Throughout this season, we’ve often made the comment that the Cardinals haven’t been able (or, if you want to cover both types, have been resistant) to do anything with momentum. Big wins are followed by lackluster losses, but there are enough wins and rallies to make you think this team still has a chance. It’s remarkably frustrating for the fan base, as you know if you follow…well, basically anyone on Twitter.
During today’s broadcast, Ricky Horton stated it in a different way. He said while the Cardinals don’t let losses or reverses get to them, they also are unable to handle prosperity. That really sounded exactly like this team. They are like a lottery winner that is afraid to cash in his ticket because he doesn’t know how life will chance. They get a raise at work but still live in the same dingy apartment. While there’s a case to be made for conservatism with resources, too much of a good thing gets you….well, here.
Before this homestand, I said on Twitter that if the Cardinals could win it, which is just four out of six games, that we’d probably be able to raise the Frustration Level back to 3. We dropped it to 2 a couple of months ago and it’s stayed there, but after winning like they did last week, things were looking up if only they could handle a Mets team that’s scuffled as of late and an Oakland team that’s been out of the race for a long while. Just four of six. I’m not saying a sweep, just win more than you lose.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals couldn’t handle prosperity and we stay at Level Rasmus. Let’s look at this homestand.
Tuesday (7-4 loss to New York)
Hero: Yadier Molina. Three hits, including a double in the first that helped the Cards get out of that early hole Jaime Garcia dug for them. Unfortunately, they didn’t bother taking the shovel away from him.
Goat: Jaime Garcia. Three runs in the first inning is bad, there’s no doubt about it. However, when your team battles back to tie the game in the bottom of the frame, you owe them to at least keep that tie for a bit. Instead, Garcia allowed two more runs in the second and then one in the fourth, making it tough for a team that struggles at home to come back. Plus five innings meant that the bullpen had to come into the game earlier than folks would like and, well, that’s become a huge issue this week. I think the most telling thing was in the game scores. Garcia’s counterpart, Jon Niese, left after retiring just one batter and wound up being charged with three runs. His GS was 27. Garcia’s? 24. When you put up a worse game than a guy that gave up three runs with one out, that’s a bad day.
Notes: While the offense had a rough road after the first, they did make it a game, putting runner after runner on but winding up stranding them on the basepaths. Two were left on in the third. Two were left on in the fourth. Two were left on in the fifth. Two were left on in the seventh. Two were left on in the eighth. Yes, at least in most of those instances the second runner reached with two outs, but just a hit in any of those situations might have made a huge difference. Instead, the Cards went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, which was not helpful at all.
The only home run of the game came from Randal Grichuk, who seems to have embraced this “play every day” option that he’s got going on. (Kolten Wong still wants to know what he has to do to get more than an inning in the field.) There was some talk this week about an idea that I’d pondered a couple of times recently, that the Cardinals struggle at home because the ballpark plays bigger, thus blunting their big home run weapon. There’s definitely something to that, as the Cards (through Saturday) have hit 85 homers at home (a home run every 26.1 AB) against 98 on the road (a home run every 22.5 AB). It checks out via the pitching staff as well, as they’ve given up a long ball about every 41 AB at home versus every 32.5 on the road. So Busch Stadium isn’t exactly where you want the big sluggers to go at it.
When you look at this team, that’s a huge part of their game. 44.6% of the runs that this team has scored have come via the long ball. Compare that to a team that you expect to be home-run dependent, the Colorado Rockies. They have actually scored more runs (681 to 637) and done so with fewer coming by the circuit clouts. Only 38.9% of their scoring comes directly because of a home run. If I get some time, I may play with that around the league, but my gut feeling is that the Cardinals probably have the highest percentage among teams that are contending.
Because we know they aren’t creating runs on the basepaths, right? Their average with RISP is .278, which is not a bad mark at all (I can’t seem to find where it ranks in the league) but it’s not a huge outlier like their 2013 mark of .330 was. The runs are coming via the long ball, which is great when it comes. When they are at home, though, it doesn’t and that puts them at a severe disadvantage.
Alex Reyes got to pitch in this one and was able to extend his scoreless streak to start his career, adding 2.1 effective innings to his resume. Four strikeouts, only one walk, and really was never threatened until the end, when Asdrubal Cabrera double and Mike Matheny had Reyes intentionally walk Yoenis Cespedes before bringing in Zach Duke. Reyes continues to show why he was the top prospect and his work here (and earlier) led to a different role later in the week.
Wednesday (8-1 win vs. New York)
Hero: While you could probably close your eyes, throw a dart, and hit a worthy candidate, we’re going to go with Carlos Martinez for this one. Eight innings, one run, which was huge for a bullpen that needed the rest, plus he had two hits as well. That’s what you call an all-around effort. There’s been a lot of talk about the word “ace” of late. Derrick Goold and Benjamin Hochman did an entire podcast (well, the portion of the podcast that actually was about baseball instead of the various rabbit trails they wound up down) about the concept. I’m not sure the semantics are worth all the discussion, but that’s kinda what baseball lends itself to, doesn’t it? I think that you have to look at a stretch of time for the term really to apply and, as such, Adam Wainwright still has the title. However, that gap is shrinking rapidly and by this time next year, assuming Wainwright doesn’t turn his performance around, the guard may be changed.
