Stumbling Out of the Gate

We’ve got four games to discuss here.  Let’s hit the high points then talk about any overarching issues.

Thursday (6-4 loss to Chicago)

Hero: Aledmys Diaz.  Two for five with a couple of runs on a day when the whole team could muster only seven knocks.

Goat: Brett Cecil.  His Cardinal debut included a pitch sticking to Yadier Molina, meaning his strikeout victim reached, then a three-run homer that gave the Cubs the lead they wouldn’t give up.

Notes: Lance Lynn looked great in his first outing back from Tommy John surgery, going into the sixth and allowing just two runs while striking out four.  One of those runs scored after he left, though you can hardly blame Matthew Bowman for allowing a runner on third with one out to score on a grounder.  Kolten Wong had a double and a walk as he continued to take pretty solid at bats.

Friday (2-0 loss to Cincinnati)

Hero: Mike Leake.  He got absolutely no help, but one run in eight innings was stellar from the starter.  He even had six strikeouts and the defense seemed to be fine behind him.  A Billy Hamilton single and stolen base followed up by a Joey Votto double was all that he allowed.  There’s a strong argument to be made that they should have walked Votto to put two on with one out and gone after Adam Duvall.  Which makes some sense, but you also can’t expect a one-run lead to hold against a bullpen that was so flammable last year.

Goat: Aledmys Diaz.  0-4 and left two men on.  Nobody did much in this one, given that the entire team had more walks (three) than hits (two), so it was a tough call.

Notes: I know the numbers don’t necessarily back it up, but a lefty pitcher the Cardinals haven’t faced before always SEEMS to be their kryptonite and it was here as they were unable to get to Amir Garrett in his major league debut.  Then again, given Sunday’s game, maybe it was less about experience with the pitcher and more about just bad offense.

Saturday (10-4 win over Cincinnati)

Hero: Aledmys Diaz  Diaz had a heck of a stretch of games, didn’t he?   This one was the big one, though, as he had three hits, including two big flies, and four RBI.  Before this game, the Cardinals only had one homer as a team, a far cry from last year’s squad.  Now they just have three, which ties them for last in the big leagues with Boston and Pittsburgh.  In case you were wondering, the leaders have 11 and the Nationals, the team the Cardinals next face, are tied for third with 10.

Goat: With the Reds handing out walks like candy on Halloween (12, which was again more than the hit total of 10), it’s hard to find someone that didn’t do anything offensively.  So for the Goat we’ll go with Jonathan Broxton, who had a very mixed eighth inning, giving up a single and a two-run homer before striking out the last two.  The two runs didn’t matter–which is probably why Broxton was in the game at that point anyway–but it’s still not a great thing to see.

Notes: Michael Wacha kept his strong year going, going six innings, allowing three hits and a run, and striking out six.  I don’t know how long this resurgent Wacha is going to stick around, but it’s a great thing to see.  The first time through the rotation was pretty heartening, even if many of them didn’t pick up a win.  If the majority of games are pitched like that, good things are going to happen.

Jedd Gyorko was the only other person to have a multi-hit game in this one, though four people (including Gyorko) drew multiple walks.  You hate to say that the club should have gotten more than 10 runs, but with 22 base runners, it likely could have happened.

Sunday (8-0 loss to Cincinnati)

Hero: This is one of those games where you really want to say none.  Only six hits and the pitching was shaky all the way around.  I mean, Sam Tuivailala threw a scoreless inning, but it’s not like that meant much to the game.  I guess I’ll go with Matt Carpenter, who not only had a hit in three AB but also drew a walk.  That was pretty much the extent of the offense yesterday.

Goat: Carlos Martinez.  While a couple of his runs came because Cecil came in and allowed runners to score, it was a very different game for C-Mart than it was on Opening Day.  Martinez struck out only three in five-plus innings and was charged with six runs, five earned.  In the second, according to the radio guys strike three to Adam Duvall was called ball three, then Martinez reverted to bad habits, tried to just throw the ball past him, and Duvall parked it in the bullpen.  The day didn’t get much better from there.

