Thank Goodness for Jeremy Hazelbaker

Ordinary.  Average.  Undistinguished.

If you are trying to put into words the recent stretch of the Cardinals–indeed, it could be argued, the entire season–grabbing synonyms of mediocre isn’t the worst way of doing it.

Unexceptional.  Unremarkable.  Lackluster.

Honestly, if it wasn’t for whatever genetic trait that compels me to want to collect the entire set of anything (the Star Wars Hot Wheels on my desk bear silent witness to this issue), I’d probably skip the whole entire Brewers series and last night’s game with the Cubs.  Duty calls, though, and we’ll do a very, very quick pass through the Brewers before dealing with the debacle that was last night.

Indifferent.  Pedestrian.  Middling.

Seriously, they all work.

Thursday (12-5 loss vs. Milwaukee)

Hero: Kolten Wong. Could be Jedd Gyorko, could be Randal Grichuk as they were the only ones to get two hits.  Of course Gyorko made an error and Grichuk got picked off, so even their nights were tempered.  Wong only had one hit, but it was a home run that at least pulled the Cardinals closer for a while.

Goat: Jaime Garcia.  Five runs in 3.2 innings.  At home.  I still think you have to pick up his option because of what he can do when he’s right and the fact that it’s less than market value, but ugh, is he making it unpalatable to do so.

Notes: Mike Mayers had a great outing last time, which is good because at least he has one positive memory in the major leagues.  This was more in line with his start, as he allowed six runs in his one inning of relief, putting everything out of reach.  Obviously, it’s just a few innings in the bigs, so maybe he’ll continue to improve, but right now it looks like he might not be MLB material.  Again, room to grow, hopefully it’s not the case, but man, these have been ugly.

Jose Martinez got his first hit in the big leagues, which was a heartwarming thing given his struggle to actually make it to the majors.  I guess every game has a silver lining.  It’s just really hard to find when you lose to a cellar dweller at home by a lot when you are in a playoff race.

Friday (4-3 win vs. Milwaukee)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  Two hits, including a two-run homer that cut into the Milwaukee lead.  Stephen Piscotty then did the rest.  Thankfully four runs was enough, because these two homers, coming in the same frame, was all the scoring the Cardinals did.

Goat: Yadier Molina.  A rare hitless night for Molina, as he went 0-4.

Notes: Carlos Martinez eventually settled in, but allowing three runs in the first three innings could tax this suddenly lackluster offense.  Martinez did go seven, not relinquishing the lead he was given, but nine hits and a walk isn’t vintage Martinez.  That said, it’s better than a lot of starts we’ve seen of late and it does nothing to change the idea that if you could pick one pitcher to start a must-win game from this staff, it’s him.

Seung-hwan Oh got the save here but apparently pulled his groin doing so (or somewhere after) and was unavailable for the rest of the series.  He was questionable for Monday night but obviously wasn’t needed.  The hope is he’ll be available starting tonight, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Saturday (5-1 win vs. Milwaukee)

Hero: Adam Wainwright.  For the longest time, it looked like Wainwright was in line for a tough loss.  He allowed a run in the fifth inning, but that was it.  That was just one more run than the Cardinals were able to score against Chase Anderson and company.  Wainwright even got out of a bases-loaded situation in the eighth with his pitch count over 100.  (I was able to turn on the game around then and was questioning why Mike Matheny was leaving him out there, but it worked out.)  In a rare case of this team being infected by momentum, that eighth inning stand led to five runs being scored in the bottom of the frame, all without a home run.

Goat: Brandon Moss.  0-4 with two strikeouts.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen a slump as pronounced as Moss’s.  I believe he’s at, what, 1 for his last 41?  That’s pretty bad, especially for a guy that’s been a key cog to this offense all year long.  Which perhaps explains why the offense has been sputtering a bit of late as well.

Notes: Going eight innings against the Brewers without scoring is usually hard to do.  However, as we saw Sunday, this team can do hard things like that often.  Jhonny Peralta was the only Cardinal with more than one hit, as the Cardinals got more in the eighth (five) than they had the rest of the game (three).  Thank goodness for the rally, because this could have been a really depressing loss.  Speaking of depressing losses……

Sunday (2-1 loss vs. Milwaukee)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  Two for four with two doubles, including the key one in the eighth to get the tying rally started.  Also kudos here to Kolten Wong, who went 0-4 but did a great job of making sure he got Carpenter to third in that inning, fouling off pitches until he got what he needed.

Goat: Kevin Siegrist.  Even without the knowledge that Oh couldn’t go, I don’t have too much of a problem with Siegrist being in there.  He’s done a fairly good job this season, even if he’s had his problems.  It is true that Ryan Braun has done better against lefties than righties this year, but Siegrist usually does better against righties than lefties, so you’d think it could work out.  He also had Braun 0-2 before missing up and in three times on close (but not borderline) pitches.  Now, after you get to the full count, I’d have rather walked him than challenged him, but I think this one is more on Siegrist than Matheny, even though I could understand Alex Reyes going there.

Notes: Again with the no scoring.  Zach Davies is turning into the next Bud Norris, it seems like, though Davies can actually get other teams out as well.  Still, this was the third straight game where the Cards only scored in one inning and this time the scoring wasn’t enough.  Grichuk and Moss both went 0-4, with Moss striking out three times, once on a pitch that I’m not sure got halfway to the plate.  I was glad Matheny finally decided to rest him Monday night, though maybe that let the infection spread.

