Apparently the Braves have a great new ballpark. The Cardinals loved it. In fact, they’d like to play there a lot more against the Braves if this weekend was any indication. A sweep in Atlanta helped dull the pain of outfielders dropping like mics after pointed comments. However, before we get into those games, we do have the last game from the homestand to cover first.
Thursday (5-4 loss vs. Milwaukee)
Hero: Kolten Wong. Three hits, one run, one RBI. He even threw in a stolen base for good measure. He and Aledmys Diaz combined for six of the 10 Cardinal hits. The offense actually wasn’t terribly clustered in the lineup, but they only had one big inning, the three run third. It never really got rolling again after that.
Goat: I thought about Randal Grichuk, since he went 0-3 with a walk but six left on base, but unfortunately there’s no escaping giving Adam Wainwright this one. Staked to a three run lead after the second, he gave it all back in the top of the third. The Cards gave him another lead in the bottom of that frame, but he squandered that in the fifth. For the fifth time in six starts, he wasn’t able to pitch in the sixth inning. Save for the first game against the Cubs, he’s been right around 100 pitches in all those starts as well. His WHIP for the season is 1.97, which basically means every inning finds two runners on base. When you combine this season with last, it becomes very hard to believe that Wainwright’s going to be pitching after his contract expires at the end of next season. The problem is what it’s going to look like the rest of the way.
Notes: There was the emotional pain of watching age catch up with an icon of the recent Cardinal run, but there was also the physical pain of the outfielders. Stephen Piscotty came up lame running out a ball and was put on the disabled list when the team reached Atlanta without him. Dexter Fowler dove and had a shoulder injury, though all indications to this point are that it is not extensive. (Allen and I talked about this some on Meet Me at Musial this weekend.) Still, losing two outfielders in one game causes a lot of issues. Given the team really doesn’t want to play Matt Adams out there anymore (and we’ll discuss that more later), Diaz wound up shifting out there and Greg Garcia covered shortstop. Diaz only had one play, but he had no problems with it.
The ball that Jesus Aguilar hit, it didn’t matter who was playing outfield because they’d have needed a rocket to catch it. Matthew Bowman has struggled since his scoreless inning streak came to an end. His ERA over the last five outings has gone from 0.00 to 3.68 and that doesn’t reflect the unearned run he allowed in Atlanta. It’s not really surprising that things are course-correcting in this manner, but you have to wonder if the extensive use to begin the season is affecting him now. On the flip side, his appearances have actually been spaced out a little more during this current struggle, what with rainouts and everything. Maybe he’s one that needs the regular work. I don’t know that we can draw any conclusions yet, but it’d sure be nice to see him back on a good run. The bullpen is a little volatile and could use another anchor out there.
Friday (10-0 win at Atlanta)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. Carpenter took to the new Suntrust Park like a duck to water, homering in all three games down there. In this one, he also tossed in three walks and scored three runs, which is a pretty nice all-around day. It was a little surprising to see Wong and not Carpenter leading off while Fowler was mending. Not that Wong doesn’t deserve it, given his recent run, but we’ve spent years watching Carpenter hit leadoff and that would seem to be the most logical place for him to return to when the position opened up. It could be the club didn’t want to do any major tinkering with the lineup with Fowler only out for a few games, it could be Carpenter wants to stay in the third spot like he wants to stay at first. The club had three wins with Wong leading off, so I don’t figure they are going to be too anxious to shake things up going forward.
Goat: Every starter had a hit and no pitcher allowed a run, so it’s not a easy choice for this game’s Goat. Yadier Molina, I guess? He only had one hit and didn’t draw a walk to supplement it. Again, not a Goat like some other games, but somebody’s got to take the fall.
Notes: Four hit game for Diaz, which was nice to see. He seems to have clicked when the club moved him down in the lineup Thursday, getting three hits there, four hits here, and three hits Saturday before going 0-fer in Sunday’s extra-inning action. Maybe, like being DFA earlier in his career, he needs a wake-up call here and there to get going. It is a small sample, but it is also very good to see.
