After 44 games, the Cardinals sit barely above break even, winning 23 and losing 21. I thought I’d have to go a long way back in their history to find a similar start. After all, we’ve been spoiled by so many good teams that almost .500 seems ridiculously pedestrian for this franchise. So I looked all the way back to….2014. Yes, the 2014 squad was also 23-21 at this mark and sat four games out of first. That year, as you may remember, they steadily built their way away from .500 before a finishing kick in September (17-9) gave them a two game lead at the end of the year over Pittsburgh.
Of course, that was also just a 90 win team, as the NL Central wasn’t nearly as strong as it was last year or this year. There was no Cubs team that has people talking about wins records and domination. The farthest they ever fell behind in 2014 was 6.5 games; they’ve already been 9 back this year. It’s not a perfect analogy–no season is–but it’s at least heartening to know that perhaps things aren’t as terrible as they seem.
Then you watch the last four games, three against that sub-.500 category that the Cardinals have often done well against this year, and wonder if they’ll be able to stay above .500 for long. It seems like they continue to work their way to that level one way or another. Let’s recap.
Thursday (13-7 win vs. Colorado)
Hero: There were some strong offensive performances in this one–which is expected when the team puts up 13 runs–but I’ll go with Matt Carpenter. Two doubles and a late three-run homer to ice things meant Carp had three hits and six RBI. That’s a nice night at the ballpark no matter how you slice it.
Goat: Michael Wacha. The Cardinals were up 4-0 after two innings. Wacha then allowed two in the third, which was frustrating because he had one on and two outs with nobody in. Granted, the top of the order was coming up, but he had an escape route and he didn’t use it. Then the fourth was just tramatic, as the score went from 4-2 up to 6-4 down in what felt like a heartbeat. Most frustrating–and I want to do a study on this because I think the Cards have been burned a lot this year in this manner–was allowing a single to the opposing pitcher Jon Gray that drove in a run during that rally. Wacha pitched four innings only and honestly could have been pulled somewhere in that mess. After a good stretch of games, Wacha is 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in his last three outings, a mark that would be much worse had it not been for the four unearned runs he allowed in his previous start. Two straight games not getting into the fifth is a taxing thing as well.
Notes: Aledmys Diaz has slid into the second spot pretty well, getting a hit and a key RBI in that slot in this one. I like him there, but we’ll see if that continues. Stephen Piscotty went 3-4 with two doubles, two runs scored, and two RBI, continue to be one of the only consistent things about this team this year. Matt Adams was 2-3 with four RBI before being removed as part of a double switch when Wacha left the game. I’m liking what Adams has shown as of late. He’s still going to strike out, he’s still not going to be the offensive weapon that someone like Piscotty is, but I think he can help the team and he’s shown that of late. After this game he was hitting .314 in May, though with just one homer. We’ve seen that before–it’s like he can do high average or he can do power, but mixing the two is a little unlikely.
Let’s give it up again for the Patron Pitcher. That long man role has been utilized much more often this year, which is good in the fact that it gets Tyler Lyons to contribute. Lyons came into the game after Wacha was yanked during the fourth inning rally (and, even if Wacha’s spot hadn’t come up, I think he was done) and immediately calmed the Rockies bats, throwing two scoreless innings before being touched by a Trevor Story homer in the seventh. That was his only blemish (and, in truth, it seems like Lyons has allowed a number of homers this year, but they almost always seem to be solo shots and not play into the final decision) in his three innings of work, so another well-earned hat tip to #70.
Friday (11-7 loss to Arizona)
Hero: Aledmys Diaz. Two hits, two RBI and a run scored. The offense was kinda scattered for the fact that the club put up seven runs, but Diaz continues to show that he’s going to be part of the plans for this year no matter what happens when Jhonny Peralta returns.
