Last week was a fairly busy time for me, and with the late starts in Arizona it made it difficult (and some days impossible) to get up early enough to get a post done. However, as you know, that happens from time to time and we don’t let that give us an excuse to not look back at those games even when a week has past. To the recaps!
Monday, April 25 (12-7 loss at Arizona)
Hero: Jeremy Hazelbaker. His three-run pinch-hit shot in the fifth inning broke a 2-2 tie and, at the time, seemed to put the Cardinals well on the path to a win against Zack Greinke, something that’s not an easy thing to accomplish. He added on a double later on for a two-hit night.
Goat: When there’s a nine-run sixth for the opponent, it’s really tough to narrow down the whole “Goat” thing. In a coin flip of ugliness, I was going to go with Kevin Siegrist, who didn’t retire a batter and allowed the go-ahead home run to Jean Segura, plus put two more men on. Of course, Siegrist at least had the excuse of recently having the flu and, like Kolten Wong who’d also been ill and came in for a couple of misplays, probably shouldn’t have been out there. So we’ll put it on Seth Maness, who allowed Siegrist’s two runners to come in plus allowed two of his own. Matt Bowman could have factored in this discussion as well. It was a terrible inning.
Notes: Even strengths of teams have a bad night and that’s what this was. To see the bullpen allow eight runs in one frame (nine total after Patron Pitcher Tyler Lyons allowed a meaningless one in the eighth) was unfathomable given the talent and ability we’d seen out of those guys this year. You chalk it up to a fluke (save for Maness, which seems to be a trend) and move on. Jaime Garcia wasn’t as stellar this time, leaving after giving up a double and a triple to start off that frame from Hades, but his line was probably less representative of how he pitched, if I’m remembering correctly.
The offense scored seven runs off of Greinke and still couldn’t win, which is so disappointing. Aledmys Diaz had two hits to push his average to .481, which will be his high-water mark for the season. Multiple hits also for Matt Carpenter (who had a home run to finish the scoring) and Stephen Piscotty.
Tuesday, April 26 (8-2 win at Arizona)
Hero: Brandon Moss. The battle for first place continues to be murky, but Moss put his claim on it with a four-hit night, including a big three-run homer in the fifth that gave the Cards a comfortable lead (assuming the bullpen issues were in the past, which they were). Moss just needed a triple for the cycle, but that’s like saying I just need Boardwalk to win the big prize in McDonald’s Monopoly contest.
Goat: Jedd Gyorko. After having such a strong series in his old ballpark, Gyorko came back to earth a bit in Arizona. 0-5 in this one, with two strikeouts and five left on base.
Notes: Carlos Martinez was outstanding, throwing eight scoreless innings with more strikeouts (four) than hits (three). Somewhere along the way this weekend it was mentioned that no one expected Martinez to be the ace of the staff right now. Which is probably true. I think a lot of folks thought he might be there by the end of the season, though, so his outstanding early work isn’t terribly surprising.
The Patron Pitcher came in for the ninth and allowed two runs, which is disappointing. I still think that, with this team and the way it is constructed, a long man can’t get regular work and I’m wondering if that’s affecting him a little. I know he’s been a bullpen guy before, but even then I think he got used a bit more often, plus he had starts in the minors during those seasons to at least get into a rhythm before getting put in the pen. I’m not saying that Lyons is going to be an All-Star, but I think he’s better than we’ve seen much of this season.
Hazelbaker got another two hits, showing signs that his earlier slump was just that instead of the beginning of the end. I’m still not sure he’s a long-term answer, but obviously if he’s hitting, he’s playing as much as possible. That outfield shuffle, though, is a real dilemma at times and the possible return of Tommy Pham in a few weeks won’t help matters.
Wednesday, April 27 (11-4 win at Arizona)
Hero: Stephen Piscotty. Back-to-back games the Cards had someone pile up four hits and this time it was Piscotty. All singles, but he drove in two, walked once, and scored once. That’s filling up a box score.
Goat: Randal Grichuk. This was in the midst of an ugly streak for the center fielder, so the 0-4 with two strikeouts was less an outlier and more a representative result. Grichuk broke the o-fer last night, but it’s way too soon to tell if the slump is over.
Notes: Adam Wainwright got his first win of the season, perhaps just as much because he tripled with the bases loaded versus his work on the mound. Actually, he was more like the Waino we know there, but he still allowed four runs and only got one out in the sixth. We talked about his results this year versus his results after coming back from Tommy John in 2012, but if that comparison is to continue to provide comfort, we probably should be seeing some better outings soon. More on that in the recap of last night’s game.
The bullpen was stellar, and while the large lead probably didn’t hurt, getting zeros out of Seung-hwan Oh, Jonathan Broxton, and Matt Bowman is always nice to see. Save for Maness, there’s a real confidence that once the Cardinals get a lead to the bullpen, it’s probably going to be able to keep it. Getting the lead to them, of course, is sometimes the question.