Notes: The defense wasn’t as taut as you’d like, with Jhonny Peralta making two errors on one play and Randal Grichuk making his own miscue.  The bullpen was again leaky, though coming into this 4-0 game, it probably didn’t matter.  Still, Cecil gave up a 2-RBI double to the first batter he faced, a lefty.  Between that and the longball issues again, something that was supposed to be a bedrock in 2017 has been more like shifting sand in the first week.

All right, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.  Which, given some of his plays this weekend, might be an appropriate metaphor even though Matt Adams has lost a ton of weight.  When this whole “Adams as an outfielder” experiment started, it felt a bit silly, but there was some logic in having him available out there in case of emergency or the occasional spot start.  Our friends at the 11th Inning Stretch podcast had a discussion where the over-under line of innings Adams was in the outfield was at 15 for the year.  Given Stephen Piscotty‘s adventure around the bases and then apparently a bit of a barking knee, Adams made that mark in the first week.

Let’s be clear.  Not starting Piscotty after having his bell rung made sense, though given that happened Tuesday and, given the rain, the team didn’t play again until Thursday (when Piscotty was able to enter the game later on), it was a bit less defensible.  If Piscotty’s knee is barking, then yes, you should probably not put him out there.  All of this makes plenty of sense…..

…..if Matt Adams is your only guy that can be put in the outfield.

It’s perhaps hard to remember–it seems to be an issue for Mike Matheny–but Jose Martinez is actually on this squad.  Jose Martinez, the darling of spring training.  Jose Martinez, who has played the outfield all his life and, more importantly, in the major leagues.  Jose Martinez, the guy that was so necessary Tommy Pham got sent to Memphis.  (Where, if you haven’t heard, he just had a two-homer game and is hitting .400.)  I’ve never been a huge fan of Martinez, but if you need an outfielder, perhaps playing an outfielder and not a guy you wish was an outfielder might be a good idea.

Again, it’s only fair to point out that Adams hasn’t cost the team a game yet.  He’s had some atrocious looks out there–the mashup of his attempt on Saturday with Game 6 is pretty amazing–but it’s not been the play that decided the game.  Hopefully it won’t come to that.  I even understand the idea of putting Adams out there.  He’s actually had some good approaches at the plate, more than some others, and with a sputtering offense, anyone that can perhaps provide some spark could be helpful.

But Adams is learning this on the biggest stage.  If he’d spent all spring training playing outfield, that might have been a different story.  Six intensive weeks might have helped him get some of the early mistakes out of his system.  Instead, they came up with this idea with just a few games left and he got, what, one ball hit to him in his spring starts?  It’s hard to really know what you have when you don’t have any chances.

Laura and Holly in their most recent podcast suggested Adams spend a little time in Memphis learning the position and that makes some sense, but Memphis is so stocked with outfielders now that it’s not fair to some of them to be bumped aside for someone brand new trying to learn it all.  Besides, if the idea is the lineup needs him more than the outfield needs his glove, getting him out of St. Louis only exacerbates that issue.

So what it really boils down to is this: why can’t Adams play first on the days you want him out there, sliding Carpenter over to third?  Yes, Carp’s defense at third isn’t anything special either, but it’s adequate.  Who is saying that Adams’s outfield defense is that high?  Besides, Adams is better defensively than Carpenter at first as well and no matter who Carp spells, whether it’s Peralta or Gyorko, his glove is at least as good as those guys.  The overall defense of the team is better that way.

For some reason, that’s not going to happen.  The club has cemented Carpenter at first, no matter what it means to the other team.  Which makes you question that whole commitment to defense.  Tara and I were talking after Gateway last night (I think we could have done a whole ‘nother show with that conversation) but it’s funny that while Matheny was known as a defensive guy and not necessarily any great shakes offensively.  You would expect a former player turned manager to instinctively play to his strengths.  You’d think he’d be a small ball guy (which he has been in the past, obviously, but not as much now) that really focused on getting the best defensive team out there.  That just hasn’t happened.

