Imagine, if you will, you wake up prone in a strange land. It looks nice, it’s warm, it’s bright. You sit up and look around, finding a few familiar things but unable to see much beyond your immediate radius. When you try to stand up, however, you crash into some invisible barricade, forcing you back into your seated position. No matter how you try, you are unable to get into a standing position because of that impediment.
That’s the Cardinals and three games above .500.
As Rob Rains noted on Twitter, yesterday was the sixth time the Cards had been three plus in their record and all six times they lost, unable to push out of that restricted orbit. With the Giants coming into St. Louis, it might be a little while before they get a chance at number seven. Before we look at loss number six, though, let’s take a look at the game that got the Cardinals in that position.
Tuesday (10-3 win)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. Four hits for the second straight day, which means his new daughter must have really inspired him. Of those hits, two were triples and he tossed in a double, he scored four times and drove in two. That, my friends, is a heck of a day.
Goat: Yadier Molina. He did draw a walk, but Yadi was the only starter not to get a hit and is mired in a slump that has taken his average from .341 on May 13 to .266 on June 1. Given his age, a correction from .340 was to be expected, but this is a pretty steep one. Mike Matheny doesn’t believe fatigue is to blame, which leads to a succinct summation of Matheny’s managerial philosophy:
“If he feels good, there’s no way I can look at him and say, ‘You don’t feel good.’ How does that work? I’m not going to be the guy who tells him he doesn’t feel good.”
While I’m not saying that Yadi doesn’t feel good or he should be out of the lineup, Matheny is absolutely the guy that should be telling players that they aren’t right if he believes that to be the case. We know, by numerous examples (say Jaime Garcia last postseason) that players are going to lie about their health all the time. They are going to say that they are ready to go when they aren’t because they want to play, because they think they can still make a difference, because they think 70% of them is better than 100% of the backup, because they don’t want to look weak, a myriad of reasons. The manager has to be the one that draws the line. It’s not clear that Matheny understands that part of the job at times.
However, that’s a digression. I don’t think that playing Eric Fryer more would help Molina’s bat and Matheny notes that Molina’s hit some hard balls that haven’t gone in, which is true. A number of the double plays that have been turned on Yadi lately have been hit right at someone, a strong hit that found a glove. It would seem it’s about time for a little bounce back, though the days of .300 Yadi might be over.
Notes: A lot of the offense was again concentrated at the top of the order (the first four hitters combined to go 9-16) but Jedd Gyorko provided some at the bottom of the lineup, going 2-4 with a three-run homer to help ice the game in the eighth. Aledmys Diaz and Matt Holliday were part of that top of the order punch, both going 2-4, though neither with an extra base hit. Matt Adams only had one hit, but it was a double.
On the pitching side of things, Mike Leake turned in another good outing, giving up two runs in six innings of work. Leake was at 83 pitches when his spot led off the seventh in a 3-2 game, otherwise he probably would have gone at least seven. Over his last five starts, Leake has a 1.59 ERA and has been a stabilizing influence on the rotation, which is why you don’t judge a five-year contract on the first month of play. That contract still may not work out, but right now Leake is providing value beyond what you see on the box score.
Wednesday (3-1 loss)
Hero: Brandon Moss. On a day when the offense was basically non-existent, Moss at least kept the club from being shut out, slamming the 10th pinch-hit home run of the season, which tied a Cardinal team record. The next Cardinal pinch-hitter that goes yard will be in uncharted territory, and we are just through the first day of June. The bench has been amazing this year in that regard, given the fact that we probably could combine the pinch-hit homers of the last three seasons and not get 10. (I don’t have time this morning to do that, but let’s assume that’s the case.)
Goat: You could basically throw a dart and hit a deserving candidate here, but our leadoff-hitter-breaks-tie rule comes into effect here, so we go with Matt Carpenter. 0-4 with a strikeout, but since he went like 8-10 in the first two games of the series, that’s probably to be expected. As Carpenter goes, so goes the offense at times.
Notes: Jaime Garcia struggled in the first and that was all the Brewers needed. Normally two runs in five innings wouldn’t be a huge deal, but when the club only gets four hits, and one of those is a ninth-inning homer, it probably means that you’ve put too much water in the boat to sail home. Like Leake the night before, Garcia led off an inning (this time the sixth) and was pinch-hit for, which should have been done, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a bit aggravating that the bullpen had to absorb two extra innings because of the way the lineup came up, since the ‘pen had been overworked as of late. Still, it’s much better than the starters barely surviving four and we don’t want Matheny leaving a pitcher in to hit in these situations, so you have to deal with that downside.
Diaz, Holliday, and Adams had the other three hits in the game. This was a pretty good series for those guys and Carpenter, but the rest of the team didn’t get to join in as much, it didn’t feel like.
Jeremy Hazelbaker went 0-3 with three strikeouts. While there’s no doubt he still has some power, he’s hitting .167/.196/.278 since May 1 with 22 strikeouts and two walks in 56 plate appearances. It would seem the league has adjusted to him and it becomes harder to rationalize why he is here and Tommy Pham is in Memphis. Pham is hitting .271/.368/.373 in Memphis with a home run and four steals. I don’t know that Pham would immediately be a starter in the big leagues or anything, but it would seem time for that swap to be made. Perhaps today on the off day we’ll see that happen.
So the Cards find themselves again sitting down, unable to get through the blockade and get a little closer to the other teams. Anytime they seem to get closer to the Cubs, they wind up giving the ground back. They are only two games behind the Pirates and it’s already starting to look like the wild card race is going to be the only race to care about this summer, unfortunately. Then again, knocking the Cubs out in the first round of the playoffs would be fairly sweet, wouldn’t it?
It doesn’t get any easier with the NL West leading Giants coming into Busch for the weekend. (Talk about a stretch, playing all the division leaders within two weeks, with only the Brewers to break it up.) The Giants have been on a roll and we know how the club has struggled against winning teams this year, but hopefully that’ll change this weekend.
The series opens with Kickin’ Johnny Cueto going against Adam Wainwright. Cueto has been pretty stellar for the Giants this season. He’s had a couple of blowups, but over his last seven games he’s 5-0 with a 1.69 ERA. Some Cardinals have had a little success with him, though, so maybe they can change that narrative.
Wainwright, for his part, has looked more like the ace Cardinal fans are used to over his last two or three starts. Not like the ace, just more like it. There’s at least hope that we’ll see a more dominant Waino as the season goes on and if history is any indication, that might start Friday.
I’m going to reach out to Craig at THE San Francisco Giants Blog and see if we can’t do our normal exchange of questions. Look for that tomorrow if it happens!