On one end, the just-concluded series against the Cardinals and the Nationals heavily leaned St. Louis’s way. On the other, it was clearly a Washington victory. The difference between this series being a win or a loss for the Redbirds centered mainly on one pitch in the middle. It went the Cardinals’ way and we are now talking about two series wins against playoff teams, but it so easily could have been different.
Saturday (2-1 win)
Hero: Alex Mejia. The recent call-up by the Cardinals got a chance to start and made the most of it. His first major league hit drove in Luke Voit (and moved Paul DeJong to second, so it was a true Memphis situation) and his second was a solo home run to give the Cardinals some cushion for the ninth, a cushion they desperately needed. I don’t know that Mejia needs to be playing all that regularly–he’s started three of the four games played since his call-up–but it was great to see him have a night in this one.
Goat: Trevor Rosenthal. Mike Matheny has flipped roles and proved it by bringing in Seung-hwan Oh in the eighth with good success (though he then brought in Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons to finish it off, which might have not been necessary, but always glad to see #70) and then had Rosenthal try to lock down the game. Try being the operative word.
He walked Bryce Harper, which isn’t a terrible thing save that you do have the two run lead. Even if he homers, you have the lead still. He got Ryan Zimmerman to strike out, but then Daniel Murphy singled. Two on, one out. Anthony Rendon grounded to Matt Carpenter, who went to second to try for the double play. He’d have gotten it too, but Rosenthal couldn’t get over and cover first well enough, completely missing getting his foot on the base. That left runners on the corners for Stephen Drew, who I wasn’t sure was still playing baseball. He is and he’s still got some of his bat, singling in Harper. Rosenthal then walked Jose Lobaton (he of the .135 average this season) on a full-count pitch to load the bases before being removed for Matthew Bowman.
Trevor Rosenthal, as it stands now, is 10 innings shy of his total from last season with almost exactly the same ERA of 4.45. His WHIP is significantly better, but it’s still not superb for a late inning guy. Since the beginning of June, and we’ve talked about this before but it doesn’t seem to be getting much better, he’s got an ERA of 7.00, he’s struck out 17 in 12 innings (good) but walked 10 so, coupled with his hits, he has an WHIP of 2.08 in that span. The last time he had a clean outing (of more than one batter) was June 18 against Baltimore. While the argument that you should have him over Oh in the ninth because of his strikeout ability makes sense, if he can’t get his stuff under control it won’t last. This is the kind of pitching that got him removed from the closer role in the first place. When you are getting into the ninth with a one run lead oftentimes, you can’t go putting the tying run on.
(All that said, there was a pitch in the Lobaton at bat that could have been a strike, which would have at least ended the game before loading the bases. Given how the game ended, I don’t know that there’s a lot of room to talk about the strike zone, though.)
How is pitch 9 a strike pic.twitter.com/38zIEBmQVQ
— Zach Gifford (@zjgifford) July 2, 2017
While you’d like to give credit to Bowman for coming into the hardest of situations and getting the job done, there’s no doubt that it was somewhat aided by a wide strike zone. Some of that might be due to Yadier Molina‘s pitch framing (and the fact that he was halfway to the mound to congratulate Bowman before the umpire actually called it) but whatever the reason, we’ll take it and move on.
It was a quiet night for the offense, perhaps foreshadowing Sunday’s game. Four hits and two walks, but when you have a lineup that has Jose Martinez hitting third and the new Memphis Mafia (Voit, DeJong, Mejia) hitting 6-7-8, maybe it’s not that much of a surprise, especially given how good Gio Gonzalez can be.
Thankfully, the good Michael Wacha showed up, otherwise this game might have been over early. Six innings (which is an accomplishment all by itself this year), no runs, just four hits. Remembering that almost no-hitter he had against the Nats, it may be he just matches up well against them. (I’m not going to look at his career history against the team. There are probably times where they got him in there.) That’s back-to-back solid starts for Wacha. He might not be able to go past six even on a good night, but if he can give a quality start most every time he’s out there, this rotation improves tremendously. I don’t know how many more good outings he’ll have to string together before we start believing we’ll see a good one out of him, though. I think the jury is still out on what we have with Wacha, but it’s definitely good to see his recent results.