Thursday, April 28 (3-0 loss at Arizona)
Hero: Yadier Molina. After a good run of fun-filled offensive spectacle, the bats got cold again, even though they were facing a pitcher in Rubby De La Rosa that had an ERA of almost 6 going into the game. The Cardinals have been very good this year about beating up on the bad teams, but perhaps they were just tired from scoring 45 runs in the five games previous. Molina had one of the three hits, plus drew a walk. He also didn’t strike out on a night when the Cardinal hitters racked up 11 K. In a game like this, that counts as a Hero.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. No one person really stands out here, so the leadoff hitter tiebreaker applies. Carp was 0-4 with one strikeout and continues to not really hit a lot, though he’s drawing enough walks to keep his value in the leadoff spot.
Notes: Michael Wacha was fairly effective in this one, giving up three in seven innings and striking out nine, his highest strikeout total of the year. He did allow two home runs, but those were the first two he’s allowed this season after surrendering 19 in 2015. I keep being worried about Wacha, but looking at the game logs save for his opening start he’s been maybe not an ace but a very solid pitcher, and the only thing working against him are those sky-high expectations we have for him.
Diaz went 0-3 in this one, lowering his average to .446. If he can just get his OPS under 1.000, he might be able to move up into the heart of the lineup! (That said, John Mozeliak did have some comments about the complaints about Diaz batting low during the blogger Q&A on Sunday, which I hope to get to in a different post.)
Friday, April 29 (5-4 loss vs. Washington)
Hero: Matt Adams. Three hits, including a late two-run homer that gave the Cards a late shot. He may struggle against the lefties (and that probably will never change) but after Monday night he’s hitting .317/.391/.585 against righties this year, showing that there’s still a lot of hope left for Big Fill In The Blank. (Hat tip to Jon Doble for pointing that out on Twitter.)
Goat: Mike Leake. I know I’m down on Leake lately (Bill Ivie pointed out this weekend it’s the most negative I’ve ever been on a Cardinal player) but he’s not shown anything yet to make me feel like he’s going to turn it around. I mean, he probably will–it’s just the first month of five years, after all–but he has yet to have a quality start, yet to allow less than four runs (though some have been unearned) and has an ERA just under six. When that’s your big free agent splash for the offseason, you need him to be better, especially since that contract may cause some decisions when Lance Lynn is returning next year and Alex Reyes starts looking like he’s ready for the big leagues. I don’t know what his BABIP is now, perhaps that could drop and help him out, but right now we aren’t seeing well pitched games out of Leake and it’s pretty disappointing.
Notes: Matt Holliday and Adams got to Stephen Strasburg early, but he just shut things down. I’ve always been a fan of Strasburg and it’s going to be interesting to see where he winds up as a free agent this winter. Not St. Louis, obviously, given the logjam I just described. Strasburg struck out nine, because when this team gets flailing, those Ks pile up quick.
Holliday had three hits in this one, with an RBI and two runs scored. I don’t feel the impending doom like I did when Holliday was struggling the first week of the season anymore. Holliday still attacks everything hard and, more often than not, those kind of balls are going to drop in or go aways. Of course, they may also go right to the shortstop for a double play, but that’s the tradeoff.
Saturday, April 30 (6-1 loss vs. Washington)
Hero: Yadier Molina, I guess? Molina had two hits, the only person with more than one. Otherwise, the offense was meh and the pitching the same. I almost went with Trevor Rosenthal because he pitched a scoreless frame and we don’t often highlight him in this spot, but that just seemed like too much of a stretch.
Goat: Jaime Garcia. I know he had a Hazelbaker error behind him and I know Jayson Werth can be a tough hitter against the Cardinals, but when you put this team down 4-0 in the top of the first, it’s not likely to turn out well. The offense tends to need a middling pitcher or the hope of getting into the soft spots of a bullpen to really catch fire. Joe Ross isn’t that guy and the Nationals’ pen seems to be pretty solid. Garcia was good after that first frame, but that one counts.
Notes: Broxton had an off game, but it really didn’t seem to affect things. Down 4-1 in the eighth is more probable for a comeback than 6-1, but neither is just terribly likely. At least Maness came in and got his one batter, something that we haven’t been able to count on much this season at all. Hazelbaker made two errors, which is a real rough day for an outfielder. Of course, given that this defense would sometimes have trouble catching a cold or throwing their weight around, this probably shouldn’t be a surprise. We also saw a bit of a lineup shift as Carpenter hit second, but it didn’t seem to make much difference.
Sunday, May 1 (6-1 loss vs. Washington)
Hero: Brandon Moss, because until his home run with two outs in the ninth I was in danger of having my last three outings at Busch Stadium be scoreless ones for the home team. (Ironically, one of those games I saw last year was Leake pitching for the Reds. Couldn’t have pitched like 2016 Leake then, could he?)
