A Game For The Birds

There’s a quote–attributed to George Carlin in my initial searching–that goes “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”  Last night, the Cardinals played the last-place Toronto Blue Jays and while the quote might have still been relevant, what that saying doesn’t take into account is that the Cards didn’t have far to tumble to be on Toronto’s level.

Four team errors.  19 left on base.  Terrible base running.  Arguable bullpen usage.  You know, your basic Cardinal game this season, it feels like.  It’s not one that’s going to be nominated for Game of the Year anytime soon.

Though it probably will get a Play of the Year nomination for this:

Even when it’s the opposing team doing something like that, you can’t help but be impressed.  At the time, that was the go-ahead run but if you lose on a play like that, you have to give significant credit to Chris Coghlan.  (While noting the fact that Stephen Piscotty looked like Nelson Cruz out there.  You’d have thought Matt Adams was starting in right instead of the regular fielder.)

That’s not how the game ended, though.  The way the game ended complicated the handing out of our Hero award.  I’m still going to go with Jose Martinez, because his two-run homer in the seventh was a huge response to Toronto taking the lead on the play above (and extending it when Kevin Pillar, who had tripled, scored on a misplayed ball by Jedd Gyorko).  It was Martinez’s first home run in the big leagues, it made a double switch by Mike Matheny pay off, and was a great story.

However, the double switch meant that Martinez had to play first.  Martinez has played quite a bit of first this year, but it’s still not his natural position.  He can hold it down (and, honestly, I don’t know that you can say he’s any worse over there than Matt Carpenter) but he’s not stellar by any means.  That was important in the top of the 11th.  With two outs and a runner on second (and we’ll talk about that runner in a bit), Steve Pearce hit a shot at Aledmys Diaz.  Diaz was able to instinctively pick it, but his throw was slightly offline.  And slightly offline to a guy that stands 6’6″ is saying something.  Martinez thought, with his wingspan, he could reach the ball and stay on the bag.  He was wrong and what turned out to be the winning run scampered home as the ball got past him.

A more seasoned first baseman would probably have known that the ball was out of his reach and gotten off the bag.  In that situation, you had to make sure the ball didn’t get by you.  You’d much rather first and third with two outs than a run scoring there in extra innings.  Diaz takes some of the blame for an offline throw, especially when it looked like he didn’t rush, but Martinez should have blocked it.

It was probably pretty fitting that the game ended that way, because it was sloppy all the way around.  I mean, when was the last time you saw a runner on second, the next batter double, and the runner not score?  Yet Piscotty did just that in the fourth.  Piscotty led off with a double, then hesitated and tried to go back to second on a rope by Gyorko that almost left the yard.  It was so obvious he was going to score that Jose Bautista just threw the ball into second instead of trying for Piscotty at the plate, but he held at third.  Yadier Molina did come up next and single him in, but that just set the tone for the inning.  After Molina, Matt Adams walked to load the bases with nobody out.  Good stuff, right?  No, you’ve seen the Cardinals this year.  Randal Grichuk struck out and Kolten Wong hit into a double play.  A less than fulfilling inning.

Of course, the sixth was just as frustrating.  Another leadoff double for Piscotty–given how things turned out in Milwaukee, leadoff doubles are becoming like the kiss of death here–and the next three batters struck out.  I guess Piscotty and Darwin Barney had a chance to get to know each other in this one.

Hero consideration was also given to Dexter Fowler, who went two for five with a huge RBI single in the ninth to keep the game going.  I stepped away from the game and Twitter for a bit around that time to watch some TV with my wife, but apparently there was a bit of a controversy about Wong bunting Grichuk over to second with nobody out in the inning.  I am not a huge bunt proponent, as you know, but if you are going to do it, that’s probably a situation where I would.  Yes, it reduces your chances of scoring multiple runs, but I think (and I could be wrong) it probably ups the odds of scoring a single run, which is what you have to have in the ninth.  Tie it up and let the chips fall where they may.  Wong was 1-4 with two strikeouts at that point and as noted above had hit into a double play.  It doesn’t feel like an egregious violation of smart baseball, no matter what Keith Law might say, and obviously it worked out.