Lance Lynn continued doing Lance Lynn things. Six innings, only four hits and two walks, and he struck out six. The discussion around giving him an extension is only going to grow with outings like this and if Wainwright continues to show his age. I like Lynn, but I’m not sure I want the Cardinals locked in to him and $100 million with other pitchers coming. On the flip side, the rotation could use some stability. Carlos Martinez is outstanding, but he’s not yet to the “rock” status. You don’t know how long Michael Wacha‘s shoulder is going to hold up. Alex Reyes could be awesome, he could be shaky after his return from Tommy John, he could be not the pitcher we thought before the surgery. There are a lot more reasons to consider a Lynn extension than there used to be, but if that money keeps the Cardinals from going after a player like Manny Machado, it’s a tall price to pay.
Tommy Pham made his season debut in this one and had two hits, including a two-run homer. Given how the rest of the weekend played out, it’s a strong possibility Pham feels he’s had enough Memphis BBQ.
Saturday (5-3 win at Atlanta)
Hero: Matt Adams. I could have gone with Carpenter again, given that he hit a two-run homer that helped build the lead to 3-0, but I wanted to hat tip Adams and what he did. With Jose Martinez getting hurt, the Cardinals again needed an outfielder. They could have done what they did Thursday, move Diaz out to the outfield, but with Mike Leake and his ground-ball wizardry on the hill, there was probably a desire to keep Diaz on the infield. (You could argue Garcia has the better glove, which is fair, but I think if that was a big consideration they’d have started Garcia.) With the fact that Leake was going to most likely keep the ball on the infield, Mike Matheny went to Adams to play outfield. Adams didn’t have much out there, but he did get two hits, including a home run, and was robbed of another hit by a great play by Brandon Phillips. There was a lot of gnashing of teeth and arrows at Matheny over this move, but it seemed a fairly logical one given all the dynamics. Matheny has gone to great lengths to NOT put Adams out there since their return from New York and his meeting with John Mozeliak, so seeing him out there in an emergency situation didn’t provoke the ranting in me that it did in other folks.
Goat: Eric Fryer has seemingly gotten tabbed as Leake’s catcher (which made seeing a Cardinal Insider this weekend where Leake talked about how great it was to throw to a Hall of Fame catcher a bit ironic) and I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all to give Molina regular rest. Fryer’s not hit at the crazy clip he did last year in St. Louis, which isn’t unexpected, and went 0-4 with two strikeouts in this one, one of the few that didn’t contribute to the win overtly.
Notes: Leake was cruising along until the seventh, where he gave up a three-run homer to Adonis Garcia. Again, when you spend your time on Twitter you see the complaints, but some thought that Matheny should have yanked Leake when he put a couple of runners on. However, Leake still had a fairly low pitch total–he finished at 91 at the end of the frame–and had the five run lead. You figure you are going to turn the game over to Trevor Rosenthal and Seung-hwan Oh and with those guys, two runs is probably plenty. I have no problems with Matheny sticking with Leake, who hadn’t given up a home run all year to that point.
Two hits from Randal Grichuk, which was nice to see. With all of this outfield finagling, he’s been kinda overlooked. Yet he wound up with two hits in all three games of this series.
Sunday (6-4 win in 14 at Atlanta)
Hero: Tommy Pham. When Pham is on, he is hotter than anyone. He’s played in a total of 139 games in the big league level and has 17 home runs, but I believe I heard on the broadcast that he has four multi-homer games. That seems like a ridiculously high mark given the first two numbers. He also had two other hits and a walk in this one. It was an outstanding weekend for Pham and we’ll see if he can carry that through to Miami.
Goat: Brett Cecil. I was pretty stunned when I walked out of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 yesterday afternoon to find the game was still going on. That wouldn’t have been the case if Cecil had done his job. He got the first two outs of the inning and there’s no doubt that Freddie Freeman is a tough batter to put away. That said, Cecil’s main job is to get tough lefties like Freeman out. For him to cough up a homer there was devastating and perhaps will have some ramifications on this upcoming series, given how the bullpen had to be used.
