After all the complaints, after all the disappointment, after all the shoddy play, the Cardinals last night were about a run and some outs away from being a half-game out of first place. A great weekend against the Phillies and a win in the opener of the doubleheader had them on a four-game streak and looking for more. Then, in true 2017 fashion, bullpen happened.
Before we get to that, though, let’s take a look at the last few games. We’ve already talked about Friday, so let’s start with Saturday’s masterpiece.
Saturday (7-0 win)
Hero: Carlos Martinez. It’s nice when the Hero is this clear-cut. Martinez threw his first career shutout, blanking the Phillies on four hits and striking out 11. Once the Cardinals put up some runs for him, this game wasn’t ever in doubt. Martinez has put those April struggles well behind him and again is one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Goat: Aledmys Diaz. 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on base.
Notes: The Cardinals scored seven runs, but they did so in two cloudbursts. Jedd Gyorko doubled in the first two and scored on a balk, then Eric Fryer got a fourth run in the inning in. In the seventh, Matt Carpenter doubled in two and Gyorko tacked on a sacrifice fly. It wasn’t sustained offense, but it doesn’t have to be if it comes in bunches like that.
I missed this game entirely, traveling to St. Louis for UCB Weekend while it was going on. At dinner that night, it seemed like everyone else had missed it as well, which led us to wondering if we all just didn’t watch any more games, maybe the Cardinals would win it all.
Sunday (6-5 win)
Hero: Dexter Fowler. His three-run homer brought the Cards back from an early deficit and he tacked on a double as well.
Goat: Seung-hwan Oh. Given three runs to work with, Oh wound up needing every bit of that, allowing four hits and two runs before getting the final out of the game. Being that I had a 6+ hour drive back home after this one, I’d have been very perturbed had it gone into extra innings and wouldn’t have wanted to drive that way fuming if they’d lost, so thankfully Oh settled in and got the outs he needed. (Plus this let us get a glimpse of Eugene Koo, always a great thing.)
Notes: As is my normal at these things, I didn’t get to watch all of the game even though I was there, spending some time socializing with folks I never get to see. I was glad that the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons made an appearance while I was there, though I spent his inning returning to the suites after meeting up with Daniel Winnett and Carly Schaber. He was just so efficient that even though we left before he started pitching and it wasn’t a far walk, he was still finishing up by time I returned. I would have liked to see him go another frame, but given what happened yesterday, probably best that he didn’t.
Tommy Pham and Kolten Wong both had multiple hits and Pham stole a base. I know everyone is concerned about Randal Grichuk coming up and taking Pham’s playing time, but given the moves the Cardinals have made over the last day or so, I’m not so sure that as imminent as people are making it out to be. It also helped to hear John Mozeliak’s comments on the radio yesterday or Monday saying that removing one of your hottest hitters wouldn’t be a good idea. I do think Grichuk will return (though apparently he’s hitting .211 in Memphis–in four games he’s got one double and six strikeouts, so he’s still not got it all figured out) and get some playing time, but I don’t know that he’ll completely supplant Pham by any means.
Tuesday (6-0 win in game 1)
Hero: Jose Martinez. With his mother watching him play professionally for the first time, Martinez put on a show, hitting two home runs and driving in three. It was a big day for Martinez and something he really needed, as he’d been hitting .150 since he’d returned from the disabled list. It’s possible that Grichuk’s ascension will come at the expense of Martinez, though that’s as the fourth outfielder, not a starter.
Goat: Tommy Pham. Of course, everyone has a bad day, as Pham did going 0-4 from the three hole in this one. And Pham has been a little cooler of late anyway, hitting .231 in June (counting both games of the doubleheader) with only one extra base hit. He’s also started every game in that time period. If Grichuk actually was tearing the cover off the ball in Memphis, the swap might make a little more sense than you’d think on the face of it. That said, I’m fine with riding Pham for a while, especially since he’s drawn eight walks and his OBP is .375 in the month.
Notes: Tyler Lyons got the three-inning save in this one, saving the bullpen for the second game (when it got used quite a bit). The Patron Pitcher struck out two and allowed three hits and basically saved the day, which is what you’d expect from 70, right?
