We remarked a week or so that the Cardinals had fallen into a distressing pattern. Win one, lose three. Win one, lose three. Over the past week, though, the club has reversed that to a much more fun and acceptable arrangement.
Lose one, win three.
It started by dropping the finale in New York, then sweeping the Pirates in Busch. On the road to Milwaukee, they dropped the first one of that set, seemingly ruining any momentum they might have had. However, the next three worked out quite nicely and the Cards have moved from the cellar to, after Monday night’s play of other teams, a virtual tie for third and two games back of the division-leading-but-not-world-beating Cubs. I’ve talked some about this series on both Meet Me at Musial and Gateway to Baseball Heaven, but you know the drill. We’ve got to at least get our Heroes and Goats on for the last three in Milwaukee.
Friday (6-3 win)
Hero: Adam Wainwright. We’re still waiting for Wainwright to pitch to a batter in the sixth inning of a game this year, but this time he packed a lot into his short time on the bump. He allowed two runs, but struck out nine and walked none. That’s a nice pitching line, but that’s not enough to get you the Hero tag. Unless, of course, you give the team the lead by hitting a two-run homer and then extend it by singling in two more in the next frame. You know how Waino loves to hit, so this is just about his perfect scenario, at least with the skill set he has these days.
Goat: Tougher to find one of these as every starter wound up with a hit. I guess we’ll go with Yadier Molina, who did go one for three but drove in nobody, scored no runs, and left three on, more than anyone else. It didn’t cost the team the game or anything, but it wasn’t exactly noteworthy either.
Notes: It was good to see Seung-hwan Oh have a relatively mild save outing for once. He struck out the first two, allowed a flare single, then struck out Eric Thames to end the game. That kind of domination has been very rare for Oh this year. We saw him a couple more times this weekend, but this really was his best outing.
Dexter Fowler left this game with heel bursitis, which was worrisome and led to a lot of speculation. Thankfully, it turned out to be a minor thing and we saw Fowler return to the lineup on Sunday. While Fowler hasn’t yet clicked like you’d expect your big leadoff hitter to click, you don’t want to lose him for an extended period of time. This lineup is already fairly tentative in spots. Rearranging and trying to cover Fowler isn’t likely to make that better.
Very nice outing by Brett Cecil as he struck out the side. Cecil seems to be becoming that key bullpen piece that we were expecting. He’s not been charged with a run since his first outing against Washington, six appearances and 4.2 scoreless innings ago. The more there are people that Mike Matheny can rely on down in the bullpen, the less he’ll have to use Matthew Bowman, increasing the chances Bowman’s arm stays attached. That’s the theory, anyway. You never quite know with Matheny and the bullpen, though it feels like he’s made a lot fewer questionable calls over this week than he did earlier in the season.
Kolten Wong went two for three in this one. While I saw some folks questioning the quality of what he’s done and its sustainability, he hit .333 this past week with two doubles, a triple, and a homer. He’s fourth on the team (third if you don’t count Wainwright) in OPS right now. Wong’s always going to be a streaky hitter, I think, and he’s can’t complain much about his playing time this season. Right now, quietly, it seems like the club is giving him the rope he needs.
Saturday (4-1 win)
Hero: Aledmys Diaz. He got one at-bat, but he made the most of it, launching a pinch-hit home run (remember when that was almost standard last year?) and making a well-deserved winner out of Lance Lynn. The Cards tacked on a couple more runs, which was good, but Diaz’s homer changed the game.
Goat: Kolten Wong. Wong’s .333 average for the week is probably more impressive when you realize it also included this game, which saw him go 0-4 with a strikeout and five left on base. That’s the way of baseball, though. You have some bad games mixed in with the good. You just hope that it’s a small seasoning and not an overwhelming addition.
Notes: It was a pretty nice series for Jedd Gyorko. He had three hits and a homer on Thursday, two hits and a run on Friday, and then one hit and a hit-by-pitch in this one. That hit, of course, was a ninth-inning, two-out triple that brought in Matt Carpenter and then a throwing error allowed him to come all the way around. Given the shakiness of Oh (who, to be fair, had no problems in this one, retiring three in a row), that insurance was well received.
Greg Garcia led off in this one with Fowler out and got two hits. I will say that, since Garcia got installed as a semi-regular after the apparent Matheny/John Mozeliak confab, Garcia’s hitting .190/.190/.333 and that includes the two hit day here. It could just be a bad week, but it puts another point to the idea that Garcia’s a great supersub and a valuable part of the team, but if you can help it, you don’t want him starting every day. Now, he may start all the games this week and hit .400, we’ll see, but I thought last year Garcia got a little exposed playing regularly. We’ll see if he adjusts to the regular playing time soon.
A three-hit day by Molina and three hits also by Randal Grichuk. Those guys hit back-to-back in the lineup and so you’d think they’d probably have a big part of the offense. Instead, Molina didn’t score or drive anyone and Grichuk scored on a sac fly by Wong combined with an error on Ryan Braun for the club’s first run. Then again, as we’ll discuss, the offense still hasn’t gotten itself all worked out yet.
Sunday (6-4 win)
Hero: If we gave Friday’s to Wainwright, it’s difficult to not give this one to Mike Leake. Leake wasn’t quite as sharp as he’s been all season long, walking three when his total going into the game was one, but he went six innings, allowed just two runs, gave up just three hits, struck out six, and oh by the way drove in the go-ahead runs with a two-run single in the fourth. He also scored a run in the third after reaching on an error. Just another all-around game from a Cardinal pitcher, I suppose.
