Friends In Low (and High) Places

There was a train of thought, completely sound, that the Cardinals had to sweep the Rockies to keep their wild card chances legitimate.  They weren’t quite able to do that (sweeps are hard, especially for this team who hasn’t swept a three game series since the four-gamer against the Padres in mid-July and again failed to hit the 10-games over .500 level) but with a little help, they left Colorado in better shape than they arrived.  Hug a Braves (or Dodgers) fan today, will ya?

Monday (5-3 win)

Hero: Carlos Martinez.  It wasn’t the most dominating pitching game we’ve ever seen out of Car Mart, but two runs in five innings in Colorado isn’t too bad, especially when you factor in the plunk on the knee early on.  However, his bat made a big difference, doubling in the tie-breaking runs in the fourth that led to the eventual final tally.  Adam Wainwright gets the press for his power this year, but Martinez leads the staff in average, I believe.

Goat: Aledmys Diaz.  o-5 with a strikeout.  Brandon Moss was considered here as well (0-4, 2K) and it’s pretty obvious his slump might have been interrupted but not ended.

Notes: While you have the arms, you hate to see that many bullpen folks get used in the first game of a series in Colorado.  That said, they did fine, with the only run coming off of Kevin Siegrist in the ninth.  Siegrist let the game get a little dicey, putting two runners on after that home run for Nolan Arenado, who just about won the game for the Rockies.  Instead, the ball settled into a glove and the Cards pulled it out.

Randal Grichuk continues to produce since his recall in early August.  In this one, he had just one hit, but it was a two-run home run that briefly gave the Cardinals a lead.  Hits weren’t too much of a problem in this one, as Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, and Jedd Gyorko had two hits each.

As noted, the bullpen did fine and it wasn’t necessarily the obvious names, either.  Dean Kiekhefer and Jonathan Broxton combined on a scoreless frame.  Zach Duke went 1.1 innings without allowing anything.  It’s good to have some other options for the next week-plus, though we’ll see who of this group makes the playoff roster should the Cardinals get there.

Also on this night, the Braves beat the Mets and the Dodgers beat the Giants, so the Cards moved into a tie for the second wild card and just one out of the top spot.

Tuesday (10-5 win)

Hero: Adam Wainwright.  Again, the pitcher gets the tag, but more for his bat than his arm.  Wainwright had another lackluster start, allowing four runs in 5.1 innings, though at least there were no disaster innings for him.  (He allowed solo runs in four different frames.)  However, save for the first one he gave up while the game was scoreless, he usually had a cushion to work with, having leads of 5-1, 8-2, and 9-3.  You don’t know if he’d pitched a little different if he didn’t have the run support, but it at least helped deal with the runs he was allowing.

And, to be fair, he made up for the four runs he allowed by driving in four of his own.  Waino went 2-2 with a single and a double, raising his RBI total for the year to 18, most in the DH era, I believe.  While I love the slugging Wainwright and he should get the Silver Slugger this year for a pitcher, he may want to spend a little more time this offseason with the pitching side of things.  We’ll take a hitless Waino if we get closer to ace Waino on the mound.

Goat: Brandon Moss.  There were two starters who didn’t get a hit on a night where the team tallied 14.  Jhonny Peralta went 0-4, but scored two runs.  Moss, on the other hand, went 0-4 with only a single RBI to mitigate his night.  Moss is hitting .082/.162/.180 in September and the weak stretch goes back even further than that.  It’s tough to sit him, given the fact that he does have a lot of power and that’s a dangerous weapon, but it’s also to the point where he’s hurting the flow of the offense more than helping it.  Even if he plays, it might be time to look at him lower in the lineup until he gets it figured out.

Notes: Randal Grichuk kept hitting in this one, going 3-4 with four runs and an RBI.  Gyorko and Molina also had two hits yet again and on a night where the Cardinals sat both Matt Carpenter and Aledmys Diaz, they put up their first serious score since Labor day.  Also, Tommy Pham got to pinch-hit, so Mike Matheny hasn’t actually forgotten about him, which was at least in doubt for a little while.

Not a bad night out of the bullpen either.  Two scoreless innings out of Michael Wacha raised a lot of hopes that he can be an effective part of the bullpen for the rest of 2016.  The other returning injured pitcher, Trevor Rosenthal, was a little shakier, giving up three hits and a run.  For those hoping that Rosie is closer to ’15 Rosie, this wasn’t a good sign.  Still has to be some rust on that arm, but I’m not sure how often with this tight race the Cards can run him out there to get it freshened up.

In the wild card race, the Giants were actually able to beat LA but the Braves again took care of the Mets, so all three teams were tied and all the wild tiebreaker scenarios started floating around.

