Inigo Montoya: Who are you?
Man in Black: No one of consequence.
Inigo Montoya: I must know.
Man in Black: Get used to disappointment.
—The Princess Bride
It was about this time last year when I created the Cardinals Frustration Level Index. It feels like over last few weeks, the Cardinals have really been riding along at FIL-4. It wasn’t perfect, but there were a lot of things going right. There was some positive feelings about the club and a bit of dreaming on them as well.
The last week has moved the club squarely into FIL-3. If you didn’t click on the link, here’s the description of that level, labeled “Ankiel”:
This is where things start to unravel. The club is up, then it’s down. You get a great performance against a top opponent one day, only to see a meek showing against a cellar dweller the next. The pitching is great while the offense struggles, then the offense comes around only to lose a 9-8 ballgame. And if everything does come together, then the bullpen winds up losing the lead. There’s no sort of consistency, good or bad. Warning signs: a growing deficit in the standings, nightly Twitter spats, a series of “what’s wrong with this team” posts and articles, a focus on a player or two as a major problem.
Sound familiar? The Cardinals took whatever hope and excitement there was from a 6-0 road trip and a series win against the Cubs and blew through it like my bank account at a Star Wars convention. Not only has the on-the-field product been immensely frustrating, St. Louis also tossed in another second place finish on a major talent. If you want to hear frustration in audio form, I think Tara and I did a fairly good job of expressing that last night on Gateway. If you prefer your aggravation written, stay with me.
Friday (6-5 loss)
Hero: Dexter Fowler. I considered not selecting him here given the game-ending double play that he grounded into by reaching for an outside pitch on a 3-2 count, but you don’t get to that point without Fowler’s three-run homer that gave the Cards the lead back and let them turn it over to their bullpen to squander.
Goat: Seung-hwan Oh. While a blown save is likely to always get you here, there are sometimes mitigating factors. That’s not the case in this one. Oh did pitch two innings in the prior game, but there was a day off in between and he’d had four days off before that. Fatigue shouldn’t have been an issue and, to his credit, Oh never suggested it was anything more than him not doing his job. Losing a lead late after rallying to regain it is just one of the worst ways to lose a game.
Notes: Kolten Wong went 2-2 with two walks and was on base in the ninth when Fowler ended the game. He and Fowler were the only two to have multiple hits in this one, as the rest of the team just combined for six, including a pinch-hit single by Jhonny Peralta. Peralta was activated before the game and Magneuris Sierra sent down to Springfield, which was a step up from where he was before his MLB sojourn. Sierra will be missed, but it’s best for his long-term prospects for him to get some more regular minor league at-bats to develop his game. I don’t think this will be the last we’ll see of him this season. If nothing else, another outfield injury and he’s the easiest person to recall for a short-term stay.
Michael Wacha continued his strong season, throwing a scoreless six innings and deserving a much better reward for his efforts. I don’t know that I can get away from waiting for the other shoe to drop on Wacha, given the last couple of years, but that’s more my mentality than what should be reasonable. Wacha’s not really done anything but be effective this year, even if he’s not necessarily Peak Wacha. I probably should have more faith in his outings. That said, his next one is in Colorado, so I’ll hold off on that for now.
What’s there to say about the bullpen? At least, on a family-friendly blog? With Trevor Rosenthal unavailable for this one due to soreness (something that was rectified by the next day, thankfully, but still a bit strange), the last three innings were an adventure. Jonathan Broxton came in, gave up two hits, and was quickly yanked. It’s fairly obvious there is no confidence in Broxton for anything serious, but if he’s on the roster, he’s going to have to pitch occasionally. It feels like he’s either on or he’s not and give credit to Mike Matheny for not sticking with him and seeing if he can work his way out of it. I’m not sure we’d have said that last year.
Still, putting Broxton into a two-run game at all when the rest of the ‘pen should be rested given the off day is fairly strange, especially when you are coming off a series sweep and a win would be nice to snap that. Matthew Bowman came in to relieve Broxton, but why didn’t he come in to start the inning? We’ve often talked about Bowman’s overuse, true, but it was obvious that Matheny already had this plan in mind to go to Bowman early. He must have started warming up after the first batter, if not before. I guess, given that Rosenthal was unavailable, maybe Matheny was hoping for a good inning for Broxton and then Bowman could cover the eighth, but it still feels like he could have made the call to Bowman first.