Goat: Stephen Piscotty. 0-4, two strikeouts, two left on base, and on the same day that I bought his shirsey. Way to make me feel good about that investment, man.
Notes: As typical with the Blogger Days, the game is almost secondary to the food in the suites and the people that you get to interact with. That being said, we did watch some of the game and it early on felt like a game that Carlos Martinez could throw a no-hitter in. While that obviously didn’t happen, it was better than the linescore. He made a mistake to a guy hitting .050, which is ridiculously frustrating, so much so that I think he just threw instead of pitched to Danny Espinosa, which resulted in another homer. There’s not a pitcher out there that hasn’t gone through a similar sequence, I don’t think. Martinez struck out eight and walked none in just shy of seven innings, which was easily his worst start of the year. If that’s the lows, I think we’ll take it.
Also, I got to see the Patron Pitcher in person for the first time ever. Lyons did well coming in and snuffing the rally in the seventh, but got touched for a long ball with two outs in the eighth. Still, 70 was on the mound with 70 in the stands, so that’s a win. There just wasn’t much happening in this one, but it was still a fun day at the park with friends and a conversation with Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt III. As I say, I hope to write that up soon.
Monday, May 2 (10-3 win vs. Philadelphia)
Hero: Adam Wainwright. OK, it’s not often that a pitcher wins this almost entirely with his bat (and that’s probably overstating it even in this case) but Waino had a double and then a three-run bomb that tied the game up. Of course, it tied the game because he allowed three in the third, but let’s not focus much on that for the moment. Wainwright, who I believe had a home run in his first major league at bat, out in San Francisco when he was still a reliever in 2006, now has three extra base hits in three consecutive at bats stretching back to the Arizona start. Pete Kozma had three extra-base hits over 2014 and 2015 combined. Good times.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. He did walk twice, which is a good thing for the leadoff guy, but he was the only person not to wind up with a hit in the lineup. I could have also gone with Holliday, who went 1-4 but didn’t drive in or score a run. All in all, though, there wasn’t much to complain about after the bats woke up last night.
Notes: OK, let’s look at Wainwright’s pitching for the moment. The last two starts have been better and, indeed, Waino limited the damage last night to one single inning, but it’s still not what we expect when it comes to the ace. We’ve talked in the past about the layoff and how we could compare this to 2012, which seems fair. Let’s look at the first six starts of Wainwright for this year compared to his return from Tommy John.
It’s really easy to compare these two years as Wainwright has pitched exactly the same amount of innings over both periods. While earned runs are up in ’16, the most obvious issues is in the strikeouts and, tangentally, with the walks. The long layoff should be a command issue, at least in part, right? Yet even after a full year off in 2011, Wainwright kept the ball in the zone. (To be fair, he hit a bump in starts 7 and 8, walking nine combined then.) This year, with a regular offseason after coming back at the end of the season, that hasn’t been the case.
That last column is games where he gave up three or less earned runs. At this point in 2012, he’d done that twice. In fact, his sixth start was the one where we really declared him “back”, a one-run, seven-strikeout game in Houston. This year, that’s just not happening. Wainwright sat down with Derrick Goold and talked about the adjustments he was going to make, adjustments that seem to have paid off some in Arizona and against Philly. (I’ve not listened to the podcast yet, but I’m sure it’s definitely worth making time for.) I think we’ll see a better Wainwright going forward, but it’d be nice to have a couple of those games that Martinez is throwing come out of the ace as well.
Five home runs. It’s amazing to see the Cardinals, this team that has never had the reputation for really muscling up, lead the majors with 40 home runs. The majors! Not the NL Central. They have more than the Rockies (though they’ve played one more game) and folks that play in parks like Arizona and Chicago. They have 12 more than that vaunted Cubbie offense (which is the only thing they can top the Cubs in right now).
It was great to see Wong get a bit of a boost with his wall scraper and Grichuk snap his hitless skid with a deep drive as well. Adams hit another homer (as well as bunted successfully against the shift, a combo you don’t often get in a ballgame) and Diaz continues to show that he’s probably not a fluke. I’m honestly surprised the Cardinals had enough fireworks on hand to keep up with all these long balls!
Hopefully the bats will show up again tonight, though they are facing a Phillies pitcher that they’ve not seen before in Aaron Nola. Nola’s made two very good starts in a row, shutting out Washington over seven innings last time out and allowing just one run in seven to the Brewers the time before that. He’s effective, with 37 strikeouts and just eight walks on the season, so this could be a tough task. Then again, the new pitchers haven’t affected the club as much this season, it doesn’t feel like.
Wacha goes for St. Louis tonight. He’s not seen the Phillies just a whole lot, but has been all right against them in the small sample.
We continue to think of the Phillies as a laughing stock, but they have the better record and are closer to first in their division than the Cardinals. Let’s hope that the club can do a little more to restore a more sane worldview tonight!