Goat: Tough day for Matt Carpenter. He struck out three times and was ejected after complaining about the last one. I was out mowing and didn’t see this, but apparently Carp had a legitimate case on strike two being a ball in that at bat and the frustration from that spilled over after the strikeout. Carpenter does feel like he knows the strike zone better than the umpires (and, at times, he does) and it’s a little surprising that he’s not had more of an issue with the men in blue over the years.
Notes: The Cardinals had a 6-2 lead in the ninth until Jonathan Broxton came in. Broxton had actually been all right over his last few outings. I mean, you wouldn’t want him to throw in a high leverage situation or anything, but he did have scoreless frames in his last three before this one. Thankfully there was a cushion–though I guess if there weren’t he wouldn’t have been out there–but Broxton gave up a homer to the first guy he faced and a single to the next guy before giving way to Oh.
I said before that Mike Matheny’s done better this week with his bullpen choices. It’s hard to completely question it here since Matheny had been ejected and, as such, wasn’t supposed to be in charge of anything. That said, it felt enough like what Matheny would do that it seems legitimate to assign it to him. I’ll give a bit of a pass to using Trevor Rosenthal in the eighth, as he was already warmed up when the Cards scored their insurance runs. However, Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons has been sitting down in the bullpen since Tuesday and has yet to get into a game. It would have seemed a good time to at least let him get back on the mound to start the ninth. Then maybe you aren’t in this situation. You also have Miguel Socolovich, who hadn’t pitched since the opener on Thursday. There were other options than immediately turning to Broxton, who had pitched both Thursday and Friday.
But let’s say that you go to Broxton and things still are the way they are. You have a runner on first, nobody out, three run lead. You have eight, nine, and one coming up assuming you can’t get a double play. It’s not ideal, and I get wanting to nip things in the bud, but most of the pitchers out there are going to be able to get you out of that situation. Then again, looking at it there may not have been as many options as I thought. Rosenthal and Bowman had already been used. You don’t trust Kevin Siegrist there. Brett Cecil probably could use the day off. Your options are probably to leave Broxton there to see if he can fix his mess (which he might have with the guys coming up), bring Lyons into an inning already started (not idea) or go with Miguel Socolovich. I don’t think I’d have a problem with Socolovich there too much, at least to see if he could stem the tide. Take out that disaster in Yankee Stadium and Soco’s ERA is under 1.50. I think he’d have been fine to at least see if he could get the lower part of the order out.
Instead, whomever was in charge–and I don’t know who took over for Matheny, David Bell I guess?–went with Oh because, in part, it was a save situation. No matter that Oh had thrown the past two days. I’m sure they felt that with a day off on Monday things would be fine. It worked out OK, but Oh walked the first man and wound up giving up an RBI single to Jonathan Villar, allowing both Thames and Braun to bat as the winning run. He struck out Thames and got Braun to fly out, so there was no more damage except to the long-term health of most Cardinal fans.
As we talked about especially on Gateway, the Cards went 6-1 last week, which is great, but there’s still some of the same problems, especially when it comes to the offense. Winning three 2-1 games, a game where your starter drives in four, a game where you go 0-14 with runners in scoring position, and a game where your starter drives in two isn’t exactly a sustainable model. You’ll take it every time, of course, but it’s not ideal. Hopefully the starting pitching will continue to be strong (maybe on both sides of the plate) and the offense can finally click. I don’t know what it needs besides Fowler and Carpenter to really get going. If they could click, things could look a lot better very soon.
As Derrick Goold points out, the Cards got away with things this weekend. The pickoffs, for instance, wouldn’t have been so easily forgotten against a team that didn’t give second and third chances. It’s hard to know much last week was because the team was improving, how much it due to the drop in competition, and how much was just some progression to the mean (is that a term? I feel like regression to the mean should mean you are dropping to a standard, but I guess it probably means coming toward the mean from both directions. This is not a regression or a progression, but a digression). With a banged-up and scuffling Blue Jays squad coming to Busch next, we may not really find out for a while.
It’s a rare time when these two birds flock together, but the Jays and the Cardinals do meet in St. Louis this week. I would guess the most notable game between these two was the Chris Carpenter one-hitter in his return to Toronto and, of course, we all remember the trade between the two teams in 2011. Otherwise, there’s not just a lot of history between the two, which at least means there’s some novelty to this series.
Michael Wacha will try to keep his momentum going against the crew from the frozen north. Wacha has put a lot of folks at ease with his strong start, but I think there’s still going to be a little worry when he takes the mound. That becomes less and less with every strong start, though. Not a lot of folks here have seen much of Wacha and Tulowitzki is, I believe, on the disabled list.
The Cardinals get to face Marco Estrada to start things off. They’ve (I say they, I really mean the organization) have seen Estrada before as much of his career was spent in the National League. Hopefully his career against the Cards continues as it left off, as Estrada is 0-5 with a 5.10 mark against the club. Whether that will continue to translate to St. Louis doing damage off of him remains to be seen.
Have to like those numbers, don’t you? Even the pitchers have gotten into the act. It doesn’t look like a great matchup for Fowler to shed his shackles but that’s only five career AB. It doesn’t really mean much.
Cards need to continue the momentum, but if they do lose tonight, perhaps we’ll get three more wins in a row?