Goat: This is the hardest Goat I think I’ve ever had to give out. Every starter had at least two hits save one and that one hit a home run to lead off the game. There were no pinch-hitters used and Seung-hwan Oh pitched a perfect ninth for the only non-Martinez frame. So how in the world do you pick a Goat for this (except for perhaps Matheny using Oh in a seven run game, even if he hadn’t pitched much of late)? As much as I hate to, I think I have to go with Matt Carpenter here, because even though his hit was a homer that started the downhill slide for Jacob deGrom, it still was his only hit and he struck out twice as well. Again, this is only because every game has to have one. Darn my rules!
Notes: Seriously, this was crazy. Grichuk homered again and Stephen Piscotty also went deep. Piscotty and Yadier Molina had three hits. Greg Garcia had two hits and walked twice. The club put up 19 hits against a really good pitcher (and a less than good bullpen). It was easy to think that Tuesday’s game was the aberration, that there really was some momentum going here. It didn’t last long.
Thursday (10-6 loss to New York)
Hero: Brandon Moss. Even though things got out of hand, Moss did his best to get the team back into the game, blasting two home runs on the evening. The middle of the lineup did pretty well, but it wasn’t enough.
Goat: While some of it wasn’t his fault and some of it was just bad luck, it’s tough not to go with the starting pitcher here when he allows seven runs in five innings, even if they weren’t all earned. Adam Wainwright, as we said above, is making this ace discussion much more than a theoretical debate. In theory, you want your ace to start a must-win game, whether it’s to get to the wild card game or the wild card game itself. However, I don’t think anyone would be more comfortable with Waino in that position over Martinez, at least unless something changes. We’ve been waiting for a while to see things change and no luck as of yet.
Notes: One of the few solid outings for Jonathan Broxton, who threw two scoreless innings. Of course, given the score, it’s not like it made much difference (though the Cards did try to rally a bit). When you don’t feel like you can use Broxton or Jerome Williams in games that are close, that’s really cutting into the bullpen. That, when coupled with a lot of five inning outings from the starters, makes for tired folks and worse outings.
Case in point, Kevin Siegrist, who faced five batters and got just one out. Siegrist actually had been rested some, having not appeared since the 19th against the Phillies. (So I guess that’s not really case in point, huh?) It’s been kind of a rough August for Siegrist, having allowed runs in five of his 10 appearances and posting a 5.40 ERA. There’s been health issues and other things with Siegrist recently and the dead arm seems to be an issue that isn’t quite going away. It’s another guy that you would like to have confidence in but it’s tough to actually do it.
Grichuk didn’t homer, but did have two hits, as did Piscotty and Jedd Gyorko. The Cards did make it interesting, pulling to within 8-6 after eight innings, but Sam Tuivailala gave up three hits and two runs to make sure that there was no dramatic comeback in the offing this time.
Friday (3-1 win vs. Oakland)
Hero: Luke Weaver. It was pointed out to me that I’ve neglected the Star Wars jokes with a guy like this, so he’s now Luke SkyWeaver for the purposes of this blog and I’m working on a screenplay when I can. (People really shouldn’t point these things out to me.) Weaver came up big in his home debut, going six innings and striking out seven, allowing just one run in the process. He even got a hit to make for a complete evening. Perhaps there is a new hope for the rotation after all.
Goat: Randal Grichuk. There are going to be some busts with his booms and this was one of them, as Grichuk went 0-3 with two strikeouts.
Notes: All in all, a pretty quiet game. Jedd Gyorko kept the home run streak going with a two run shot in the first and things pretty much were calm from there. It probably was somewhat telling that the Cardinals were unable to muster much offense against Ross Detwiler, whom they’d actually seen before. (Six hits, with Brandon Moss being the only hitter with more than one.) It was a strong omen for the rest of the series.
The bullpen held the line well in this one, with Matthew Bowman, Siegrist, and Oh taking care of the three outs that SkyWeaver couldn’t. If there were more games like this, we’d be a lot less frustrated, I think.
Saturday (3-2 loss vs. Oakland)
Hero: Randal Grichuk. The game swings, you know? One day you are down, next day you are up. Grichuk went 2-3 with a home run, which looked to be key late in the game until, well, it wasn’t.
Goat: There are a few directions you could go, but I’m afraid it has to be Brandon Moss. Not only did he go 0-4 at the plate, his mental lapse in the eighth inning cost the Cardinals the game. With runners on second and third and one out, Oh comes into the ballgame and gets a sharply hit ground that Moss makes a great diving stab to corral. Unfortunately, he then tried to go home with the ball even though he really didn’t have a chance to get the runner. So instead of a runner on third and two out, there were runners on the corners and one out. That meant the fly ball that would have ended the inning became a sacrifice fly that gave the A’s the lead they wouldn’t return.
