Eight games is 5% of the season. It’s still not deep enough into the new year to make sweeping generalizations and have enough data to expect them to be true. (That doesn’t stop folks–me included–from making sweeping generalizations, of course.) However, this has been the worst start to a season in some time. Consider:
For time purposes, I’ve stopped the table there, but looking last night, no team since before the 2000 season had started off worse than 2-6. I didn’t look at the run differentials for those other teams, but this sample is pretty telling. Never have the Cardinals in this span allowed even 40 runs in their first eight, but this team has allowed 47. Only the ’11 squad and the ’07 version have scored fewer runs to open the season. Put those two facts together and there is a reason there are a lot of worried folks in Cardinal Nation.
Again, obviously things have time to turn around. While the ’11 squad needed a furious rally to make the playoffs, they did win 90 games. (Granted, it took an 18-8 September to get there, but they’d have been at 86 probably with a strong, yet more reasonable, final month.) We’re not saying that the Cards are doomed to their first losing season since 2007. It’s just things have to improve and, honestly, they seem like they’ve been going the opposite direction since Opening Night.
I’ll admit, I only saw parts of last night’s game and most of what I watched saw a pretty solid Lance Lynn, which tells you that I only saw the first few innings. Lynn, whose start against the Cubs was one of the highlights of the first week, this time around gave up six runs (four earned) in his five innings. Lynn after the game said he made three mistakes, which were all hit for home runs. (I’m not sure what walking the pitcher with an out in the third counts as, but given as it led to the Nationals’ first lead, I’m going to say that wasn’t in the plan.) What was most frustrating was seeing Randal Grichuk tie the game on a solo homer, only for the first Nats batter in the bottom of the frame untie it on a long ball. Once Washington added on with another in that frame, the team seemed destined for another defeat.
Lynn is going to be the Goat of the game, but Aledmys Diaz had a chance to be with two fielding errors, one of which factored into that first Nationals rally and the other that aided another run in the seventh. If it weren’t for the fact that Diaz had two hits, including his third homer of the season, he’d have been a strong contender for the award. That said, allowing three homers is not exactly a good night at the ballpark.
So the fielding was bad, the starting pitching was shaky, the bullpen allowed runs again (Miguel Socolovich‘s was at least in part due to Diaz’s error, but Seung-hwan Oh allowed doubles to Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy for the final Washington tally; I get those are big hitters and the game wasn’t in the balance, but given Oh’s early struggles, that doesn’t help me feel much better) so what did go right? Jose Martinez had two hits in his first start of the season, so I guess there’s that. We’ll give the Hero to Grichuk for his homer–just like Diaz’s offense got him out of being the Goat, his defense kept him from being the Hero–and leave it there.
Derrick Goold says something that a lot of us have been thinking and saying. The opening to his article:
The familiar caveats and catchphrases about small sample sizes and long seasons would be easier for the Cardinals to argue if this first week was the first time they had meandered through games like this.
It’s harder when it’s a continuation of an entire season.
And that’s the thing. The defense was supposed to be better, but the Cards rank at the bottom of a lot of defensive metrics. The pitching was going to be solid, but they’ve allowed the most runs in Major League Baseball. The hitting was going to effective, but they still lag behind in most of those stats. All the things that we thought were going to make things different than 2016….haven’t happened. In fact, they’ve taken a step back because at least last year they could explode for runs. When 36% of your total runs–a total that’s not all that impressive in and of itself–came in one game, that’s a problem.
As he did last year, over and over again, Mike Matheny says “we’ve got to get better.” Heck, I had a post last year titled using similar words from him. The question I asked then still stands: how? How are you going to get better? You can’t just say that we need to improve without doing something about it. I assume that they are, but I honestly don’t know what the answer is here. The first time around, the starting pitching was really our only comfort. If that’s going to start to go, it is hard to see how this team gets better.
Again, the season isn’t over. There is time to see if the talent and the results that we expected to see out of this club will surface. It seems unlikely Oh has completely lost it over a winter or Carlos Martinez will struggle as badly as he did Sunday very often. Even with no changes, I think things would get better, but how much better is the question. I don’t know what the answer is, but I hope they come up with something that works soon.
Given how Cardinal teams, when they are going frustratingly, have worked in the past, we’ll probably see a win against Max Scherzer today. That’s what they do, beat the really good teams and pitchers and struggle against lesser lights. (That said, Gio Gonzalez really has been good against them and Tanner Roark‘s no slouch.) They need a win here to avoid a sweep–I remember that year when they went so long before losing a series. Now we’re just hoping to avoid brooms. Sigh. Anyway, I don’t think we need to say anything about Scherzer–he’s a very good pitcher and there could be a lot of Cardinals making the right turn to the dugout after their at bat today.
Scherzer is up against Mike Leake, who had a great outing against the Reds in his season debut. Normally, you wouldn’t draw it up so that Leake is what is standing between you and a four-game losing streak, but if whatever the rotation contracted for this turn around misses him, things might be OK….at least, until they have to go to the bullpen.
It’s a late afternoon game and if it’s anything like Leake’s last outing, you may have this one done before dinner. Whether that’ll make your evening better or worse probably depends on the result and your point of view.