Matheny won his 500th game in this one, the second-fastest Cardinal manager to do so. Whether that’s a testament to him or his players probably depends on your point of view. Matheny has probably been better of late in many regards, but he can still pull out a whopper from time to time and he did so in this one with a double switch that defied reason. CardsCards examined it over at The Intrepid STL and his conclusions are what you’d expect, but you should still read through it to see just how that move made no sense.
Sunday (7-2 loss)
Hero: Tommy Pham. He kept the game from being a shutout with his late two-run home run, plus drew a walk and reached on an error. So basically he was the offense in this one.
Goat: Carlos Martinez. It’s tough to assign the blame to the starter here because he got victimized twice by one of the best hitters on the planet. Harper hit two pitches low in the zone–I’m not sure the second one wasn’t a ball if he doesn’t swing–and took them out of the park. Still, he gave up five runs in five innings, so perhaps the real problem was having people on base when Harper came up. He also walked four and allowed seven hits, so he clearly wasn’t on his normal game last night. That said, anyone that wants to talk about temperament will need to speak with Tara, who addressed this issue well last night on Gateway.
Notes: Given that the Cards were going up against Max Scherzer, the game was basically over the moment Harper’s first inning home run found the seats. There’s no doubt that, as much as Martinez was “off”, Scherzer was “on”. The Missouri native made sure his hometown team knew that not making a run at him a few years ago in free agency wasn’t a great idea. In fairness, I think if Scherzer was available now, when the Cardinals have a better feel for evaluating and are more likely to make a significant offer to a player, they well might land him. Or they might finish second again, but they’d have been much more serious about getting him in Cardinal red. Interestingly, Scherzer is 2-4 in his career against the Cardinals, though he does have a 2.70 ERA against them.
Scherzer struck out 12 and allowed only two hits, so there weren’t many offensive highlights here. Voit had a pinch-hit double that about took Scherzer’s head off, so I’m sure he will be talking about that for some time to come. Other than that, most of the damage came against Enny Romero, who allowed Pham’s two-run homer as well as a Stephen Piscotty double. Even Washington’s bullpen, though, wasn’t going to blow that lead with just two innings to work.
Even with last night’s loss, the Cards own a series win against the second and third best teams (by record) in the National League in the span of a week. They now get to play seven games against the Marlins and the Mets, both of which sit farther under .500 than the Cardinals do. A 5-2 record over this span wouldn’t be impossible and that would get them to the break with a 44-44 mark. It’s hard to believe that being break-even at the break is something that would be inspiring to Cardinal fans, but that’s the state of the team and the division these days.
It’s a big week for St. Louis. If they struggle against this opposition, it makes it much easier for John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch to spend the All-Star Break gauging interest on players and seeing what prospects they might be able to bring back. If they win and get to that even mark, that probably pushes them to maybe two games out in the division. (The Brewers have three with the Orioles, a makeup with the Cubs, then three with the Yankees. The Cubs, besides that makeup, have two with the Rays and three with the Pirates, so they have a good chance of being in first at the break.) Even after all this time, it’s tough to really know what to expect. The club has been playing much better of late, it feels like, but they aren’t that far removed from losing series against Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Baltimore. Flip a coin and you are just about as likely to figure out what the results are going to be.
It starts tonight, though, as the Marlins come into town while their ballpark is getting ready for the All-Star Game. (Congrats to the battery of Martinez and Molina, who will be representing the team in Miami.) Adam Wainwright, as we know, has done much better at home and is coming off a strong outing in Arizona as well. Again, we’ve been down this road before and we’re not going to put a whole lot of expectations on a Wainwright start, but everything seems to work out well for him to do OK tonight.
Miami will counter with Jeff Locke, who the Cardinals are familiar with as he spent a good bit of time in Pittsburgh. Locke’s career ERA against the ‘Birds is right about 5, his current ERA is 5.52 (which is about what he had last year as well), and he’s not gone past six innings yet this season. All the ingredients are there for a big offensive night and a good Cardinal win, but sometimes the recipe doesn’t really come together.
Starting off this stretch with a win is almost vital. We’ll see which Cardinal team shows up, though!