Who gets the Goat?  I’m not going to give it to Miguel Socolovich, who might have taken the loss but pitched a fine game, perhaps the best he’s done in a Cardinal uniform.  Soco came into the game in the ninth, after Brett Cecil–there’s your Goat, I believe–had let the Blue Jays score on a walk, a pickoff throwing error, and a single.  He got a double play to keep the deficit at one, then threw a scoreless 10th.  He stuck around for the 11th and wound up working more than he ever had as a Cardinal.  He’s thrown two innings multiple times, but never more than that.  He got the first batter in the 11th and that meant the Blue Jays, who were out of hitters, had to send up Marcus Stroman to pinch hit.  Stroman looked almost silly swinging at the first two pitches, then took a walk, fouled a pitch off, then parked a double down the left field line.  When you let an American League pitcher pinch-hit and hit a double, you know things aren’t going to go your way.  He got Pillar to pop out, but then Pearce hit his ball to Diaz.  He finished up by getting Bautista to fly out, but the damage was done.

I’ve argued numerous times that the Cardinals should be using Socolovich more often and not just as a last resort type of pitcher.  We’ll see if an outing like this helps his case any.  Outside of that game in New York, which more and more looks like an aberration, he’s allowed one earned run this season.  He definitely should be ahead of Jonathan Broxton on the pecking order (and, given that Broxton didn’t appear last night, maybe he is) and should probably be turned to occasionally instead of Matthew Bowman, if only to make sure Bowman’s arm doesn’t actually come off this year.

Bowman, of course, was the first person out of the pen, relieving Michael Wacha in the seventh.  (I joked on Twitter that I’m glad that Bowman has earned Matheny’s trust, I just wish he hadn’t earned his obsession.)  However, things didn’t work out as well for Bowman this time around, though a lot of that was on his defense.  We saw the play above, where Coghlan snapped Bowman’s scoreless streak, but if Piscotty catches what is a catchable ball (I believe someone noted it had a 39% hit probability, so basically six out of ten times it is caught if I’m understanding this right), Coghlan’s walk doesn’t likely wind up hurting him and he might well have gotten out of the inning unscathed.  Pillar’s ball was the only hard hit he allowed in his frame of work, so it would seem likely that, even though it doesn’t all show up in the boxscore, the defense really let him down.

You do wonder, of course, what it takes for Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons to get into a game.  Even if you are holding a starter type for extra innings, well, there are your extra innings.  Lyons warmed up while things were going sideways for Bowman, but when Martinez tied things back up with his homer Matheny went to Kevin Siegrist instead, because apparently the manager was cold and he thought playing with fire would be a good idea.  Siegrist struck out two, then allowed two hits before getting the third out on a flyout.  Like a number of things last night, it worked, but I’m not sure that was really a great decision the way Siegrist has been pitching.

Lyons would have probably come in for the 11th had the 10th lasted an extra batter.  The only other position player left for the Cards, Eric Fryer, was on deck to hit for Socolovich when Molina became the third Card to strike out in the 10th, meaning twice in the game the Blue Jays struck out the side.  If Fryer had hit, Lyons would have come in, I assume.  If St. Louis had been able to re-tie the game, we might have seen them Ty the game.  All in all, you wonder if Lyons would rather be in Memphis.  He’s been up a week now and not yet gotten into a game.  (In the same span, Bowman has pitched in five.)  While you might prefer Lyons in a stretched-out role, by now any feel for his pitches he might have gained in Memphis has probably been lost.  Throwing him occasionally instead of Bowman or Siegrist wouldn’t be a bad idea.  I’m usually advocating that Lyons is better as a long man and I think that’s the case, but he can throw one inning at a time occasionally.  I think Lyons usage just proves that even if Trevor Rosenthal hadn’t hurt himself in the spring, that high-leverage, multiple-inning, Andrew Miller-type reliever idea was never really going to come to fruition.  Creativity isn’t something you associate with Matheny, especially when it comes to bullpen use.

Wacha was pretty good yet again, though again he struggled in the middle innings.  The fourth wasn’t entirely his fault, but you can’t blame the defense as much as you can blind bad luck.  Ezequiel Carrera led off the fourth with a single and then Bautista singled to Piscotty.  Carrera was going first to third–yes, players can do that!–and Piscotty had him dead to rights.  He unleashed a laser of a throw that was straight and true….but unfortunately was a little too straight.  It bounced off Carrera’s helmet, allowing him to score and Bautista to go to third, where he scored on a groundout.  If that throw is over a bit, higher a bit, Carrera’s a step slower, they get him at third and get a huge boost.  Instead, they lost the lead.  Other than that, Wacha continued to look sharp with little trouble.  He struck out six in six innings and left down by one.  Really not a lot more he could have done.

