The Cardinals seem to be locked into a pattern. We’ve talked about it before this season, how they’ve matched wins and losses, then turned it on its head.
Win one, lose three. Do that three times. Then lose one, win three. Do that three times. Suddenly, a team that looked done just days into the season now sits at .500 and, thanks to a division that also doesn’t want to do a whole lot, is just a game out of first place as May opens. Perhaps the 2017 season isn’t a write-off after all.
However losing yesterday, while still part of the pattern and hopefully a loss that will lead to three more wins, was a bitter taste after a span of sweetness. Blowing a four-run lead and a chance to be tied for first at the end of the day (which would have happened as the Cubs lost to the Red Sox on ESPN) is a discordant note to the symphony the Cards have been trying to play.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though. We have three other games to talk about beforehand. Given my schedule, I didn’t get to see much of any of these games, but that’s really never stopped me from reading box scores and giving my opinion before, so I don’t know why it would stop me now.
Thursday (Game 1, 8-4 win in 11 over Toronto)
Hero: Randal Grichuk. Yes, Matt Carpenter won the game with a grand slam in the bottom of the 11th, but you don’t get to that point without Grichuk tying the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Grichuk also walked and singled, plus he drove in the first run of the game, though he was caught trying to go to second because a Cardinal game isn’t complete without at least one person being thrown out on the bases.
Goat: Aledmys Diaz. One for six with five left on base is a tough game, though three of those were in his last at-bat right before Carpenter went yard. We continue to wait to see him, Carpenter, and Dexter Fowler all really get going at the same time.
Notes: If it wasn’t for the fact that he had two hits, including opening up the 11th with a triple that significantly upped the win probability of the club, Wong might have been in the running to be the Goat. He made an error and was picked off of second, the fourth such pickoff of the year for St. Louis. Four times a catcher has thrown the length of the diamond and been able to nab a Cardinal runner. I’ve watched baseball for close to 30 years and I don’t remember seeing four of those in that entire span. The baserunning on this team is such that almost everyone should be anchored to their base and told to not take any unnecessary risks.
For the fact that the runs didn’t come until the last half of the game, there were some pretty solid hitting lines in this one. Fowler went two for five with a walk, Yadier Molina had two hits, and then there was Carpenter with his two knocks and five RBI. All that came too late for Carlos Martinez, who had a quality start (three runs, six innings) and struck out eight, but it’s still not quite the Martinez we hoped to see this year. He walked three, all of which came in the sixth inning when he allowed two runs and helped the Blue Jays build a cushion. If Martinez can eliminate innings like that, those rogue innings that tend to ruin his night, things will be much better.
Of course, being that I was out on a field trip with my daughter’s class, this would be the day that Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons finally made his major league debut for the season. After being on the roster for more than a week and having done nothing more than warm up a few times, it’s not surprising that he might not have been at his best. The first three batters reached on a hit, a walk, and a HBP, but after that Lyons settled in, retiring six in a row and allowing only a sacrifice fly. That looked to be a big run, but Mr. Grichuk took care of that for him.
Thursday (Game 2, 6-4 win over Toronto)
Hero: Dexter Fowler. Three for four with a walk and a homer to boot. I’ve been surprised that we’ve seen more power than speed out of Fowler so far, but looking at his career stolen base numbers, he’s not going to be a huge base stealer. (I mean, he’d triple last year’s club leader, but that’s not really saying much.) His speed is used in ways that don’t always show up in the box score (but does in the advanced stats). Anyway, he’s been on a tear and like Allen and I talked about in this weekend’s Meet Me at Musial, there’s probably a connection between that run and the fact that Mobil On The Run is having to give out cheap drinks more these days.
Goat: Eric Fryer. I guess we should be glad Molina didn’t catch the doubleheader, huh? Fryer had a rough night at the plate though, going 0-4 and leaving three on. He was the only starter not to reach base, so he kinda winds up here by default, even though we were glad he was in there.
Notes: For the first time this season, Adam Wainwright pitched past the fifth inning. Whether it was a wise decision is probably up to your point of view. Wainwright allowed all his damage in the fifth, as Toronto piled on four runs on two doubles, a single, and a three-run homer by Kendrys Morales. Waino was around 90 pitches at the end of that frame and you wonder if it wasn’t the second game of a double-header, with the first game going into extras, if he might not have been pulled then. Instead, he pitched a 1-2-3 sixth before giving up a single to lead off the seventh. I was afraid letting Wainwright face the next hitter might have come back to bite the team, but he retired Kevin Pillar and then Mike Matheny went to the bullpen.
Wainwright’s starting to have a bit more success, but he’s still having those frames that keep you from trusting him entirely. The Milwaukee game two starts ago is still the only game this season that he’s given up less than four runs, and we’re a month of starts into the season now. It’s difficult to believe that Wainwright is not the star pitcher we are used to and the fact that he lost basically two seasons is always going to be a what-if, but even as he continues to make adjustments, it’s hard to see him as more than a fourth or fifth starter, especially the way this staff is going.
