If you want to look for the silver lining, the Cardinals could have swept this small series and, at worst, were very competitive with a team that was expected (and still may) to have a deep playoff run. When you factor in the normal thought that AL teams are better than NL teams overall, there probably should be less consternation about dropping two games to the Red Sox.
Nobody’s wanting a silver lining today, I don’t imagine.
Because the flip side of that lining is that the Cardinals not only lost two winnable games (especially last night’s) but also their hold on the top of the NL Central. Milwaukee is up by a half-game and, given they play the Padres today while St. Louis rests at home, that lead could be a full game before the Redbirds get on the field.
Tuesday (6-3 loss)
Hero: Nobody really stands out in this one. No starter had more than one hit, no pitcher had a particularly good outing. We’ll give it to Dexter Fowler, who was the only player to score a run and drive one in, plus had the only extra-base hit of the night.
Goat: Lance Lynn. While he did get charged with a couple of unearned runs due to a Jedd Gyorko error behind him, Lynn allowed four total, including two solo home runs to put the Cards behind early. Lynn did his best to get around the error in the fifth, but Dustin Pedroia eventually drove in the go-ahead run. It wasn’t a terrible outing for Lynn by any means, but it wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from him either.
Notes: A lot of folks would probably put Brett Cecil (or, more accurately, Mike Matheny using Brett Cecil) in that Goat slot. Cecil came in with one on and one out and threw nine pitches, eight of which were balls, and walked two guys before being yanked. One of those runners scored on Tommy Pham‘s misplay, but he nailed the other at the plate. That took a one-run game to a three-run and probably eliminated much in the way of a comeback.
Many griped on Twitter about Cecil coming into that game. I understand the consternation, but as long as Cecil’s on the roster (and Zach Gifford over at The Intrepid STL has a good look at Cecil, which doesn’t rule out him being hurt), he’s got to get into games. I don’t know what Boston’s eighth inning reliever is necessarily like, but coming back against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth is typically not a successful proposition. I guess what I’m saying is I’d rather use Cecil right now in a game they are trailing and less likely to come back in than a game where they are ahead or are rallying. So I kinda understand why Matheny went to him there, especially with two lefties coming up.
That said, oof. When you can only throw one strike to two left-handed batters, something is really wrong. I know Cecil yesterday tried the Carlos Martinez plan for improvement and shaved his head, but I think if I was the club I’d try to get him checked out. There almost has to be something wrong. Otherwise it’s starting to look like the Cards bought a lemon on the free agent market this year.
As for Pham, it’s already hard to engender sympathy for the one percenters, but he didn’t help matters:
Not that you didn’t assume this already, but the catch probability on that flyball to Tommy Pham in the 8th was 99%. He was the 1%.
— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) May 17, 2017
Granted, if Pham catches that, it’s still 5-3 because Miguel Socolovich, coming in with the bases loaded, allowed a sacrifice fly before Jackie Bradley Jr. sent one Pham’s way, but it’s still ridiculously frustrating, even though he recovered well. Of course, that wasn’t the only defensive miscue of the night, either listed in the box score (we’ve talked about Pham and Gyorko, but Kolten Wong was charged with an error that was deserved, but a better first baseman than Matt Carpenter would have saved him from) or not. When the defense becomes the story, it’s usually after a loss.
Again, some kudos to Socolovich. Bases loaded one out and he gets two fly balls that were/should have been caught, then pitched a scoreless ninth. He and Jonathan Broxton, who threw a scoreless frame, were the best Cardinal hurlers to take the mound that night.
Wednesday (5-4 loss in 13)
Hero: Mike Leake. Another very good outing from the Redbird hurler, allowing just two runs in seven innings, striking out five and walking none. He allowed a two-run homer to Bradley in the seventh, otherwise his ERA would still be under 2.00 for the season. Again, he deserved better than the outcome he received.
I’m giving the Goat to Trevor Rosenthal, but as you can see he had some help from the home plate umpire. Rosenthal came out throwing smoke in the eighth inning, but after striking out Mookie Betts, he had this at bat against Pedroia. It’s tough to throw five strikes to a guy, you know? Pedroia should have been out twice, but wound up standing on first.