Notes: Of course, if the offense puts up more than six hits on the night, maybe this is a moot point. (Then again, Oakland only managed four, so you make do with what you have.) Zach Neal was unfamiliar to the Redbirds and we know how that usually turns out. This one wasn’t any different, as there never were any real scoring threats besides Grichuk’s homer. Even the second run scored when Ryon Healy, the third baseman, couldn’t handle a ball hit by Piscotty. It was a very, very quiet offensive night.
Which was fine, because that meant we had much more time to appreciate Alex Reyes. Friday night, it was announced that Mike Leake had shingles and Reyes would be taking his place in the rotation. Reyes went 4.2 innings, but even though he left without giving up a run, Twitter still was all stirred up. There were two schools of thought warring with each other.
School 1: Reyes was at 89 pitches. He’d just walked Marcus Semien and there were two on with two outs with the third place hitter coming up. He had thrown earlier in the week, so he wasn’t necessarily ready to go 100 pitches or more. The game perhaps hung in the balance and we’ve wanted Mike Matheny to be a bit more proactive when it comes to pitchers coming to a focal point in the game.
School 2: Reyes was one out away from finishing the fifth, which incidentally would have had him in line for a win. Yonder Alonso was 0-2 against Reyes in this one and hadn’t necessarily looked like he had figured him out. If it was Wainwright out there, odds are Matheny doesn’t pull that trigger. Reyes wasn’t completely losing it, having gone to a full count to Semien before walking him. Given the state of the bullpen, asking them for any additional outs was asking for trouble.
Of course, because baseball is what it is, Zach Duke comes into the game, hits the right-handed pinch-hitter (given his personnel, I guess kudos to Bob Melvin for not keeping Alonso in there just because he’s the third-place hitter, though I think we’d have freaked had Matheny done that) and walks the next guy, forcing in a run and ruining Reyes’s scoreless career.
I think both schools have a reasonable approach to this (though perhaps not when they are talking at each other). It could have gone either way. It’s not likely it’d been worse to leave Reyes in there, but if Duke is more effective, it’s a non-issue. If Reyes hadn’t walked four batters, he probably is still in there, plus you have the fact that he threw on Tuesday, which meant he was making a start on short rest. While he was in there, Reyes was impressive and given that Leake doesn’t sound like he’s making progress with those shingles, Reyes may get another start or two to work on what he had issues with here.
Sunday (7-4 loss to Oakland)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. Three of the eight Cardinal hits came from Carp, who maybe finally getting over that oblique issue. A double and a homer as part of those three hits, which was a significant part of the offense.
Goat: Jonathan Broxton. While Jaime Garcia certainly didn’t cover himself in glory again, allowing five runs, he did settle in after the three-run homer by Stephen Vogt in the third, going seven innings and letting the bullpen rest. The club battled as well, pulling within one. Unfortunately, that meant Broxton had to come in and he had what is becoming a regular occurrence for him. Given his limited innings, maybe this isn’t a surprise, but look at his month-to-month lines:
The ERA bounces back and forth, but he’s scuffled over the last couple of months after a good run in June. He’s been charged with a run in four of his nine August outings and that doesn’t include the one where he loaded the bases and Matt Bowman got him out of the jam. Again, when you can’t trust Broxton to pitch in anything but the lowest-leverage situations, it puts an additional strain on the bullpen.
Notes: You wonder if things would have been a little different had Alberto Rosario remembered that he’s a catcher, not a speedster, and not been thrown out at third while the Cardinals were trying to rally. Rosario had doubled in the fourth run, cutting the lead to one, and if he stays on first you get a pinch-hitter up with momentum going the right way. Instead, the inning ended, Broxton came in, and everything shifted away from St. Louis.
If Garcia had a better game, if he’d kept at least one of those home runs in the ballpark, maybe this turns out a little differently. Still, it’s hard to win when the offense is pretty much missing in action.
Cardinals now go to Milwaukee, which is good because 1) it’s on the road, 2) you can hit home runs in Miller Park, and 3) they’ve done well against the Brewers this season. Carlos Martinez gets to go for St. Louis, which is another way to end a losing streak. As you can see, the Brew Crew hasn’t been that enthused about their encounters with the to-be ace.
Zach Davies will go for the Brewers. Last time he faced the Cardinals, he threw eight innings of scoreless, three-hit ball at them. That still stands as Davies’s best outing of the year and there aren’t a lot that are close. He did just allow one run in six innings against the Rockies, but gave up 12 runs in nine innings in the two starts before that. We’ll see if the Cardinals can figure him out now that they’ve seen him.
This post is already way too long, but I did want to mention that Rob Rains had a very interesting interview with Kolten Wong that he posted on his site tonight. So interesting that it’s taking forever for his site to come up as a lot of people continue to want to read it. I’m going to think that over and maybe tackle it in the morning. Hope you get a chance to read it.