Lyons was needed because Lance Lynn started and only went five innings. This time when he was pulled after a short stint, at least the pitch count was used as supporting evidence. Lynn struck out eight and walked four, so he was at 95 pitches at the end of the fifth during a hot afternoon in St. Louis. You’d have liked to get another inning out of him given the doubleheader, but I don’t think you could expect Mike Matheny to send him back out with those conditions.
Fowler had a couple of hits, Matt Carpenter had a double, and the offense did just enough to supplement Martinez’s big day. At the end of this one, the Cardinals were a game and a half out of first and looking more like a contending team.
Tuesday (8-5 loss in game 2)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. Carpenter said himself that he thought his swing was coming around before he was moved back to the leadoff spot and he knew everyone would jump to that reason for him starting to hit. Maybe, Carp, maybe, but the fact is that Carpenter hit .105/.150/.105 in the five games leading up to him moving into the leadoff spot against the Reds. Since then, he’s had a hit in every game and a line of .393/.433/.857 with three home runs. All the arguments in the world about his success not being tied to where he is hitting may and probably are valid, but the other side of that argument just points to these lines. You have to start to wonder.
Goat: Trevor Rosenthal. With Carpenter’s home run tying up the game, after the club had dug out of that three-run deficit, Matheny logically turned to Rosenthal. To say Rosie didn’t have it last night is probably a huge understatement. Four batters faced. Two walks. Two hits. One run in while he’s on the mound, two more come in after Oh relieves him. (You can’t fault Oh too much–bases loaded nobody out is a rough situation to come into.) Nights like this happen, but when it is to the most trusted part of a shaky bullpen, it’s not good. Hopefully it’s a one time thing and there’s really no reason right now to think it’s not. That’s the worst he’s had this year, but he did allow two runs against Boston in an inning earlier this year, then went four more outings before allowing another one. If he struggles next time out, then all bets are off.
Notes: When Marco Gonzales lost it, he lost it fast. Gonzales, called up as the extra player for the doubleheader, got through the first three frames with only one run allowed and held a 2-1 lead when the fourth opened up. He quickly allowed back-to-back homers to give up the lead, then a double and a triple after he recorded an out before being pulled from the game. The consensus I was hearing after he left the contest was that folks think Gonzales would make a solid bullpen piece instead of a starter and there’s some logic to that. If nothing else, there’s an overabundance of starters either currently in St. Louis or on the way, so it would help clear a little bit of a log jam. We’ll see how Gonzales is used if and when he returns to the big leagues.
The Cardinals hit into three double plays in this one, one being Eric Fryer with the bases loaded (it got a run in, but it was also so expected–if Yadier Molina hadn’t played in the opener and been out all weekend with back issues, you’d have hoped for a pinch-hitter there). While you hate to see that, I will say that the first two especially were smooth, beautiful plays by the Brewers. Given I grew up on Ozzie Smith, seeing a well-executed double play is a really fun thing to watch and I have to tip my hat to the Brewer infielders for showing some skills.
Kolten Wong had another multi-hit game. That’s three of them since returning from the disabled list on Friday, giving him a line of .444 with an OPS of 1.111 over that span. For the season, Wong had his batting average almost at .300, which is pretty impressive given he was under .200 on April 22nd and he’s missed some time in there. It’s good to know that “just play him” mantra seems to have been working out. (To be fair, at times last year the same thing was said about Grichuk, but nobody wants that now.)
The Cardinals can’t take over first place in this series, falling to 2.5 games out with the loss with just two more matchups against the Brewers. They can try to cut into the lead, though, and tonight they’ll send Mike Leake to the mound to do that against Matt Garza. Leake hasn’t been as dominant as he was earlier in the year, but that’s not surprising. Hopefully he’ll be able to keep the Milwaukee bats a bit quiet, though.
Garza’s an old familiar face to most of these guys, though they’ve actually not had a lot of success against him. Garza’s coming off the DL in time to make this start, so we’ll see if there’s any rust there.
If you enjoyed my wrapup of the blogger interaction with John Mozeliak, Colin Garner has the entire transcript up over at The Redbird Daily, so you can see what I missed and exactly what Mo said. Here’s hoping for the start of another winning streak!