We talked yesterday about how the Cardinals had had a rhythm this year, though not one that was pleasing to the ear. A win, followed by three losses. A win, followed by three losses. A win, followed by three losses.
Last night’s discordant note in that rhythm was sweet music to the ears.
It again wasn’t easy and again the offense didn’t really show up, but there was just enough of it to make Mike Leake–yet again our Hero of the evening–a winner for the second time this season. Leake pitched into the seventh, allowing just one run and trusting his defense to help him out, fanning just one batter. For the most part, the defense did just that and Leake went five scoreless before the Pirates bunched a couple of hits and a groundout together to snap his scoreless streak just shy of 15 innings. (If you were to ask who had the longest scoring drought, Leake or the offense, you’d probably have to think hard about your choice.)
Leake left in the seventh after the Pirates were able to get a couple of hits against him, but the bullpen took care of business. Brett Cecil came in and, four pitches later, the Cards were out of the inning with a double play. While there still seem to be some questions about Cecil’s velocity, this was his fourth consecutive outing without allowing a run, dropping his ERA from 15 to just under eight. Given his start I think it’s going to be a little while still before we are completely comfortable when Cecil gets the call, but it’s at least getting easier to see what John Mozeliak saw when he decided to sign him.
Matthew Bowman handled the eighth as, given the way the evening went, apparently the Cardinals aren’t quite ready to let Trevor Rosenthal pitch on back to back nights yet. Bowman actually is a guy that there is some confidence in with the fanbase and he continued to live up to that, giving up one hit but nothing else (and, if I’m remembering correctly, it was a solid hit but one the shortstop could have possibly made a play on). There are not many folks out in that bullpen that nobody gets anxious about when they start warming, but Bowman is one of them. While he is, I believe, the only person in the bullpen with options, there’s no way the Cardinals demote him with Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons is ready in a couple of days. It might be the easy move, but it surely wouldn’t make the team better.
As someone said (approximately) last night on Twitter, apparently Seung-hwan Oh went to the Cardinal Closer Conference this winter and got instruction from Jason Isringhausen and the bad Trevor Rosenthal on how to pitch a ninth inning. Oh obviously hasn’t been the dominant force that he was last season and last night added to his shaky campaign. Putting two on with nobody out and having bases loaded with one out is not a great way to handle a one-run lead. However, Oh got the comebacker that he was able to get the runner at home and then a flyout to end the game.
Rosenthal wasn’t warming behind Oh–nobody was, but really, with Bowman already used, would you want anyone but Rosenthal coming in?–which lends credence to the idea that they don’t want Rosie going on consecutive nights yet. That being said, it may be something that they need to get comfortable with quickly. It would have been devastating to the just-blooming self-confidence of this team to have lost that game last night. They really needed that win and thankfully they got it, but it would have been nice to have a bit of an insurance policy.
(Side note: reading the above linked article, I see Matheny is indicating a lack of use could be part of Oh’s problem. While I’m not discounting the fact we’ve not seen Oh a lot and that could play some role, has there ever been a problem that Matheny didn’t think could be solved by just playing people more? Has he ever said, “Man, we are just playing him too much. That’s got to change.”? I imagine that if he gets bad service at a restaurant, he just thinks that the server hasn’t worked in a few days and he’ll be better if he just puts in a few days in a row.)
They weren’t going to get that insurance from the offense, unfortunately. The club had four hits last night, including a leadoff triple from Dexter Fowler that was great to see. Fowler also drew a walk, which hopefully means he’s starting to get into his comfort zone at the plate. This lineup is going to have a much better chance of succeeding when he is producing at the top of it. Fowler scored on a Stephen Piscotty triple and then the SuperSubs, Greg Garcia and Jose Martinez, combined to put the other tally on the board. Matt Carpenter might want to hurry back before the club realizes they’ve won 40% of their games without him.
On the down side, it was another rough night for Aledmys Diaz, who takes home the Goat. 0-4, three left on, and while he wasn’t charged with any errors, there were at least two plays that I saw (and I didn’t get to watch until about the sixth) that he should have made but didn’t. Diaz was the subject of a Twitter conversation last night as our friend Kevin Reynolds felt like he needed a mental break and a day off. It’s a reasonable enough thought and with a day game today, you might see Garcia slide over to second and Jedd Gyorko take over third for the afternoon. Diaz is 0-16 in the last four games, which might indicate needing a reset as well.
Kevin’s point was that this is a young guy that’s wearing down over carrying the team. Maybe that’s right, but I don’t know that Diaz has changed his approach in the last few days. After all, he has zero walks on the season, so it’s not like he was being patient until the Cards started being terrible and he decided to expand and press. Interestingly, Diaz has five multi-hit games and only one game where he has one hits. It’s coming in bunches for him, which wasn’t how 2016 went I don’t believe. He’s still making contact–only six strikeouts–but he seems to take a rip at just about everything that comes up there, especially the ankle high pitches. If he can calm down and focus, he’s going to be fine. So maybe a day off along with some encouragement and discussion with the coaching staff can provide that focus.
While we don’t know for sure there was a meeting between Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak on Monday, the actions since then sure seem to indicate there were. Besides the fact that Mo wouldn’t have talked to the press without getting on the same wavelength as his manager, Jhonny Peralta sat yet again, Matt Adams was still not in the outfield (nor first base, which is kinda funny that he still can’t play first with Carpenter hurting, but it is hard to argue with the way Martinez is swinging right now), and Carpenter–after Mo and Matheny both earlier maintaining he wasn’t going to do anything but play first–took ground balls at third before the game. It only makes sense to let Carp play some third, given the options. I still think 80% or more of his time will be at first, but when you can shift him to third and let Adams play first against a guy that struggles against lefties, why don’t you do it? Or if you need another right-handed bat in the lineup, you can either choose Gyorko/Garcia at third or Martinez at first and still have your best hitter available. Regular listeners to the podcasts will know I was very surprised they committed to Carp at first so early in the offseason. Hopefully moving occasionally won’t be a huge detriment to him.
It’s Michael Wacha against Gerrit Cole in what could be a regular matchup of good young pitchers. Cole is always a tough one for the Cardinals to solve. Carpenter will likely be back in the lineup if at all possible, given his success, but I wouldn’t expect many runs from St. Louis. Then again, when do we these days?
Cole is coming off allowing just two runs in six innings against the Cubs as part of the sweep the Pirates put on those baby bears this past weekend. Wacha, of course, gave up some long balls in New York but on the whole has looked pretty decent so far this year. He has good memories about going up against Pittsburgh (the 2013 playoffs, for instance) but they’ve actually got some fairly good offensive numbers against him, which may be a product of his struggles the last couple of years.
It might be asking a lot for this club to sweep but it’d be awful nice. You look at the division and the Cards are just a game behind the Pirates for fourth and 2 1/2 out of second. (Would have been nice if the Brewers had hung on last night against the Cubs–the gap to second would have been larger but then Chicago and Pittsburgh would have been tied.) Let’s hope this is the start of better things!