Maybe that shook Rosenthal, maybe he thought that he had to throw it down the middle to actually get a strike. The next batter, Xander Bogaerts, was a thorn all series long and he tripled in Pedroia and scored on a sacrifice fly to tie the game. How much different does this game turn out if one of those strikes is called? You can’t assume the inning would have turned out exactly the same, but there would have been two outs and nobody on. I feel better about the odds of taking the lead into the ninth.
The zone was made even more egregious later, when Randal Grichuk pinch-hit in the bottom of the inning with a runner on first and struck out looking on a pitch that was well out of the zone. It’s bad enough when the zone is large or small, but when it’s not consistent, when it fluctuates based on the whims of the umpire, that’s a terrible thing to try to deal with.
Notes: Fowler started off this game with a home run, which is always a great thing to see. I almost thought he was going to bookend the game with them when he launched a deep fly in the ninth, but ’twas not to be. It’s been a while, at least in my memory, where the Cards have gone out and scored early (it was 4-0 after two) and then shut it down and the other team came back to win. There are a number of games like that over the last few years, don’t get me wrong, it just doesn’t feel like it’s happened a whole lot of late.
Magneuris Sierra went 2-6, scored a run, drove in a run, and got his first major league stolen base. I will say I’m a little glad the Cardinals finally lost while he was in the lineup. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing Sierra out there (though that likely was his last game for a while as Jhonny Peralta will probably be activated for Friday’s game, with Stephen Piscotty close behind) but there were some folks on Twitter that seemed to be clinging to him as a talisman, pointing out that the team hadn’t lost with him in the lineup. I know Sierra has done some great things while he’s been up and there’s going to be a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth tomorrow when he likely returns to Palm Beach, but to say that he’s the reason the Cardinals have been winning is probably an overstatement. Remember, the season had turned around a couple of weeks before Sierra and Pham made it up to the big leagues.
I’m disappointed that Sierra has to go down as well, but let’s not dumping on Matheny or John Mozeliak here. Sierra needs some more time in the minors to develop his bat, though these weeks of MLB time have been invaluable to him. The logistics of baseball aren’t always kind or what we want to see, but the idea that the club is just going to cut Peralta to keep Sierra in the bigs a few more days isn’t feasible. (And, for what it’s worth, Peralta did go 4-11 with a double and a walk during his time in Memphis, which may mean there’s still a little bit in the tank.) We’ll see Sierra again, perhaps even before September if injuries or trades do a number on the roster, but let’s not assume the team is going to spiral toward the basement now that he’s no longer on the club. (And it’s possible that the Cards will send down Sam Tuivailala instead, but all this discussion then comes into play for Piscotty’s return.)
Gyorko had two hits in this one but saved the game (temporarily) in the 10th. The frame started with Josh Rutledge, who fouled a pitch up over home plate. Yadier Molina got under it….and flat missed it. It’s something you never see out of Molina and it almost cost the squad. Given new life, Rutledge singled and moved to second on a groundout. This time Pedroia was called out on strikes and Seung-hwan Oh, in his second inning of work, intentionally passed Bogaerts. Andrew Benintendi (go Hogs!) then smashed one toward third that looked like it might get through and drive in the go-ahead run, but Gyorko snared it and made a strong throw to nip Benintendi at first. The defense might not have been great over the past couple of days, but there were still some shining moments.
A day off today, then the Giants come to town. San Francisco has been scuffling and lost to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers yesterday afternoon, putting them eight games under .500. It would seem a good time for St. Louis to stop this slide quickly and get back to their winning ways. Michael Wacha, fresh off a skipped turn in a rotation, will go up against Matt Moore in the first game of the series. Moore is one of those lefties that you’d expect to befuddle the Cards, but the one time they saw him he allowed two runs in five innings.
Anytime you mention “Wacha” and “Giants” in the same sentence, there are immediate painful flashbacks to the 2014 NLCS. If nothing else, we’re pretty sure Wacha will throw to more than one batter tomorrow evening. And he’s done OK with the current makeup of the club:
It’s really a must-win series for St. Louis if they want to keep the momentum going before they head out to the West Coast next week.
Come back this afternoon when I’ll have a back-and-forth with Craig Vaughn from my favorite Giants site, THE San Francisco Giants Blog, as we talk about our respective teams!