A real good night by the bullpen, however. Brett Cecil, Kevin Siegrist, and Trevor Rosenthal combined to retire the last eight batters, half of them via strikeout. When the ‘pen is going, it’s a beautiful thing. You just never know when it’s going to throw a shoe, though.
Matt Adams, starting at first while Carpenter reacquainted himself with third, had three hits and drove in two runs. If Adams can be effective as a pinch-hit bat with an occasional start here and there, he’s a valuable asset to this club. It may not be the career everyone expected out of him, but it keeps him in the big leagues. I don’t think we’ll see this configuration often, but it’s a good one to pull out when a starter has trouble against lefties.
Friday (7-5 win over Cincinnati)
That kind of subtle communication reminds me so much of when Yadi and Albert Pujols picked players off first almost routinely for so long. Say what you want about Molina’s Hall of Fame credentials, but I don’t think there’s anyone that not only pays attention to all the variables but is willing to take the risk to make an unconventional play. We are pretty spoiled with that baseball mind behind the plate, honestly.
Still, Gyorko had to be ready for it and he was, which made for a great play. His overall night was a nice one as well. Gyorko might not hit 30 homers again (though remember last year his second half was where the power really started) but he’s definitely holding down third base nicely right now. That doesn’t mean that he’ll have the job the rest of the year–he’ll probably play over Jhonny Peralta when he returns, but there are some attractive third base names in the market–but we’ve got to live in the now, right?
Goat: Miguel Socolovich. It wasn’t entirely his fault, as you’d like to think Siegrist coming in with two on and two out could have gotten the final out without allowing those runs to score, but when you are up 7-1, the last thing you want to do is bring in your closer later that inning. Soco got burned by Zack Cozart and Joey Votto, which happens (especially, in Cozart’s case, this year), but not being able to close things out after getting two outs really hurt. I don’t think it should shake confidence in Socolovich any more than a bad outing affects anyone else–if Siegrist is still here, Socolovich should be fine–but it’s still not a good night.
Notes: Another fine outing by Lynn, who continues to build a strong case either for an extension by the Cardinals or a nice payday in the free agent market. One run over six innings, even if he was bailed out by the Molina-Gyorko connection, we’ll take every time. It was also good to see a solid outing from Seung-hwan Oh a day after he came in against the Blue Jays.
Sunday (5-4 loss to Cincinnati)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. Two hits and he drove in three runs plus scored the first tally on a wild pitch. However, his baserunning may have eventually cost the Cardinals the game. Up 4-0 after he’d doubled with the bases loaded, Carpenter was on third after a Gyorko single. Stephen Piscotty then grounded out to short, but instead of Carpenter staying on third, he took off on contact and was out by about 15 feet at home. Molina then grounded into a double play, the Reds score five in the next three frames, and there’s your ball game.
Goat: Yadier Molina. Tough day at bat for the catcher. Besides that double play that we’ve talked about, he “hit” into another as he struck out while Piscotty apparently tried to go on the hit and run with notably bad results. All in all, Yadi went 0-4 with two strikeouts and four left on.
Notes: Mike Leake continues to lead the league in ERA and the fact that he has a loss and a no-decision on his record is completely not his fault. He easily should have picked up his fourth win of the season, but the bullpen had other plans. Leake is not going to be this great all year long, but he’ll likely be a very positive part of a pretty good rotation going forward.
The NL Central is such a tight division right now. After tonight, the Cards could be tied for first or tied for third, one game out of last. (If it wasn’t for 11-13 Cincy and 11-13 Pittsburgh playing each other tonight, the variance could be even wider.) Hopefully the Cards are still in their “win three after a loss” routine and they get to face a Brewers team they handled pretty well a couple of weeks ago. That said, the Brewers are also at .500 and we know how scary that offense can be.
The four-game series kicks off tonight with Michael Wacha going against Zach Davies. Wacha got an extra day of rest with all the rainouts, so we’ll see if he’s got a little extra this evening. (The second rainout means that Lyons won’t be needed as a spot starter, which is sad to this corner of the internet.) Wacha missed the Brewers when the clubs met in Miller Park, but he’s 4-0 against the Brewers in his career (albeit with a 4.09 ERA).
Davies has struggled this year with an ERA around six and a half. Last time out, however, he shut down the Reds over five innings. The Cardinals got to him the time before that to the tune of four runs in five and a third. If they can do that again tonight, their chances are pretty, pretty good.
If this team is really going to contend, they have to win series like this one. They may have finished climbing out of that hole they dug themselves, but they’ve not started climbing the ladder of success just yet. Let’s see if they can get onto that first rung starting tonight!