We talked earlier in the month about the Cardinals struggling to get over their high-water mark for the season, three games over .500. Then it happened, in the midst of a glorious run that saw them go seven games up on break-even. We’ve seen sweeps of the Pirates and the Cubs, a five game winning streak, and where are we at the end of June?
Three games over .500.
Water finds its level.
As we close in on the halfway point (game 78 is tonight), it is becoming more and more apparent that, for whatever reason, this team is really just a shade better than mediocre. There are amazing talents on this squad–Matt Carpenter‘s season is being almost tragically wasted–but for whatever reason, the consistent ability to win games isn’t one of those skills that they have.
There doesn’t seem to be an obvious problem nor an obvious solution. It’s hard to even say the offseason is the root of the issues, because if their current stats are any indication neither David Price nor Jason Heyward would be helping this club. The offense has been much better than expected. The pitching rotation is starting to come around. The bullpen, until lately, has been a strength.
Things just never click at the same time, though. In the past, Cardinal teams have seemed like more than the sum of their parts at times. Whether it was that preternatural ability to get a hit with runners in scoring position in 2013 or an almost magical way of shutting the other team last year, there always seemed to be more to the club than just the pieces on the field.
I’m not sure that’s the case this year. The pieces are all well and good, but it’s like somehow they aren’t connecting to make the picture that we expect to see when we look at a St. Louis season. Maybe things would be different had a few saves been locked down of late, but that’s the point, isn’t it? You could look to a number of pitching performances where the offense didn’t show up. You could find a few games where the club scored a serious number of runs but still lost because the starter gave up more. There’s very few times this season where everything has been working. There’s probably no answer to that, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Look at last night, for example. Carlos Martinez goes out and throws a great six innings, interestingly leaving when the leadoff man reached in the seventh. Martinez allowed eight hits, though a large majority of those were with two outs, and walked just one. At 89 pitches, I personally would have left Martinez in there, though Kevin Siegrist did a fine job of getting through the inning after he came in. If Mike Matheny was factoring in the third-time-through penalty into a scoreless game and using that to make his decision, I’d understand the move more. (Let’s be honest, though, there seems little chance of that.)
Martinez, by all right, should have been able to keep going because he should have had a comfortable lead by this point. Factor out Edinson Volquez‘s last horrific start–you obviously don’t expect him to give up 11 runs in basically an inning again–and he’s still not been that great in June, allowing four or more runs in all but one start before last night. And yet this offense, this potent, run-scoring, lightning-in-a-bottle offense, mustered just six hits all night against him and one of those came from the bat of Martinez.
I will say that the Cardinals hit some balls hard and the Royals made some good plays, but still, that’s just what we have come to expect from this club this year, isn’t it? One thing goes right, which forces another thing out of alignment. Fix that and something else somehow comes out of place. Getting that perfect balance is just about impossible.
And this club could, in theory, do so well. We saw that in the late innings, didn’t we? I mean, so many teams, having the other club finally score in the eighth, would have just deflated. Especially when you are going up against a bullpen of the reputation that Kansas City’s has. When Wade Davis came out in the ninth, the chances of a comeback seemed minimal. And yet, a walk, a Carpenter single, and then with two outs a Jhonny Peralta bullet between third and short and the game is tied up.
Momentum, of course, is not something this team believes in and, again, Seung-hwan Oh struggled in his new role. As last time, this wasn’t a save situation, but it still was a spot where he was expected to hold the line because the alternative wasn’t pretty. Instead, he walked the leadoff batter and then threw wildly trying to keep him held on, putting a runner on at third with one out. That’s a situation that rarely works out for anyone, though Oh might have gotten out of it had Carpenter been able to come up with a ground ball. He didn’t and Kansas City was back on top.
Again, a team without talent, without heart, without the ability to be a better squad probably folds there. Instead, Stephen Piscotty goes yard immediately, re-tying the game and giving the Cards three outs to try to put another run across. They were unable to do so–remember, KC does have a good pen–but they were still alive.
Unfortunately, eventually the Cards couldn’t match a late Royals run. Piscotty made a valiant effort on a ball hit right on the line but it went for naught. There wasn’t a lot of fault to be found in him or Seth Maness in that inning, it’s just the way baseball gets, especially in extras. Things happen then, things that might not have happened had the offense even somewhat figured out Volquez.
While I don’t know that it made an impact on the game, it was a little interesting watching Matheny’s bullpen moves yesterday. I’ve already mentioned the pulling of Martinez, but the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons came into the game right after Jonathan Broxton had allowed the sacrifice fly that put the Royals finally on the board. Lyons, whom we last saw going 4.2 innings against the Mariners, threw two pitches and got the final out of the inning. Using Lyons to face left-handed-hitting Alex Gordon made sense and I get why the manager might have made that call to make sure no more damage was done.
However, in a tight game that could easily wind up going extra innings, it’s a little surprising that he didn’t keep Lyons out there for the ninth, instead using Matthew Bowman for that inning. Not that there was anything wrong with Bowman, who did fine and probably needed some work as well, but it just seemed like a waste of resources. I know Lyons’s role is supposedly “evolving”, but when one of your long men just throws two pitches, it seems off.
It was good to see a more polished outing out of Trevor Rosenthal last night, though. In his most impactful role since his demotion, he blew away the first two hitters before Salvador Perez just reached out on an 0-2 pitch and was able to poke it to right field. He allowed another hit, keeping that WHIP of his right around 2, before getting the last out. More outings like that and a return to the ninth wouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, I don’t believe. It’s not automatic and it’d be nice to see Rosenthal have a few 1-2-3 frames, something he’s not had since June 9.
We’ll give Stephen Piscotty the Hero (two hits, including that homer) and we’ll tag Matt Adams with the Goat, given that he went 0-6 with three strikeouts and, honestly, didn’t look that great in most of those at bats. Adams has had a pretty good year overall, but he’s had some funks and right now he seems to be in one.
Look, I’m not saying that this team is done, that this season is over, nothing of that nature. If it wasn’t for the wild card, I probably would be, but when they are just 1/2 game back in that scrum, it’s silly to say there’s no chance for some postseason glory or, at the very least, a sixth postseason appearance. I’m just saying that this is probably an 83-86 win team. That could win the wild-card, that could make a run through the playoffs. We remember 2006, of course. (Though 2006 was 1) better than 83 wins–even a couple of wins in that late swoon makes that win total more presentable and 2) the ’06 team had injuries as an excuse and as the team healed up with the playoffs rolling around, they showed their true level.)
We keep waiting for them to put it all together, but this may just be all that there is. Which is not bad, but not great. A team a lot of fans would be glad to have–you think the Twins wouldn’t trade places in a minute with this squad?–but a team that, as Cardinal fans, doesn’t meet the standards we’ve seen them set with their play over the past couple of decades. Maybe that’s spoiled, I don’t know. I’d say it’s only spoiled if you throw a tantrum over it rather than accepting they might not be as good this year, but that’s just me.
Cardinals try to get their first win on the homestand tonight (and what IS up with this home record?) when Mike Leake, who got to pinch-run last night, goes for the Redbirds against Chris Young, who has used his slow stuff to tantalize the Cardinals in the past.
Leake vs. KC is above, but Baseball-Reference keeps trying to get Chris Young the hitter instead of Chris Young the pitcher in my search, so I can’t give you his chart. For his career, though, Young is 1-4 with a 3.74 ERA against the Redbirds, including his start last year against them where he threw six scoreless innings. Given the general lack of offense against KC (save Tuesday’s game) this could be another low-scoring affair.
Hopefully it’s one that the Cardinals win and tomorrow’s post is more optimistic!