There are days where Sisyphus looks at the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals and says, “Man, get over the hump already!”
First there was the three games over .500 barrier. How often did the club try and try to get to four up? Seemed like forever. They finally broke past that one, but now they’ve hit another wall. They push the boulder up the hill toward 10 games over the break even mark, only to find it sliding back down when they get to nine. Last night, they had another chance, their seventh of the year. Again last night, they failed.
Obviously the most direct cause of the loss was another home run by Jung Ho Kang, this time in the eighth inning against Alex Reyes. Kang, who has completely taken over for the Sith Lord Aramis Ramirez, continued his rampage against the Redbirds and broke a 3-3 tie at the worst possible time. The odds of the Cardinals being able to beat up on Tony Watson two days in a row were pretty slim, after all.
However, especially in a one run game, there are lots of potential alternate realities, shall we say. If only one decision or outcome changes, the whole game might have gone differently. Consider:
–Mike Leake allowed a base hit to start the game, then faced David Freese. Freese hit a liner right back through the box, a ball that Leake thought about trying to catch, but then pulled back. If Leake fields that ball, at the least there’s probably a runner on second with one out. At best, it’s a 1-6-3 double play and the crisis is likely averted. Perhaps even if Kolten Wong is playing second last night, that’s still a double play or a force at second. Instead, the ball went through, past a diving Matt Carpenter, and put two on with two outs. Right after the Cards scored in the top of the first, the Pirates answered with two, erasing the only lead St. Louis would have on the night.
Or take for instance:
–With the score tied at two in the top of the fourth, the Cards load the bases with one out, bringing Leake to the plate. Given the fact that Leake was coming off of his illness, that he’d not particularly looked sharp, Reyes was available and you have a deeper pen and bench with the September callups, there was a significant argument to be made that someone should have pinch-hit for Leake. A base hit there would have scored two and kept the inning going. Even a sacrifice fly would have at least given the Cardinals the lead and let Carpenter bat with runners on. Instead, Leake wound up grounding into a double play, ending the inning.
Or even more notable:
–In the top of the eighth, Yadier Molina led off with a double, bringing Brandon Moss to the plate. Honestly, as bad as Moss as going, there was probably a case for pinch-hitting for him there as well, but in fairness I didn’t see anyone making that case at the time. If Moss even grounds out to the right side, Molina’s at third with one out with Randal Grichuk and Jhonny Peralta coming up. Obviously if he does more than that, the 3-3 tie could be broken in the Cardinals’ favor. Instead, Moss waved at ball 4 down and away, leaving Molina at second. Grichuk then grounded out, finally moving Molina over, but Peralta struck out to end the frame.
Heck, if the Cardinals had been able to continue their home run streak somewhere in all of that (a streak that ended at 25, tied for the all-time National League mark), that might have done it. Instead, they wind up with a loss, made all the more painful by the fact that the Mets won and the Giants, even with a ninth-inning lead, didn’t.
Our Hero of the night is Randal Grichuk and the Goat Brandon Moss. Grichuk went 2-3 with a walk, a run, an RBI, and what seems to be increasingly familiar, a HBP. We’ve discussed Moss, who went 0-4 with two strikeouts. One of my Twitter friends said he believed Moss should sit until Monday and I think there’s something to that. There are options for this coming Milwaukee series. Let Moss get refreshed and his head right before the big week between the Cubs and the Giants.
(By the way, perhaps don’t sleep on the Brewers. Yes, the Cardinals have done very well against them this year, but they just took two from the Cubs, which isn’t the easiest thing to do these days.)
All in all, it was a tough loss but it wasn’t a loss that really riled me up. Look, the Cardinals were going for the sweep and Pittsburgh had lost eight in a row. Both of those things were likely to change. The Cardinals played a solid game. They didn’t get blown out, they weren’t destroyed early, they had life and played well for the most part. Losses happen. It’s much easier to take that from Pittsburgh, a team nominally on the edges of the wild card race, than a team like Cincinnati or, well, Milwaukee.
You also have to give a lot of credit to Reyes, who got stung by a Cardinal killer but otherwise looked as dominant and electric as we’ve come to expect. Six strikeouts in 3.1 innings is a fairly good number, of course, and he allowed just two hits in that span with no walks. I understand that he’s better in the bullpen now because you can use him in any game, basically, but man, is it going to be fun next season when he’s a regular part of the rotation. At least, I hope he’s a regular part of the rotation then!
The Cardinals will send out Jaime Garcia tonight to face the Brewers and Junior Guerra. Garcia’s dominated the Brewers throughout his career and you’d like to think tonight would be no different, but he has been a bit more mediocre as of late. Still, his last time against Milwaukee he allowed one run in eight frames and that’s not his best performance against them this season. You have to at least like your chances, even if the club is back at Busch Stadium.
Guerra was recalled after rosters expanded, spending most of August in the minor leagues. His last time out, he didn’t allow Pittsburgh any runs, but gave up five hits and two walks in just 3.1 innings. St. Louis saw him back in July and got three runs off of him in 5.2 innings, so maybe that’ll be the case again tonight. Note the early start time of 6:15, which may mean the sun has a bit of an impact in the early innings.
For those paying attention to the other teams in the race, Pittsburgh hosts the Reds (Dan Straily for Cincy, Ivan Nova for the Bucs) while the Giants and the Mets are off. If the Cardinals win tonight, they’ll be tied for the top wild card. If they lose, they’d be out of the playoffs if they started tomorrow. This is going to be a wild September, it looks like!