Goat: Jonathan Broxton. Broxton’s had a fairly good season overall, but it imploded in this one. Five runs in the eighth inning put any chance at a comeback from a two-run deficit pretty much out of the picture. Sure, the Cards scored five in the bottom of the ninth, but you know that pitching decisions would have been a lot different had they not been down nine runs going into that frame. Honestly, given the way the bats were working, even the 4-2 deficit that Broxton inherited might have been enough for a D-Backs win, but Broxton took all the suspense out of it. Relievers have bad games, though, and that doesn’t mean that they are having bad seasons. Broxton had only allowed five runs (four earned) all year before that inning. I don’t think this is a sign, more like a blip.
Notes: Things might have gone differently had the April Carlos Martinez been on the mound instead of the May one. After finishing April with eight scoreless innings (against these Diamondbacks, even), Martinez is 0-4 with a 5.85 ERA. Only one of those starts had him registering an out after the fifth inning, the 6.2 he went against the Nationals on Blogger Day. Since then, of course, he’s had the flu and maybe he’s still dealing with recovering from that, but it’s tough to see one of the pitchers this team really needed to come through struggle so much after being so good.
Jedd Gyorko had a hit and an RBI, Brandon Moss doubled in two runs in the ninth, Eric Fryer continued to prove he can be a backup catcher with two hits after he came into the game, but all in all this was a fairly forgettable one. Well, save the fact that Ruben Tejada pitched the ninth because the bullpen had been so worn out with short starts. I don’t expect we’ll see Ruben Tejada’s Fastball as a blog title anytime soon, though.
Saturday (6-2 win over Arizona)
Hero: Mike Leake. I think Leake is a great representation of exactly how tumultuous this season has been. The staff leadership started out with Martinez and Jaime Garcia, then we saw some good stuff from Wacha, then Adam Wainwright seemed to find his way, but after a rough start, right now Leake is probably the best pitcher on the staff. He threw seven scoreless in this one, allowing just four hits. The strikeouts aren’t going to be there, but when Leake finds a rhythm it seems like he can be the pitcher the Cardinals thought they were getting. His last three starts he has a 0.86 ERA and three wins in 21 innings, which is much better than what we saw in April. Again, the focus of the staff seems to continue to shift (which is part of the problem) but right now Leake’s the man in the spotlight.
Goat: Aledmys Diaz. We don’t put Diaz here very often, but an 0-5 with three left on base will tend to do it. Every other starter but Matt Holliday had a hit (and Holliday drew a walk) so we’ve got to go with the shortstop on this one.
Notes: Two hits and two walks by Piscotty. As we say, he’s the rock. Two hits and three runs scored by Adams, one of which was on a home run, which is always good to see. Even a good game by Gyorko, who homered and drove in three on the day. The bottom of the lineup was especially clicking in this one.
Trevor Rosenthal came into this one just because he needed the work. That didn’t go as planned as Rosie threw 34 pitches, allowed four hits and two runs, and generally made a game that was well in hand feel like it was slipping away, not the feeling you want from your closer. The idea is that Rosenthal isn’t getting enough work and that’s causing his command issues. As Tara and I talked about last night on Gateway, I’m not sure that the numbers from this year bear that out.
As you can see from this year’s splits, when Rosenthal works anytime besides on two days’ rest (save the one game where he worked on back-to-back days, when he walked three and didn’t record an out), he’s pretty much fine. In fact, he seems better when he’s sat longer, walking less than one per inning if he’s got three or more days off. Again, the samples are small and can be easily skewed by one outing, but I’m not seeing that more work is really going to solve this problem.
Sunday (7-2 loss to Arizona)
Hero: Kolten Wong. Two hits, which would be overlooked on any other game we’ve talked about here, was a third of the hit total in this one. Unsurprisingly, it’s hard to get seven runs twice off of Zack Greinke.
Goat: Jaime Garcia. Again, we see a pitcher that had been on a good run stumble. Garcia wasn’t very sharp against Colorado early in the week, but didn’t have much of anything from the opening bell in this one. You knew it’d be bad when he got the double play to clear the bases in the first and put himself in position to get out of the inning down just 1-0, but then allowed hit after hit to be down 3-0 when he finally got the last out. Garcia said it was a mechanical issue that he figured out after the game and given that he’s been fairly good most of the year, we’ll accept that answer…at least until his next outing.
