The hope for the Cardinals this week, facing both the best team in the world (and possibly the greatest of all time, if you believe the press clippings) in the Chicago Cubs and one of their few threats in the Washington Nationals, was to come through it with more wins than losses and a sense of momentum. That’s still possible, though much more difficult after the series with the baby bears. However, if knowing you are very close to your rival helps spur things, these games might have had some benefit.
Monday (4-3 win)
Hero: Matt Adams. Randal Grichuk hit the walk-off homer, but Adams’s pinch-hit two-run job not only tied the game late, setting up Grichuk’s heroics, but also came off of John Lackey, who was quickly turning into one of those thorns in the Cardinals’ side. Lackey left a pitch up to Adams and he took care of it, depositing it into the grassy berm. (That should be a home run hashtag, #FeelTheBerm.) Adams is winning the first base competition as I thought he might, even though he wasn’t starting in this one. He has his flaws, of course, but right now he’s one of the better options in the lineup.
Goat: The club only had five hits, two from Grichuk, so there were plenty of o-fers to choose from. We’ll go with Stephen Piscotty, who went 0-3 and struck out twice. Not often you see a game like that from the young outfielder.
Notes: While it wasn’t the shutout ball that he had last time out, Adam Wainwright pitched more like the Wainwright we are used to seeing. Though, as John pointed out on Meet Me At Musial when we recorded Monday, we are saying that the basic minimum for a quality start is a good outing for Waino instead of being somewhat disappointing, which means our expectations have been severely lowered. Ten base runners in six innings isn’t necessarily a great bellweather stat either, though he did strike out more than he walked which hasn’t always been the case. I guess, watching it, it felt like a better outing than the stat line showed. Given how the rest of the starters did in this series, it was high caliber.
Trevor Rosenthal pitched a scoreless inning, but only because of the heroics of Matt Carpenter, who dove for a bunt and turned an unassisted double play to end the ninth. If that ball drops, as it probably should have, Dexter Fowler scores the tiebreaking run and the bottom of the ninth turns out much differently, perhaps. While the Cardinals were very close to winning two of three (as we’ll see when we get to yesterday’s game), they were also one play away from getting swept, which would have started a very painful conversation, I imagine. Anyway, Rosenthal did have a scoreless frame but continued his struggles with exactly two days’ rest. Not really sure what that means, honestly, but it’s there.
Tuesday (12-3 loss)
Hero: Tyler Lyons. On a night when the pitching staff had nothing and the offense couldn’t muster much, the Patron Pitcher was one of the lone bright spots. He didn’t have a lot of impact on the game–it was 8-0 when he came in with nobody out in the fifth–but he put up three scoreless innings, working out of a jam in his first frame to put up a zero. This game was ugly from the get-go, but #70 provided a little bit of goodness.
Goat: Michael Wacha. When you allow the opposing leadoff hitter to have two plate appearances before your leadoff hitter has one, it’s not a good night. Wacha allowed six in the first, which basically killed the evening (though, as Wednesday showed, it didn’t necessarily have to) and then Mike Matheny sent him out there in the fifth at around 92 pitches and he quickly allowed two more. (Though, in fairness to the manager, he’s got to figure a way to stop using some of these bullpen arms as much, so I’m sure that played into the idea of trying to get one more inning out of Wacha.) There seems to be something wrong, whether it is physical, mental, or whatever, with the Cardinals’ second starter. This is the third straight start where his line looks hauntingly similar–four innings, eight hits, six (or more) runs. For the month of May his ERA is 7.27 and opponents are hitting .310 against him, and that includes an eight inning, one run affair against the Phillies. John and I will talk more about Wacha tonight when we record Episode 4 of Meet Me At Musial and it should be an interesting discussion.
Notes: Adams and Grichuk combined for four of the seven hits, which was really good to see from Grichuk especially after his rough stretch. Aledmys Diaz continued his slump by going 0-4. I don’t really think it has anything to do with moving up in the lineup, but anyone that really wanted to defend the manager might point out that he’s struggled since being put in the second slot. Really, though, the less said about this game the better.
Wednesday (9-8 loss)
Hero: Matt Holliday. There were people with better lines, but I don’t know if any moment was bigger in this one that Holliday’s three-run homer to put the Cardinals right back in the game after Seung-hwan Oh had allowed an equivalent shot to Kris Bryant that had seemingly undone all the good the Cardinal offense had done to rally. It wouldn’t have been a surprise if things had just shut down after Bryant’s homer, but Holliday’s bomb kept the pressure on the Cubs and kept the Cardinals with a hope of victory.
