When last we got together, the Cardinals were in a three-way tie for the wild card (either of them) and while they had some challenges ahead, they were nothing that a team going to October shouldn’t be able to handle. Instead, St. Louis has lost three of four and while you could fashion some explanations for the setbacks in Chicago, there is nothing about last night’s game that makes you think this team should or will keep that streak of playoff appearances going in 2016. Let’s recap.
Friday (5-0 loss at Chicago)
Hero: I mean, where do you find one here? I think I’m going to go with Miguel Socolovich, who threw 1.2 perfect innings to, in theory, keep the team in the game. In theory, because they were already down five to Jake Arrieta when he came in and there really wasn’t any indications of a rally. The fifth run did score on Socolovich’s watch, but he came in with the bases loaded and one out and got a groundball out that brought in Leake’s last run. Not everyone can pull the Matthew Bowman trick.
Goat: Mike Leake. Apparently, that first step was a doozy. Needing to pitch a competitive ballgame, Leake instead allowed four runs in the bottom of the first and pretty much the game was already over. The Cardinals did try to muster something in the third, putting two on with nobody out, but Leake’s bunt, instead of moving runners over, got the lead runner and himself out. Granted, that came after a controversial call where Leake believed he’d been hit bunting only to be ruled he didn’t try to get out of the way, but still it was a crushing moment.
Notes: The Cards managed five hits in this one. Just five, which makes the fact that they wound up hitting into three double plays almost impressive. Nobody had more than one hit, though Matt Adams also drew a walk. Of course, he was picked off as well, so that didn’t help much. Jhonny Peralta also had a hit and a walk, so he had the most productive offensive day.
The bullpen did fine, as the Cubs didn’t score after that groundout against Socolovich. With their success against Arrieta in the past, a 1-0 game might have been something they could have overcome. Five runs, though, especially with Aroldis Chapman waiting late if you do rally, is a tough road to hoe.
Saturday (10-4 win at Chicago)
Hero: Stephen Piscotty. There were a few that could be considered here, but it was very good to see Piscotty, who had been struggling a lot of late, have a breakout day. Three hits, including a solo home run in the second, two runs and two RBI. That’s more offense in one person than we saw in the entire team during some of these games.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. For all the offensive exploits, Carpenter went 0-5 in the leadoff spot with a strikeout. Carpenter’s not completely right, as evidenced by him not being in the lineup Monday night. The problem is, the team doesn’t have enough consistent offensive force right now to replace him.
Notes: Alex Reyes made the start and had middling success, though he was backed by four in the first and two more over the next couple of frames, which helped him a lot. Six hits and three walks in nine innings is a bit of an issue, though he struck out six and was able to limit the damage. Thankfully the offense showed up for him and his good work was rewarded. The bullpen of Bowman, Zach Duke, and Seung-hwan Oh did a good job, though Oh did allow a homer in the ninth. It was a seven run game at the time, so you just shake that off.
Besides Piscotty, Jhonny Peralta and Yadier Molina had three hits and Randal Grichuk had two. Molina, who has clearly been the team’s best hitter over the past two months, had four RBI while Peralta scored three times. Piscotty’s homer was the only ball to leave the yard, though he, Molina, Grichuk, Matt Adams, and Jose Martinez all had doubles.
That home run, the last one they’ve hit, made me curious. The Cardinals hit five against the Pirates on September 6. Since that time, they’ve played 18 games and have hit 12 homers. For a team that hit a home run in 25 straight games, this is a shocking lack of power. Every month this season the Cardinals have averaged well over a home run a game. After last night’s debacle, for September they are at exactly a homer per game (25 HR, 25 games). Unless they have some sort of surge in the next six games, this will be their worst raw power month, which is why they are struggling to win games.
Sunday (3-1 loss at Chicago)
Hero: Jose Martinez. Pressed into starting when the lineup needed to be reconfigured due to Aledmys Diaz‘s relationship to Jose Fernandez, Martinez went 1-3, drew a walk, and scored the only run on a Jhonny Peralta single. The problem was, that was the eighth inning and when Brandon Moss couldn’t come through, that meant Aroldis Chapman and that meant game over. (Though you have to think Chapman would have come in here in the eighth had the game actually meant anything to the Cubs.)
Goat: Stephen Piscotty. Both he and Randal Grichuk were hitless on the night (as many were) and left three men on, but Grichuk modified his line with a walk, so Piscotty gets the nod here.
Notes: Jon Lester is a tough nut for the Cardinals to crack. There’s a reason the Cubs have now won 100 games and are the World Series favorites, it’s because of him and Arrieta and John Lackey. If anyone can beat one of those guys, they have a shot of upending this runaway train. I hope someone can. I don’t think the Cardinals are going to get another shot.
Carlos Martinez, who added Fernandez’s 16 to his pregame ritual of writing OT 18 on the back side of the mound and had both Fernandez and Oscar Taveras on his cap, had a solid if not spectacular outing. Two runs in six innings is not bad, though allowing ten baserunners, four on walks, in that span isn’t the efficient Martinez we’ve come to expect. He struck out six, getting out of some jams, but with the offense sputtering, two runs was enough to doom him.