Assuming Bowman would have done better, of course, but some of the work against him in this wasn’t his fault. He got the grounder to Jedd Gyorko, but Gyorko botched it. The run would have scored anyway, but Bowman could have had two outs and the bases empty instead of nobody out and runners on first and second. The wheels wobbled after that, most notably after the Giants tied up the game and put runners on the corners, Bowman fielded Joe Panik’s soft grounder and immediately went to first, not even looking at the runner coming home. A throw to the plate there and Mac Williamson is dead to rights. Even if you just look over there to hold him, you probably still have time to get the runner. Fowler’s home run took Bowman off the hook, but it wasn’t a great outing for the young man.
Matt Adams pinch-hit in the ninth and, unknowingly, closed the book on his Cardinal career with a flyout to left. Also, Brett Cecil made his first appearance since shaving his head and got a batter out. It’s possible, after Martinez’s success removing the extensions, that what this team needs is just a good barber.
Saturday (3-1 loss in 13)
Hero: Carlos Martinez. If the Cardinals could have plated one measly run, Martinez would have had the first Maddux of his career. For those of you unaware (a number that has significantly shrunk over the past few years, I believe), a Maddux (named after Greg Maddux, the master at this) is when a starter throws a nine-inning shutout in less than 100 pitches. Martinez ran through nine frames in just 93 pitches, which is a remarkable achievement for anyone, but especially a pitcher that a few years ago we weren’t sure could be a starter because of his command. Martinez was dominant all night long, striking out five and allowing just two hits. It was an impressive performance and should have been the focus of the game discussion afterwards. Unfortunately, it was almost forgotten by the end of this.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. You may remember that about a month ago, Tara and I had a difference of opinion on who the worst Cardinal baserunner was. She leaned (with good reason) toward Stephen Piscotty, while I stood firm with Carpenter. I didn’t really need for him to continue to prove me right, but oh did he in this one. Bottom of the ninth, scoreless game, Carpenter leads off with a shot. When you are in this situation, a double is fine. Yes, the Cardinals could waste it, because it’s the Cardinals, but a runner on second with nobody out is a fairly good shot at winning the game. A groundout and a fly out and that’ll do it. It doesn’t take anything dramatic. I’m glad we’re all on the same page.
Problem is, Carpenter never read the book. Even though he could see the play in front of him, even though he could see Eduardo Nunez had recovered well, Carpenter continued to plow toward second base and was out like….well, like Willie Mays Hays at the beginning of Major League. You know the scene I’m talking about. And you just CAN NOT do that in that situation. It’s indefensible. Maybe if it took a strong throw and it nipped him by an inch you could see what he was thinking, but it wasn’t even close. Recently Tim McCarver talked about triples being “born in the batter’s box” and I have no doubt that Carpenter was thinking three when he hit the ball. However, he’s got to be better about adjusting to the information he sees. Instead, the Cardinals wind up not scoring, going to extras, and that didn’t exactly play into the strengths of this team. We’re probably lucky it made it to the 13th, in all honestly.
Notes: While the team wound up with 10 hits on the night (which seems a little low for a 13-inning affair but was better than the Giants’ seven, four of which came in the last frame), three of them came from Greg Garcia, who had to fill in after Wong felt a “pop” in his elbow. So far, there’s been no word on any injury for Wong, though he didn’t play in Sunday’s game. It’s great to have a Garcia who can step in and be effective in short spurts, but I do hope Wong isn’t going to be out for an extended period.
Rosenthal was back for this one and did fine in his inning. Bowman recovered from Friday night and did fine as well. Kevin Siegrist got his first inning done in seven pitches, but then went back out there for a second and it didn’t work so well. He got Brandon Belt to start the frame, but then allowed three straight singles to load the bases for Christian Arroyo, who had a heck of an at-bat, forcing Siegrist to throw 12 pitches before he roped a double that basically ended the game. You could be concerned that Siegrist never was able to get strike three past him, but I think it was more that Arroyo just did everything he could get get a good pitch. Sometimes the batter wins and it’s not really the pitcher’s fault. (You do wonder if Siegrist maybe should have thrown more than two changeups in the sequence, but being that Arroyo crushed the second one, maybe not.)
The Cardinals did avoid being shut out in the bottom of the 13th when Piscotty, who was activated earlier in the day, singled in Fowler, but Carpenter flew out to end the game. (Piscotty almost added to his bad baserunning case by coming close to being caught stealing second with two outs and a two run deficit. Thankfully, he was safe.)