Notes: When Greinke’s on, he’s just really hard to beat and the Cardinals don’t have that Clayton Kershaw magic against him. He’s been much better away from Chase Field anyway, so this was going to be a tough matchup at best, but with Garcia struggling in the first, this was a fait accompli before the Cards even had a chance to bat. Brandon Moss did touch him for a home run, but it was already 5-0 at the time so it didn’t really matter much. Really, you just want to forget about this one and move on.
Jhonny Peralta has started his rehab assignment, going 0-4 so far in a couple of games and playing a little third as well as shortstop. Of course, that starts the speculation about how he’s going to fit into the whole roster/playing time discussion. Of course, the obvious move will be to cut Tejada (I was listening to Talking About Birds this weekend and they were questioning why Tejada was still on the roster. I couldn’t help but say “to make for an easy Peralta move” even though nobody was around.)
The playing time is a different story and I expect that’s something John and I will get into when we do Meet Me At Musial tonight (sorry to our devoted fan(s) but things happened this weekend to delay it). It’s not an easy decision, not at all. People tend to focus on Wong, but then there are stats like these:
Kolten Wong is hitting .295 with an .857 OPS in May. Patience is a virtue #STLCards
— Neal Hellner (@TheBaseballGuy1) May 23, 2016
Couple that with the contract the Cardinals signed him to and the encouragement they continue to show him, I don’t think cutting Wong’s playing time is necessarily the answer. We know Diaz is going to play most every day, we know Carpenter is going to be out there. The carousel may have Peralta, Wong, Adams, Moss, and Gyroko all with seats, with some playing more than others but all kind of spinning around. I say Peralta because we’ve seen thumb injuries in the past and it seems like it takes some time for the strength and production to return. If that’s the case, the club may have trouble running Peralta out there to continue to heal when others are hitting. Of course, Peralta’s going to get the lion’s share given his name, contract, and past history, but I don’t know that his regular play is a slam dunk.
In other news, Alex Reyes made his first real start of the season, coming off his suspension to strike out eight in four innings for Memphis. It’s his first AAA start and, as Tara pointed out last night, there were some other drawbacks in the way of walks and such, but it’s definitely an encouraging sign. John Mozeliak told us at Blogger Day that Reyes still needs to transition from thrower to pitcher, but if he makes those strides, we may see him even before September, especially if the starting rotation seems to need a boost. (Or, perhaps, if Mo trades from that rotation–Garcia would still be an awfully tempting trade chip, I think, even as much as we’d like to have him stay in Cardinal red.) We could also see him in the bullpen, but I doubt that happens until September. An early callup would probably be just to be a starter, I think.
Given the way the Cardinals have dealt with winning teams so far this season (as in, they really haven’t), this looks like a potentially ugly week, with the Cubs finishing this homestand before St. Louis heads to our nation’s capitol for four with the Nats. The club doesn’t even get to ease into it as old friend John Lackey gets the chance yet again to hurl from the Busch Stadium mound. We know how good he was at home the last couple of years and that continued earlier this season, when he threw seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts under the Arch. In other words, the On The Run folks might be safe for another day.
If there’s hope, and there’s always hope right, it may be that the real Adam Wainwright has decided to stand up. His last outing, shutting down the Rockies over 6.2 innings, lends credence to the idea that the ace pitcher we know and love is still in there somewhere and is working his way to the forefront. In the past, Waino’s been able to curtail the Cubs somewhat, so hopefully we’re seeing a pitching duel in tonight’s contest.
|Tommy La Stella||2||2||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.500||.500||.500||1.000||0||0||0||0||0|
As I said, Meet Me At Musial should record tonight so if you’ve got any questions, leave them here or Tweet at me or John. It’s a real big week for the Cardinals–even a winning record might get some excitement going. It all starts tonight!