Wednesday (11-1 loss)

Hero: Jaime Garcia.  While the game wasn’t all that close when he came in, Garcia made sure that it wouldn’t get any worse, throwing four scoreless innings in what was probably a successful attempt to return to the rotation.  He allowed just one hit and struck out five over that span, turning in probably the best pitching performance of the whole series.  Just too bad it was 6-1 when he came in and the offense didn’t take advantage of his lifeline.

Goat: Luke Weaver.  I’m currently working on rewriting A New Hope to feature Luke Skyweaver, a young hero who saves the Cardinals.  Unfortunately, it’s becoming more fictional each start.  Weaver had nothing today, getting out of the first with limited damage before having it all fall apart in the second.  Eight baserunners in two innings isn’t likely to work out well and loading the bases for Nolan Arenado, especially when Weaver typically gives up a home run a start, just invited trouble.  It was clear enough even I saw it coming.

Weaver now has had two starts in a row where he’s given up six runs, even though last time out they weren’t earned (and, as such, not entirely on him, though mainly).  You have to wonder if it wouldn’t be better to slip Garcia back into the rotation and let Weaver work out of the pen.  After all, he’s deeper into a season than he’s ever been (with a handful more innings than he had last year) and there’s a lot at stake here.  Garcia, for all his warts, seems to have caught a second wind in the bullpen.  Whether that’s due to a little more rest or the bullpen situation, I don’t know.  There’s an argument either way.

Let’s look at how the rotation should/could play out the rest of the way.  Mike Leake, Alex Reyes, and Carlos Martinez are going against the Cubs, as the Cardinals aren’t using the offday to juggle things, at least right then.  Wainwright would then start at home against Cincy, with Garcia/Weaver, Leake, and Reyes following.  The final series of the year would have Martinez, Wainwright, and Garcia/Weaver going against the Pirates.

With the wild card race the way it is, it seems unlikely the Cardinals will be able to clinch anything early enough to change these plans.  You’d like to see things work so that you could skip Martinez against the Pirates, but do you really want to risk basically a bullpen game there?  Even if you could start Wacha, you don’t know how that’d go or how long he’d go.  Doing anything right now to make winning more of a gamble isn’t exactly sound strategy.

If this holds and the Cardinals don’t have to play any extra tie-breakers but get into the playoffs, that could mean Alex Reyes starting the wild card game and Carlos Martinez going in Game 1 against the Cubs should they win.  There could be worse things, I’d think.  I will say that I always felt the 2006 Cardinals had a better chance than many people gave them because I thought their pitching matchups worked for them when I looked at it ahead of time.  I’m not sure that’s the case here, but getting Reyes and Martinez in big spots wouldn’t hurt.

Notes: Kolten Wong drove in the only RBI with a sacrifice fly.  Jeremy Hazelbaker scored the only run after doubling and being moved over by Carson Kelly.  Nobody got more than one hit, though, and the excitement generated by the pre-game National Anthem standoff seemed to dissipate quickly.  By time Arenado’s ball landed, the game felt like it was over, and it was only the second inning.  Of course, that was their ninth try to get 10 games over and they are now 0-9, so maybe it was over even before then.

A well-deserved day off for both Stephen Piscotty and Yadier Molina.  Yadi’s been hitting, but Piscotty has been scuffling for like two months and has only had a couple of days to rest in that span.  That’s the problem with moving Moss down in the lineup–besides Molina, few others are doing much to generate offense.  There’s a reason they haven’t scored six runs but twice this month.

With the Cardinals losing in the afternoon, that meant we had a lot of time for recriminations and worry about the evening games of the Mets and Giants.  With the Mets going against the Braves and getting an early lead, that seemed to be a big issue.  Atlanta tied it, took a ninth-inning lead, then robbed Yoenis Cespedes of a walk-off homer.  The Giants, as they’ve been doing, laid an egg to the Dodgers and so, after all that, all three teams are tied yet again.

Tonight, the Mets can get a little bit of an edge as they host the Phillies.  It’s not one of the big aces going for the Mets–it’s Seth Lugo–but he’s done well in the big so far.  On the flip side, I think Philadelphia has won four of five and aren’t just an atrocious team.  You figure the Mets will win, but there are no guarantees.

The Giants can keep pace as they go to San Diego to face the Padres.  The Padres have been a thorn for the Giants of late, having won the last six games the two teams have played, including a sweep just before the Cardinals went out there.  The way the Giants are free-falling, you’d hate to ever pick them to win a game, but it’s Jeff Samardzija versus Christian Fredrich, so you’d think they’d have an edge.

The Cards have their final off day of the season today, so by the end of the night they could be the first wild card, out of the playoffs, or somewhere in between.  This last week-plus is going to be wild, isn’t it?

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