It was like the playoffs in Busch last night.  I don’t mean the atmosphere or the fact that an American League team was in town.  I mean that the Cards were playing with a 24-man roster, since Matt Carpenter was suspended before the game for bumping the ump in Milwaukee on Sunday.  (It’d have been nice if that came down yesterday instead of hours before a game, but whatever.)  Matheny had actually released a lineup that had Carpenter hitting second and Diaz third for the first time this season, a configuration many fans were clamoring for when Fowler signed.  Instead, Carpenter didn’t appeal–which was probably for the best, as a one-game suspension wasn’t going to be reduced and in theory you’d rather serve it against the Blue Jays than wind up missing a game against the Cubs or the Reds or someone–and Matt Adams got the start, amid much gnashing of teeth.

Look, Adams is on the roster.  If a player is on the roster, he needs to start occasionally.  Adams is a first baseman.  The starting first baseman was out for the night.  There was not a lefty on the mound.  If you can’t start Adams in that situation, you have to get rid of him.  (Which, sure, I know a lot of people want to do and that’s a different conversation, but the fact remains he’s a Cardinal right now.)  All that said, the less-big guy didn’t grab the opportunity by the throat.  He struck out twice, walked once, and had a ball hit off his glove.  He got double-switched out of the game, which is what Martinez was up in the right spot to be a Hero.  There’s not many ways last night could have gone worse for Adams, I don’t think.  Carpenter will be back tonight–assuming they play, there seems to be a lot of rain on the way–and Adams can go back to being the pinch-hitter and get another start sometime next month, probably.  (You do wonder if him at first would have made a difference on that last play, though.)

Bad teams do win games–even the ’62 Mets won 40–and the Blue Jays have talent even if a lot of it is banged up.  Still, it’s a bit heartbreaking to lose a game like that to a team that is struggling.  You’d like the Redbirds to put the foot on the gas and take charge, but they are still sputtering.  Perhaps, as we talked about yesterday, this loss will be followed up by three wins, but that’s not exactly the way you’d want to bet after watching the game last night.

If they do play today, Carlos Martinez gets another chance to wipe out a bad start and show what aces are supposed to do after a loss.  Martinez had a bad first inning in Milwaukee, then got beat by Eric Thames, who right now is on pace to obliterate Barry Bonds‘ homer record (ah, April paces).  If he can come out strong in the first tonight, you have to like St. Louis’s chances.  The batters that have faced him, though, haven’t exactly been overwhelmed, though in small doses.

vs. Batters Table
Chris Coghlan 17 13 3 1 0 0 2 4 6 .231 .412 .308 .719 0 0 0 0 0
Russell Martin 6 6 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Kendrys Morales 3 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 0 0 0 0 0
Francisco Liriano 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jose Bautista 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Troy Tulowitzki 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 31 27 8 1 0 0 2 4 9 .296 .387 .333 .720 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/26/2017.

Mat Latos has faced the Cardinals often as a member of the Padres and the Reds.  It’s not been a pleasant experience for him much of the time, as his career mark is 5-6 with a 5.76 ERA against the guys in red.  Latos made his season debut last time out, allowing four runs in five innings against the Angels.  You’d like to think the lineup could put up some runs against him.  However, with this lineup, you never really know.

vs. Batters Table
Yadier Molina 34 34 12 3 0 1 5 0 6 .353 .353 .529 .882 0 0 0 0 0
Dexter Fowler 24 22 5 2 1 1 1 2 5 .227 .292 .545 .837 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 18 17 4 1 0 0 1 1 4 .235 .278 .294 .572 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 8 8 2 1 0 1 1 0 2 .250 .250 .750 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 7 7 2 0 0 0 1 0 3 .286 .286 .286 .571 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 4 4 1 0 0 1 2 0 0 .250 .250 1.000 1.250 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Randal Grichuk 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .333 .000 .333 0 0 0 0 0
Brett Cecil 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Lyons 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Eric Fryer 1 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 3.000 4.000 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 107 103 27 7 2 4 11 4 26 .262 .290 .485 .775 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/26/2017.

Really high rain chances tonight so it might be iffy if this gets in.  Wonder if they’d do a double-header on Thursday or just make it up on some mutual off day later in the season?  Let’s hope we don’t have to find out!

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