No Independence From This Troubling Season

OK, let’s start off with the optimistic view of things.  We’ve talked about this week against the Mets and the Marlins and said if they could go 5-2 over this stretch, the Cardinals would enter the All-Star Break at .500.  Even with the past two days, that’s still possible!  Winning today against Miami and sweeping the struggling New York team is not an impossibility by any means.  So that dream of .500 (as depressing as it is that THAT’S a dream) is still feasible.

That said, losing back-to-back games to the Marlins is just not what you want to see from a team that’s supposedly trying to contend, albeit in a weak division.  They’ve fallen 5.5 back in the division, two games behind Chicago.  They are back to four games under .500 and any momentum they seem to build dissipates fairly quickly.  Trying to grasp the good in this team is like trying to embrace a ghost.  Optimism withers on the vine.

I guess we need to get to the games, huh?  Fine.

Tuesday (5-2 loss)

Hero: Greg Garcia.  His two-run home run was all the Cards would get in this game.  Jose Urena and company limited St. Louis to seven hits and two walks, while acquiring 12 strikeouts.  The offense just wasn’t really clicking here.  Garcia also got hit by a pitch, so he was an offensive dynamo compared to the rest of the squad.

Goat: Tommy Pham. There were a number of choices, but it feels like right now Pham is the engine of this team, and when that engine sputters (0-4, four strikeouts), nothing’s likely to go right.  It wasn’t much better for Stephen Piscotty, who “only” wound up with three K.

Notes: For the most part, it wasn’t a bad Lance Lynn start, but the fact that he could just get past the fifth is probably not helping the trade value.  That said, he got beat on a home run by Christian Yelich, one guy that everyone is clamoring for the Cardinals to try to trade for.  One of the runners came because Matt Carpenter, playing second base, made an error.  (He did do a good job of knocking another hard-hit Giancarlo Stanton ball down, but he rushed the play.)  The fourth run credited to him was allowed by Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons, who didn’t have the best 2/3rds of an inning in his career.

I thought it was probably the first time Lyons had thrown in back-to-back games, but I was wrong.  He did so the first two games of his season last year.  That said, there’s a difference between going back-to-back days when you are still fresh on the season, another when you’ve pitched most of the year.  That was also his third game in four outings, so it’s possible the extra work made a difference for him.  Again, he was used Monday when he didn’t have to be.  Whether that played into this one, I don’t know.  If this game stays 3-2, though, maybe the rest of the game goes differently.

Scoreless innings out of Trevor Rosenthal and Seung-hwan Oh (pitching in the eighth and ninth respectively, though I don’t figure that means Oh gets the next save chance), which was nice to see.  The Cardinals are really going to need both of them to pitch well to have any chance of either winning some games or them having any value on the trade market.  I’m still not comfortable with saying that’s what we’ll see out of either one, though.

Carpenter made the error (which, you could argue, would have been a hit had he not knocked it down) but went two for four with a walk.  Which compounded Pham’s day, since he often had a runner on and a chance to make an impact and just wasn’t able to do it.

Wednesday (9-6 loss)

Hero: Tommy Pham.  The good thing about Pham is he doesn’t seem to stay down long.  Two hits (both doubles and the team’s only extra-base hits of the night) and three RBI, including a double that brought the Cardinals to within two runs and positioned himself as the tying run.  Unfortunately, Piscotty couldn’t capitalize on the situation and that was the only shot the Cardinals had.  Much like we said about Monday’s game, if you can withstand a big rally and stay ahead, a lot of times that’s all the other team has.  It was right on Monday, it was right here.

Goat: Look, I know the defense betrayed him.  I know that he should have been out of the second well before Stanton came up.  That said, Mike Leake was rough last night.  Three home runs and a double.  Nine overall hits in 3.2 innings.  Again, the line is worse than it probably should have been, but that was a lot of hard contact and Leake doesn’t survive well if folks are making hard contact off of him.  If nothing else, he gave up the first homer to Stanton and the homer to Marcel Ozuna without any defensive miscues.  I’m not excusing the defense (though the ball that Luke Voit mishandled was a pretty tough play for him, I thought), but Leake’s got to be better than that.  It’d been one thing if he’d died a death of a thousand paper cuts, but it was much more definitive than that.

Notes: Matt Carpenter has played two games at second and made two errors.  More and more, it feels like this roster tries to work around Carpenter’s shortcomings and there comes a point that makes you ask if it’s all worth it.  Maybe it is, but it feels like if Carpenter’s going to play anywhere, it has to be at first, which means Voit doesn’t get a lot of time in the bigs, at least not starting.  Also, you can’t trade for a first base big bat, because there’s no place else to put Carpenter (unless he goes in the trade, I guess).  He went 0-3 with a walk in this one, so the bat still isn’t coming around (though his OBP, which I guess is the big deal for the leadoff guy, is still sharp).

Two hits for Jose Martinez and another two hits for Garcia, who might be coming around with a bit more playing time.  In his last seven games, he’s hitting .316 with a .435 OBP.  Small sample, of course, but this is probably why John Mozeliak didn’t designate him for assignment a couple of weeks ago.  There’s still a little more to Garcia than we’ve seen all year long, it appears.

The bullpen held the line after Leake left, which was nice to see.  Luke Weaver went two innings and allowed a hit and a walk but struck out two.  Matthew Bowman and Brett Cecil did what they do.  It wound up not mattering (and it likely wouldn’t have in any case) but Oh allowed yet another home run, his seventh of the season.  His HR/9 rate is around triple what it was last year, and when your end-of-game reliever is allowing long balls at this rate, it’s distressing.  Couple that with the downturn in a lot of his categories and you wonder what the future holds for Oh in the big leagues in general.

It was pretty interesting to see that Don Mattingly took Edinson Volquez out of the game after allowing four runs in four innings, even though he had a four run lead at the time.  Volquez was just at 65 pitches, but he obviously wasn’t on the top of his game.  That said, I guarantee you if he’d been pitching for Mike Matheny, he’d have been run out there to get that fifth inning and the win.  Or at least try to get it–Mattingly realized that winning the game was worth more than trying to get some arbitrary stat for his player.  Volquez could have easily given up another run or two in the fifth and then a comeback is much more likely.  After watching Adam Wainwright labor through a fifth inning a couple of days ago, it’s clear the two managers have different views about this issue.

Tom Koehler goes for the Marlins this afternoon as Michael Wacha tries to get the split and keep the .500 dream alive.  Koehler has allowed 15 runs in 4.2 innings over his last two starts.  The Cardinals got to him for four runs in 5.1 innings when they faced the Marlins in Miami back in May.  His ERA is 8.33 on the season.  All of that put together and surely, SURELY the Cardinal offense will put up runs today.

Of course, depending on what Wacha shows up, they may need to.  Wacha’s done pretty well over the last two starts, going six innings in both and allowing a total of just one run.  He didn’t face the Marlins when the Cards went there, so there’s no direct comparison to be made.  If Wacha has turned a bit of a corner and is back closer to early season mode, St. Louis should be fine in this one.  If these last two starts are the mirage, though, there could be a lot of runs on both sides today.

Or Koehler could turn in the game of his life and the Cards get beat by a pitcher that has one win this year.  We’ve seen it happen, so I don’t think anyone would be stunned if that was the outcome.

We started optimistic, we’ll finish that way.  Here’s to a bunch of runs and a good Wacha for your afternoon!

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