Matheny also strikes me as a guy that can double down on things.  Many folks, after seeing Adams on Thursday and especially on Saturday, might have backed off from the idea or at least let the furor die down a bit before running him out there again.  Instead, Matheny sends him back out there on Sunday.  It feels like he’s just determined to make it work if only to spite all the people questioning it.  Dedication and stick-to-it-ness is a good thing, but as some folks have noted, doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is also one of those definitions of insanity that floats around.

Hopefully Piscotty stays healthy and this won’t be much of an issue this week.  If Adams starts making appearances even with a healthy Piscotty and Grichuk, John Mozeliak will probably have to get on the phone and move Adams somewhere, a la Allen Craig or Mitchell Boggs.

In other news, Trevor Rosenthal is to be activated Monday, with Tuivailala being returned to Memphis.  Rosenthal threw some simulated innings at Busch this weekend and apparently all went well.  It’s strange that we are talking about Rosie returning to stabilize a bullpen, but that seems to be the way that it is going.  Seung-hwan Oh has already given up two home runs this season.  Broxton (who I think probably gets released when Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons is ready to go), Cecil, Kevin Siegrist, and Tui have all given up one.  That’s six homers allowed in six games by a supposed strength of the team.  Overall, save for Bowman and probably Miguel Socolovich, there’s not been anyone that’s been in line with expectations so far this season.

Will Rosenthal’s return change any of that?  Maybe, I don’t know.  What bothers me is that the bullpen usage actually hasn’t been that strange.  We talked about the different ways the first game of the year could have gone, but those were defensible choices.  The problem is that the big guys–Siegrist, Oh, Cecil–are the ones that seem to be having the problems.  That’s not likely to change with the return of Rosenthal, at least not because he’s returning.  More than likely all of this is small sample size slow start, but it’s still disconcerting right now.  We are likely to hear the “every game matters” refrain a lot this season and having some close games not go the club’s way (plus losing two of three to a Reds team projected to lose 100 games) is not inspiring a lot of confidence.

The Cards followed up on their rough home record in 2016 by going 2-4 in their first six games at Busch.  Hopefully their strong road record from last year will carry over as well.  St. Louis heads to Washington tonight and we get Adam Wainwright vs. Tanner Roark. Wainwright looked pretty good his first time out, but he and the Nationals don’t always get along.  Looks like the Bryce Harper/Daniel Murphy combo could cause some problems tonight.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jayson Werth 37 35 7 2 0 2 7 1 10 .200 .216 .429 .645 0 1 0 0 0
Ryan Zimmerman 37 37 13 6 0 3 5 0 8 .351 .351 .757 1.108 0 0 0 0 0
Stephen Drew 29 26 4 1 0 0 0 3 9 .154 .241 .192 .434 0 0 0 0 1
Bryce Harper 25 23 9 2 1 2 3 2 3 .391 .440 .826 1.266 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Murphy 18 17 8 2 1 0 2 1 0 .471 .500 .706 1.206 0 0 0 0 1
Anthony Rendon 10 10 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .100 .100 .100 .200 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Heisey 7 7 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .286 .286 .286 .571 0 0 0 0 0
Gio Gonzalez 6 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 .000 .200 .000 .200 1 0 0 0 0
Adam Lind 6 6 4 2 0 1 2 0 0 .667 .667 1.500 2.167 0 0 0 0 0
Jose Lobaton 5 4 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .200 .000 .200 0 0 1 0 0
Tanner Roark 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Max Scherzer 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Total 184 171 48 15 2 8 20 10 36 .281 .319 .532 .851 2 1 1 0 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/10/2017.

Roark gave up two runs in six innings in his season debut against the Marlins.  I just realized that, in prepping this post, I didn’t copy his results against the Cardinal hitters and now am at a spot where I can’t.  As far as I can tell, though, Roark last saw the Cardinals almost two years ago, with a couple of inning relief stints on April 21 and 23 of 2015.  Cards got one hit and one walk off of him in those innings, so I don’t know that a table would have meant a whole lot here.

It’s the first six games of the season, which means it’s going to have more import, whether it should or not.  A stretch like this in June or July is probably not a big thing.  When you have a start like this after a season like last year, though, the sky starts looking a bit cracked and unstable.  Hopefully the bats show up on the road and things start clicking tonight!

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