Goat: Carlos Martinez. While Oh’s rare flub sucked some life out of things, this game could have been significantly different had Martinez not allowed a six run second. (As a few wags with pattern recognition tweeted yesterday, I guess we’re in for a six run third tonight.) Perhaps Jake Arrieta would have pitched differently, but on the face of it it’s tough to see a bad Arrieta start and not take full advantage of it. The Cardinals had their chances and continued to dig out of that hole, but it was just too much at the end. We’ve talked about Wacha’s struggles (and they’ve been a touch worse) but this was the third start in a row where Martinez has only gone five innings and allowed four or more runs. When you’ve got two pitchers doing that, well, no wonder there haven’t been any real long winning streaks.
Notes: Oh’s ERA jumped a full run with that home run by Bryant. He’s been used every two days like clockwork recently, so I don’t think it was any sort of overuse or necessarily being tired, it just was one of those outings where things didn’t go right. It happens and, when you are facing a lineup like Chicago’s, you don’t have a lot of room for error. He left a pitch up to Bryant, which never ends well. If he gets it down, perhaps he gets out of the jam.
Some great lines up and down the lineup, though. Grichuk had a homer in the second that looked at the time to be insignificant, but helped show that Arrieta was vulnerable. He also drove in another run later and would have probably tied the game at 6 had his smash down the third base line gotten past Tommy La Stella, who made a Scott Rolen-esque play to come up with it and get the final out of the inning. Adams had three hits, including a home run (off a left-hander, to boot) to pull the Cards to within 1, but everyone seemed to focus on the time when he struck out in the fifth with two on and one out. I think people are still having last year’s Adams in mind, not the current Adams that honestly has been one of the better offensive forces this month.
However, if you want to talk about negative reaction (and, in my mind, justifiably), you have to talk about Kolten Wong‘s at-bat in the fourth. There are two on and with two outs and the Cardinals have already scored two runs that inning. Arrieta seems to be on the ropes and Wong is sitting on a 3-0 pitch. Instead of being patient, though, he swings on 3-0 and flies out to end the frame.
One of the only places I saw defending Wong was the Viva El Birdos account, which thought Wong swung at the best pitch he was going to get. While there’s definitely rationale for swinging at some 3-0 pitches, especially since often a pitcher will just lay one in there, I’m not sure that was such a place. As many other Twitter accounts noted, Wong’s not a good enough hitter to likely have a positive outcome there. Yes, it’s true that it doesn’t take much to go from 3-0 to a strikeout, but with momentum going the Cardinals’ way and Arrieta having thrown 28 pitches in the inning, including a walk, it seems reasonable to wait and see if he can throw two strikes. If he throws a strike 3-0, then you look to swing 3-1 if he’s in the zone.
Odds are that Arrieta would have gotten Wong anyway and it probably didn’t make a big impact on the game after all, but it surely felt like it at the time and you never know. Bases loaded for Diaz would have been enticing, even with his recent slump.
We should note that Rosenthal came in with one day’s rest and had a perfect inning, striking out two. Perhaps he does need to pitch more often, though how you arrange that and keep him the closer, I don’t know.
The ninth inning was a lot of drama as well, with the Cardinals putting the first two runners on before two strikeouts and a groundout. I was away from Twitter by that time, but I assume (and reading the VEB feed, it seems accurate) that there was a lot of debate about Yadier Molina trying to bunt the runners over. While on the whole I’m not a big bunt man (and Viva has a lot of good stats to show why Molina probably shouldn’t have been bunting there), I can also see the thought process, though maybe it’s stronger if the game is tied. You don’t need many runs, you need a run. If Molina gets it down, they probably walk Grichuk and you have bases loaded for Jedd Gyorko and Brandon Moss. It’s not inconceivable that one of them gets a run in (though, if it comes down to Moss, he probably either wins the game or loses it–not just one coming in there).
That said, with the way Molina tends to hit, I think I’d risk the double play (since starting the runners with Piscotty and Adams isn’t necessarily the best of ideas) to let Molina swing away. A base hit ties the game and that was well within the realm of possibility for Molina. It’s frustrating to see a game this close and with this sort of battle come down to that, but that’s baseball.
Now the Cardinals have to go on the road and try to do a little better against the Nationals than they did when Washington paid them a visit at the end of April. That series wound up as a sweep for the Nats and if the pitching is going to continue to struggle, this series may be little better.
The Cards do get to send Mike Leake to the mound. Fortunes continue to shift around this season and now Leake, far from being the weak link, is now the strongest. In his past three starts he’s given up a total of two runs, which would be a welcome relief after the past few days. However, Leake did allow five runs to the Nationals when they came to Busch.
Washington counters with Joe Ross. Ross had no problems with the Cardinals in the earlier series, limiting them to one run in six innings. After that game, Ross’s ERA sat at 0.79. Now, it’s 2.70, which gives you an indication how May has gone for him. Still, last time out he allowed three runs (two earned) against the Marlins in just short of six innings. Maybe we’ll see that Ross instead of the dominant one we saw earlier.
Hopefully a little of Wednesday’s momentum gets packed up and makes it on the plane. A good weekend in the capitol would do us all good!