Sunday (8-3 win)
Hero: Randal Grichuk. Two doubles, including a big one in the second that plated three and helped make sure there’d be no repeat of Saturday night, and four RBI total. Grichuk is streaky, as we all know, but when he has a game, he has a game.
Goat: Dexter Fowler. Fowler did drive in one with a sacrifice fly, but went 0-4 otherwise with three left on and a double play hit into. Thankfully these kind of games are becoming rarer for Fowler, unlike what we saw in April.
Notes: Craig asked me in our conversation where Adam Wainwright‘s last start, his scoreless outing against the Cubs, came from. Wherever the source, Wainwright went shopping there again and picked up another good one. Granted, the Giants offense hasn’t been all that great all year long, including this series, but it was still very good to see Wainwright seemingly on cruise control. Waino struck out six, allowed just the one run, and made it into the seventh. (Though, given that he was at almost 100 pitches before that frame started, might have had something to do with trying to rest the bullpen as much as possible as much as it did how he was pitching.) Like we said after the last outing, it doesn’t mean that Wainwright is back or that we have full trust anytime he goes out there, but it’s nice to see that there’s still something there and we won’t have to continue having the “is Wainwright washed up” discussions that are so painful, at least for a while.
Carpenter didn’t really redeem himself, given that it was another game and we’re still holding that baserunning grudge, but he did smack a two-run homer to make this game serious. Aledmys Diaz also had two hits and walked once as well. Since moving out of the second spot on May 4, Diaz has hit .328/.371/.391 and has walked five times in 15 games, which still isn’t to the level he showed last year but is much better than the two walks he had in the first 24 games he played. It felt like that Diaz would be a great fit between Fowler and Carpenter, but the results are showing that maybe his approach and comfort is lower in the lineup. Which opens up another problem–who to hit in the second spot–but at least gets him back on a better track.
Two hits also for Jhonny Peralta in his first start since returning to squad Friday. Peralta’s 4-5 since his return and while nobody expects nor wants him to replace Gyorko at third, hopefully he can at least be a veteran bench bat than can fill in from time to time, especially with Matt Adams now in Atlanta. Lots of people would prefer a Peralta-free roster and I get that, but there seems to be a little bit left from the veteran. If nothing else, he has to play to show if he has value to other teams. I do not believe Matheny is going to get wrapped up in this small sample and decide to run him out there every day. Matheny’s done better with his lineup decisions over the past month and I believe he knows that Gyorko should be out there regularly. There are going to be days where Peralta plays, though, and folks are just going to have to come to terms with that.
Bullpen did its job for the most part, though it’s easier to do with a seven run lead. Cecil got two guys out, making him three-for-three since the long hair went adios. (Which, when you think about it, makes you wonder how the lusciously-locked Mike Leake is having such a strong season.) Miguel Socolovich allowed two home runs, but he also struck out the side and you would rather see solo homers in that situation than walks. It wasn’t the best, but I’m still very pro-Soco.
That wraps up the series. I’ve already taken up a lot of your time, so I’ll try to break out the Matt Adams trade and the Luis Robert failure into another post. (If you can’t wait for that, we talked about both on Gateway–link above–and the Adams deal and our last hopes on Robert on Meet Me at Musial.) The Cards get another off day that they’ll probably wish they had next month today as they travel to Los Angeles for a tough West Coast trip through LA and Colorado. Clayton Kershaw won’t mind that Adams is gone and for all the success the Cards have had against him, he’s still been tough against them in the regular season.
Interesting to see Fowler’s done so well against Kershaw as well. All that said, it’s still probably good that the Cards stopped their losing streak last night, because the odds have to be against them on Tuesday.
Lance Lynn will go for St. Louis. There’s been some chatter of concern around Lynn, given that he’s allowed eight runs (six earned) over his last two starts. Lynn hasn’t indicated anything is wrong, so it might just be a little fatigue after missing last season, a down spot that he’s just going to have to fight through. Or he’s just had two bad starts and could turn it around in this one. Let’s hope for the latter.
The late night West Coast games are better on the weekend, when you can get some sleep the next day. I don’t expect a lot of folks will make it to the end of these, so hopefully the Cardinals jump out early, hold the lead, and ease that frustration index a tad. A man can dream, right?