Then we come to last night. I know that Busch Stadium has been tough on these guys, but you are coming home for the last home stand of the year. You have seven winnable games in front of you and you probably need to win five of them to have a real shot at October. You’ve already seen that the Marlins, after some amazingly emotional moments pre-game, have caught fire after a movie-like homer from Dee Gordon and are taking it to the Mets. A win against a Reds team who is going to narrowly avoid 100 losses but is going to finish last in the NL Central. These are games you have to win.
The Cardinals didn’t even bother showing up.
Jaime Garcia didn’t seem to have anything at all, but he was almost out of trouble even after allowing a leadoff hit and a stolen base due to instant replay, which caught that Jose Peraza was actually tagged out while he tried to steal third. Two outs, nobody on, things might be going OK….then Joey Votto puts one over the wall. All right, fine, Votto’s been insane the second half of the year, getting on base basically half the time. That happens….oh, Adam Duvall homers. Well, Duvall’s done a number on the league and the Cardinals. Two runs isn’t terrible….wait, there’s Brandon Phillips singling. And stealing second. And stealing third. Garcia was able to get out without more damage, but that was all for him.
The last time Garcia started, also at Busch, Mike Matheny pulled him out early and it saved the game. Of course, the last time Matheny did that, he could go to Alex Reyes. Without that fallback, I wonder if Matheny perhaps went to the bullpen a little too early here. Granted, Garcia didn’t look great and I don’t really have any fault with Matheny acting out of urgency, but I do wonder if Garcia would have settled in a little bit.
Of course, this is mainly hindsight because of what the rest of the pitching staff did. Michael Wacha allowed a leadoff homer in the second, making it 3-0, though I will say that ball carried more than anyone expected. He then settled in and pitched two scoreless frames. Matheny probably should have taken that, given that Wacha hasn’t gone longer, but he pressed on because, hey, this is just the fourth inning. Let’s see what Wacha has left.
Answer: nothing. The first two men reached, then the pitcher sacrificed and a run scored on a sacrifice fly. So two outs, two on, 4-0 game. The way the bats were going, the game was already out of hand, but I don’t really fault Matheny seeing if Wacha could get one more batter. Instead, Wacha allowed four straight singles, tossed in a wild pitch, and by time Luke Weaver came into the game it was 8-0 and any reasonable chance of a rally was long gone.
Why Matheny waited on the hook for Wacha, I don’t know. Given the lack of use of Wacha and the fact he’s not gone deep, you’d think someone would have been on standby at the top of the frame and probably ready to go by time the sacrifice fly happened, so you give Wacha another batter and if that doesn’t work, you go to the pen. Leaving him out there on the vine was a tough thing to see. It didn’t make any difference in the outcome, I don’t think, but it pretty much demoralized the team to be out of it so early. It didn’t do much for the fans that were there either.
Weaver didn’t fare great either, hitting a batter and giving up two run-scoring singles before getting the pitcher to end the frame. Weaver hit Peraza to start the fifth, then gave up a single to Votto and another homer to Duvall before being replaced. Obviously, the damage was done and the bullpen guys that only come out in blowouts got to play. Jerome Williams, Sam Tuivailala, and Mike Mayers combined for four innings of one run ball, by the way.
Offensively, this game was offensive as well. The Cardinals mustered six hits and no walks. Six base runners, one of which was eliminated on a Grichuk double play. The bench was emptied–hey, that’s where Tommy Pham was hiding–though with all those players getting time, people like Martinez playing first and all the catchers getting in one way or another, Kolten Wong still didn’t play. It almost makes you wonder if there’s something wrong with him.
You’ve got plenty of options for Goat, but we’ll go with Jaime Garcia just because of the dominoes his bad start tipped over. A Hero is basically impossible, but Stephen Piscotty had the only moment of excitement, a triple after which he scored on a Molina sac fly. That’s good enough, sadly.
Last night’s attendance was just 34,000, the first time it’s been under 40K since 2013. They were restless as well, with plenty of boos and a very sarcastic cheer once the fourth inning finally came to a close. The Cardinals have a lot of revenue streams, but having three million plus come through the gates is a large portion of what they can do. They are still going to have 3.4 million this year and Cincinnati, for example, would love to have what was an off night for the Cards, but you wonder if the front office isn’t going to notice this, especially if the rest of the home stand is similar, and how much will that influence the offseason.
Adam Wainwright goes tonight against Robert Stephenson. We know about Wainwright’s struggles and we also know that he can’t afford to have any more of them this evening. Wainwright’s given up four or more runs in three of his last four starts, but has pitched more like the ace we think of him as at home, with a 2.92 ERA at Busch compared to a 6.18 ERA on the road. Obviously, the Reds are well familiar with Wainwright, which may or may not help them.
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Stephenson pitched twice in April, then went to the minors for the rest of the year, resurfacing this month. His last three starts he’s given up four runs and the longest he’s pitched is five innings. If the Cardinals are unable to win tonight, I don’t care what the standings say, this season is over. There’s just no way they could have a more favorable situation.
Mets (1.5 ahead of St. Louis) visit the Marlins again while the Giants (1.0 ahead) host the Rockies. Another night of scoreboard watching, it seems!