Notes: With no real bench to speak of, it was a long day for a lot of folks. Molina caught the whole thing and went 0-5 with walk. Diaz snapped his strong run with an 0-6. The club only had 10 hits and four of those were Pham’s. Interestingly, all the starters went the whole way, as the bench bats were only used for pinch-hitting. I don’t know how often you see that in a long extra-inning game.
Wacha had another solid outing, allowing just two runs in six innings. He was only at 83 pitches and if Matheny had known how things were going to turn out, he might have let him go another frame. As it was, limiting him isn’t a bad thing, I don’t think. I don’t know when you feel comfortable pushing Wacha, but I gotta think it won’t be until after the All-Star Break and even then just occasionally when the need arises. That stress reaction is always going to be in the back of our minds. I will say he’s been much better than I expected this year and I hope that continues going forward.
Let’s give some kudos to Sam Tuivailala. Tui’s tenure with the team has been troubled and taut with tension. He didn’t completely avoid that in this one, walking two over his two innings, but he allowed just one hit to go with those and worked his way out of issues. That left him in line for the win when Pham hit his second homer of the day and the game-winner. It might be his only major league win, but it’s good to see him get it.
So when Martinez went down, they quickly put him on the DL so the club wouldn’t play even shorter-handed (which was huge given what came Sunday) and called up Magneuris Sierra from Palm Beach. That’s a long reach for a player to come play in the big leagues, but there were some reasons for it. Well, really A reason, the fact that he was the only OF left on the 40-man roster. Now, in fairness, the club had a 40-man roster spot and could have added anyone they wanted and brought them up. That said, that would have caused some issues for others. A guy like Harrison Bader, you’d have started his clock and (assuming he went back down when all were healthy) burned an option. A veteran guy at AAA like Chad Huffman, he’s probably out of options and would have to clear waivers before he could go back to Memphis–not necessarily a huge loss, but something to factor in. The path of least resistance really was to bring up Sierra, but it still felt like a strange move for Mozeliak to make.
And Sierra wasn’t just insurance, at least not in his first day. He started in center field and got his first hit, plus his speed forced an error in the 14th which put him on ahead of Pham’s second blast. I don’t know that we’ll see much of Sierra over the next week and I assume he’ll return to Palm Beach after this little stint, but it’s going to give the team a little jolt, a little buzz, to see what he can do until folks get healthy.
With the Cubs getting swept this weekend by the Yankees–ah, it’s nice that the Cards aren’t the only NL Central team that had trouble with them–St. Louis goes into Miami a half-game behind the first place Reds and a half-game ahead of the third place Cubs. As Tara and I discussed last night, it’s nice to know that the terrible start to the season didn’t completely knock the Cardinals out of the race, but it’s also disappointing to know that if they’d won a few of those games they let slip away they’d be the front-runners right now. Still, if you’d told anyone after that trip to Yankee Stadium that the Cards would be almost in first after the first week of May, few would have believed you. Don’t worry about what could have been, enjoy what is.
What is is Carlos Martinez, fresh off his first win and a return to form, going up against a Marlins squad that is scuffling along four games under .500. The Cardinals need to take this series as well and that’s going to require a good start from the ace. If he’s on, that shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll just have to see if he’s turned the corner and is back to his dominating form or last time out was just the calm in the storm. He’s had a few issues with the Marlins in the past, it seems.
Adam Conley will go for the fish in this one. Conley has struggled this year, with an ERA that looks a lot like Wainwright’s, but that’s mainly due to a nine-run, 1.2 inning outing against Pittsburgh the time before last. Last time, he allowed five runs (just two earned) in 5.1 innings against the Rays. You’d like to think the Cardinals, with their bats still warm from Atlanta, could do something with this. However, we know this team and it wouldn’t be a shocking surprise to see Conley throw a two-hitter.
At the end of the night, the Cards could be in first place. That’s a great thought for your Monday, isn’t it?