That brings us to last night.  It’s bad enough that, with a sweep, the Cubs could clinch at Busch Stadium.  (Though, honestly, I expect the Cubs to run out some scrub lineup on Wednesday if they win tonight.  They return to Wrigley and face the Brewers Thursday, so you’d think they’d rather clinch on their home turf if given the choice.  Busch Stadium is likely a close second, though.)  But to come outs away from being no-hit?  I never expected this team, this fearsome offense that the Cardinals have constructed, to be shut down so completely.

Perhaps the Brewers games should have given us some inkling that it could be coming, though.  I mean, when you are scuffling against Davies and Anderson, it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that the potential Cy Young in Kyle Hendricks could dance with history.  While the Cards have, in the past, been able to raise their game when they play better quality opponents, Hendricks made them look ridiculous.

I mean, taking a no-hitter into the ninth with less than 100 pitches?  Seriously?  Cardinal fans couldn’t even cling to the hope that he’d wear down, that he’d be getting tired.  We’re lucky that Hendricks made a mistake and our Hero Jeremy Hazelbaker didn’t miss it.  Otherwise, it’d have been the unthinkable, most likely.

It was fascinating to learn (thankfully after the danger passed) that the Cardinals haven’t been no-hit in St. Louis since around the time of the last Cubs championship.  It’s been 26 years since they’ve been cleanly no-hit (we all remember where Carlos Beltran’s ball landed in the Johan Santana game) and to have either of those streaks end at the hands of the Cubs…..having the Cubs win the World Series would be worse.  But not by much.

Let’s also talk about the histrionics performed by the Cubs manager last night.  I get that you don’t have anybody warming in the bullpen when your pitcher, who again is under 100 pitches, has a no hitter going into the ninth.  I get that they needed some time to warm up Aroldis Chapman after Hazelbaker went yard.  But showing up the umpire?  Getting yourself tossed out and then throwing a whale of a tantrum?  That’s the way you want to do this?

Look, Hendricks was not going to give up three more runs.  Even if you want to bring Chapman in, after the infield conference, you let Hendricks pitch to the pinch-hitter, which looked to be Greg Garcia.  Ultimate worst-case scenario, Garcia goes yard and you bring in Chapman up two.  Given that the Cardinals haven’t scored on Chapman in about a decade, I think you are safe.  A more likely scenario is that Garcia gets a hit and you bring in Chapman up three.  The most likely scenario is that Hendricks retires the hitter and you can then bring in Chapman with one out and nobody on, up three.

At one time, I was very much in favor of the Cardinals bringing in Joe Maddon to be the manager.  There’s no doubt that the grumbling about lineups and such would be lessened given his stature in the game, though he does strange things as well.  I mean, I was listening to the early part of the game and Mike Shannon was talking about how Ben Zobrist was in a rough slump, but the manager put him in the cleanup role.  If Mike Matheny did that, everyone would be up in arms.  (Of course, because that’s how these things go, Zobrist goes yard.)  Tactically, the Cardinals would obviously be somewhat improved with Maddon, though the impact of the manager on things is probably much less than we assign.

The extra stuff, though, wouldn’t fit with this organization.  Pajama road trips?  Bringing a literal zoo to spring training?  I can’t imagine the whole Tommy La Stella thing happening in St. Louis.  I know that Holly and Laura have often talked about their distaste for his hijinks and I definitely understand where they are coming from.  Now, granted, I only heard the diatribe via Shannon and John Rooney last night, but it sounded pretty shameful and in some regard detracted from the outstanding game his pitcher had thrown.

While you could name any hitter in the lineup besides Hazelbaker a Goat, we’ll go with Kolten Wong because of our “leadoff breaks ties” rule.  Really, though, you had Hazelbaker, then you had Stephen Piscotty with a walk against Chapman and Yadier Molina and Jedd Gyorko with walks against Hendricks and that’s it.  Plus Gyorko erased Molina with a double play.  All around, it was ugly.

Mike Leake didn’t pitch badly, allowing four runs (three earned) in six innings, but even that would have been a tough road for this offense to hoe.  The thought has been that, if the Cardinals were going to make a postseason run, they’d do it by bashing the opposition and hopefully scoring more than their starters allowed.  That thought is getting tested severely over the last couple of weeks.  They are under .500 for the month of September and have had just two games (both against Pittsburgh, who is in the midst of their own slide) that they earned 50 cent drinks for their fan base and two others that they fell just short (one of those being the first Milwaukee game, where a few runs came after they were already well beaten).  This team doesn’t have the pitching, for the most part, to be able to get by on one or two runs a night.  Scoring in multiple innings would be a very good practice for them to resume.

Thankfully, the Mets got drubbed by the Nationals and the Padres shut out the Giants, so no harm was done in the wild card race.  (Though a win would have made things look really good with those two results.)  Tonight, the Cardinals hope for the good Jaime Garcia while the Cubs bring out Jason Hammel.  Hammel got beat up by the Brewers last time out and he’s been in a bit of a rough stretch over his last four starts.  This season, the Cards saw him in April (six innings, one run), May (7.1 innings, one run), and June (5.2 innings, four runs).  Let’s hope that it’s a little more of the latter.  As for Garcia, we know about his recent woes.  He’s faced the Cubs twice this year and he’s given up a combined four runs in 11.2 innings.  If he gets out of the first tonight not giving up four runs, we may count it a success.

The Mets have Noah Syndergaard going against A.J. Cole of the Nationals, so the Mets have to be favored there.  The Giants have Albert Suarez going against the Padres and Clayton Richard, so the edge probably goes to San Fran being at home.  In other words, a win tonight would be a really, really good thing!

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