for trying to win and then figuring out the issues later, but I wasn’t really sure why he pinch-hit for Kolten Wong in the seventh, even with the lefty reliever coming in. And, if he was going to do so, why he didn’t just plan to leave Aledmys Diaz (who did the pinch-hitting) in and, when you needed another PH later in that inning, go with Jeremy Hazelbaker there instead of Jedd Gyorko. It felt like a situation where Matheny didn’t plan far enough in advance, but I’ll admit it was late while I was watching it and I may have been too tired to keep up with it all….Seth Maness had a good second inning of work. The problem there is that if you continue to wait until your second inning to get folks out, you won’t get many first innings. The ball was hit hard off of Maness and if it wasn’t for Jay’s strange bunt, that could have been a much worse inning. If Jordan Walden ever gets healthy, Maness is the obvious guy to go. Same if folks in Memphis start needing to be promoted.
Saturday (11-2 win)
Hero: Aledmys Diaz. Five hits pretty much always locks up a Hero title, though Hazelbaker’s pinch-hit home run was pretty big and started the late inning monsoon, so I could have gone that way easily. Diaz, besides just torching the Padres all weekend long, had two doubles, two RBI, and scored a run. He did make an error, but with days like this, it’s much easier to deal with the occasional glitch in the field. I know, I know, the Cardinals have a baseball-high 19 errors and many of them, including some from Diaz, have come in key situations. However, it’s not like there’s a Pete Kozma-like glove being buried on the bench in favor of the offensive juggernaut that is Diaz, and even if there were, I think we’d have Diaz out there anyway if it were up to the fan base.
Goat: Kolten Wong. Wong got his chance to lead off with Carpenter getting the break, but couldn’t do anything with it, going 0-3 before being pinch-hit for in the seventh. I didn’t realize, I don’t think, that Ruben Tejada had actually been announced to replace Wong. San Diego then countered by bringing in former Cardinal Carlos Villanueva, then Matheny went with Hazelbaker and it paid off handsomely. For all those that thought that activating Tejada was going to bury Diaz, that’s been far from the case. You do wonder, though, given the apparent propensity for pinch-hitting for Wong, if Tejada doesn’t eventually see some time at second over the Hawaiian.
Notes: Jedd Gyorko apparently enjoyed being back in his former stadium, going 3-5 with a three-run homer in this one and having another solid game on Sunday. Reports say that folks booed Gyorko, which is a little surprising. I mean, I don’t know what the dynamics of the situation were out there before he left, but it’s not like Gyorko signed as a free agent with someone. He was traded off, which meant he didn’t choose to leave. Now, perhaps they weren’t pleased with him before he left, but booing him for a trade seems pretty silly.
Stephen Piscotty had three hits, including the game-tying home run in the sixth. Piscotty’s quietly hitting .270 on the season and continues to contribute, but sometimes gets overlooked in the good and the bad that is with this team. There are a lot of extremes going on right now and “extreme” is never a label that’s going to be slapped on the outfielder.
A fairly solid start for Michael Wacha. He had a lot of fly balls, a couple of which might have been home runs in other parks (and one that was almost a home run in that park, backing up Matt Holliday to the wall before he could haul it in). Four walks and no strikeouts isn’t exactly a wonderful omen either and had it been a better overall team, Wacha could have really been burned in this one. Instead, he allowed two runs in six innings on just four hits and now has an ERA under 3.00 for the season. You take what you can get, of course, but there’s still going to be some wariness around Mr. Wacha for a bit, I believe.
It was nice to see Hazelbaker get that key homer, but he’s still (after Sunday) in a 1 for 24 slump. The problem with guys that don’t have a lot of positive history either in the bigs or in the minors is that you don’t know whether that’s actually a slump or the league has figured him out and it’s going to take some serious adjustments to stay out of Memphis. As we’ve said, baseball is littered with one-hit wonders, those that start out of fire but flame out quickly. The good thing for Hazelbaker is that his spot in the big leagues is pretty much contingent on Tommy Pham‘s health, which is more job security than a lot of folks have.
Sunday (8-5 win)
Hero: Jedd Gyorko. It was actually a bit hard to come up with the Hero here, as you have three guys with three hits, two of them with homers. Gyorko, though, mixed in a triple as well and was just a double shy of the cycle the last couple of times he came up. All in all, it was a good trip back to his old stomping grounds.
Goat: Stephen Piscotty. Talk about evening out. Three hits and a homer on Saturday, 0-5 with three strikeouts and six left on base on Sunday. Man really believes in keeping an even keel.
Notes: Grichuk and Diaz were the other two with three hits and both had an extra-base knock as well, Grichuk with a double and Diaz with a homer. Diaz went 9-12 in this series and is still hitting well over .400, so it’s been a very fun ride so far. Obviously that’s going to come down to earth sometime soon, perhaps as soon as tonight, but it’s a grand moment in the sun for him.
Hazelbaker was in the starting lineup, which led to this amazing tweet by Dan Moore:
“Matheny Loves Grichuk” and “Matheny Buried Diaz Already” theories can’t stand against the force of “Matheny Likes What You Did Yesterday”
— Dan Moore (@mademdashes) April 9, 2016
If that doesn’t explain Matheny to a T, I don’t know what does. What have you done for me lately is an interesting way of making out a lineup, but that does seem to be a huge factor in things. Granted, it’s not always a determinant–Mitchell Boggs could tell you stories, if you can wait until his lunch break when he’s off the clock–but it definitely plays a big part.
I only got to follow this one by updates and occasional glances at Gameday, at least until the late innings, but it was a frustrating start for Mike Leake. Again, I don’t know how much of it was his fault–he did have two unearned runs, so obviously the defense didn’t completely help him out–but it seemed every time the Cardinals got him a run and a lead, he gave it right back. Then again, he also drove in a run, finally letting us see some results of the “good hitting pitcher” theme that’s been around since the signing, so that was nice. Still, five runs in five innings, even if two were unearned, is not really an exciting outing, nor is it one that will often keep the team in the game.
The Cardinals move out to Arizona tonight, starting a four game series with the Diamondbacks and their closet full of uniforms. It should be an interesting one tonight as Zack Grienke goes up against Jaime Garcia. Greinke has some ugly stats, but that’s mainly from his first couple of starts. His last two outings have been more in line with the Greinke we know (and, when St. Louis faces him, don’t care for much). Those last two were in San Francisco and San Diego, two pretty good pitcher’s parks, so we’ll see if his troubles in Chase Field (11 earned runs in 10 innings in two starts) continue tonight.
(Gyroko’s struggled against Grienke in a small sample but has had two good games in a row. This seems like a tough conundrum for Matheny, given how we’ve seen him do lineups.)
Garcia’s done pretty well against these Diamondback hitters, though it’s funny to see that Greinke actually has one of the best averages in the table below. There’s a lot of folks he’s not seen, though, but Garcia’s been very good all season long. Even given the venue, this game would seem to be shaping up to a fairly good pitchers’ duel.
Another late night, as the Cards won’t start until 8:40 Central. It’ll also be on FOX Sports Midwest Plus, as it has been each time a game has conflicted with the Blues during their playoffs. (A subject I’m not qualified to opine on, though it would seem that being up 3-1 and then playing a Game 7 has never worked out well for St. Louis teams.) Looking forward to seeing if the offense can figure out Greinke!