You know what it’s like when you get your car stuck in mud? You give it some gas, but the wheels just spin. You might inch forward, you might slip backwards. That feels to me like a pretty good description of the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals. They win some games, get some hope built up, then lose some games and get back right where they were. They start losing and folks talk about selling, then they win some games and get a little closer to the divisional lead. The last couple of days haven’t been any different.
Thursday (4-3 win vs. Miami)
Hero: Luke Voit. Voit basically did it all in this one, hitting a solo homer to tie the game up at one and a double with the bases loaded to give the Cards a 3-1 lead. Voit got removed in the ninth so the Cardinals could improve their defense by shifting Matt Carpenter over to first, but a 2-4 day is a pretty solid one any way you look at it.
That move in the ninth, though, does make you wonder just how this Voit experiment is going to pan out. After all, Carpenter isn’t any better than Voit over there, at least to the naked eye, but he’s been rough at second base, making three errors in four games over there after Friday’s action. However, you have to keep Carpenter’s bat in the lineup, or at least his eye. (Carpenter’s hitting just .221 with seven extra base hits in the 21 games he’s played since June 15, but he has a .409 OBP over that span.) So when Kolten Wong comes back, as he should right after the All-Star Break, whither Voit? He’s been a breath of fresh air, maybe not to the extent of Magneuris Sierra earlier in the year, but still something more than the same old same old. Yet it feels like he’s probably going back to Memphis, at least to start the second half. Which is a shame.
Goat: I hate to do it, but it’s probably fair to give Tyler Lyons this one. The Patron Pitcher of the Blog came in to start the seventh and gave up two hits (and a stolen base to Dee Gordon) before getting a strikeout and then being replaced by Brett Cecil. (Which, given the way Cecil is going, begs the question why he didn’t start the frame. I guess they were saving him for the eighth–he pitched that as well.) Cecil allowed Gordon to score, the first inherited runner he’s not stranded in quite some time, but got out of the rest of the mess.
I’ve noted this on Twitter and Allen and I talked about this last night on Meet Me at Musial, but I’m possibly the biggest Tyler Lyons fan there is but I’m not real excited about this move to make him the everyday guy like Matthew Bowman has been in the past. Lyons has always been either a starter or a long relief guy. Even earlier this year he was the guy coming in and pitching two, three innings in a stint, something that’s pretty valuable when the starters aren’t going deep. With Kevin Siegrist injured, though, it feels like Mike Matheny has shoved him into that mold whether he fits it or not.
Now, in fairness, he’s probably done better than I am thinking over this span. He last went multiple innings on June 26. Since that time, he’s appeared in seven games counting last night, thrown 4.2 innings, and has an ERA of 3.86. Of course, that doesn’t count runs he allowed for other folks and does count, like Thursday, runs that he left out there. He’s struck out six, walked two, and has a BAA of .222, so I guess it’s more me than anything, but it just feels like he has more trouble outings, like when he allowed runs on back-to-back days in this series, when he’s out there more often.
Notes: Even though it was the third day in a row for him to pitch, Seung-hwan Oh got the save in this one, though apparently Trevor Rosenthal was warming up behind him. While he walked one, he struck out two and looked a bit better than he has been. I never did see why Matheny went to Oh with no rest when Rosenthal had not pitched since Tuesday. Normally you would guess matchups or something but I don’t know what matchups would have led to an tired Oh being better than a less tired Rosenthal. It worked out, it was just strange.
Randal Grichuk had a home run, which may or may not have played a part in him staying in St. Louis when Friday’s moves were made. Probably not, but I guess you never know. Jedd Gyorko also had two hits, but for a guy that came in just reeling, Tom Koehler did a fairly good job of containing the Cardinal offense. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about what that means.
On the flip side, Michael Wacha again did OK. It wasn’t stellar, he didn’t get through six, but it wasn’t one of those three-four inning meltdowns that we’d been seeing. Wacha allowed two runs in 5.2 innings and Bowman got him out of a jam of his own creation, as with two down Wacha walked Ichiro Suzuki and J.T. Riddle to bring up Giancarlo Stanton as a pinch-hitter. Those were the only two walks of the day for Wacha and he struck out nine. I had a discussion on Twitter about how he needs to go deeper in games, which is fair especially with this bullpen scuffling, but if he can regularly go six and give quality starts, that’s not nothing. That’s basically what he’s done the last three times out. If he can keep that going, he’ll be OK. That’s a good-sized if, though.
Friday (6-5 loss to New York)
Hero: Jedd Gyorko. Two for three, with a home run and a sacrifice fly, which accounted for the only non-solo-homer run the Cardinals could muster last night.
Goat: Carlos Martinez. Allen and I discussed this as well on Musial, but there were a lot of people criticizing Martinez as not being an ace after his last couple of performances. I guess maybe it depends on your definition of the term–is he one of the top five pitchers in baseball? Probably not. Is he the best pitcher on his team? Yes. Is there middle ground? Yes. Does he reach that? There’s the discussion–but it’s not surprising that a 25-year-old starter is going to have some inconsistencies. We throw around the names Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw, but those guys are older and it took them a while to mature to their automatic status. (Well, maybe not Kershaw, who had a 1.83 ERA in his age 25 season and had already lead the league in ERA twice before that.)
That being said, when your team needs to sweep a series to reach .500 at the break and get a little momentum going, when they expect you to keep the game close against a quality pitcher in Jacob deGrom, you need to do better than five runs in five innings. Martinez started the game off with the bases loaded and nobody out and it took a Grichuk outfield assist to keep it at 1-0 after the first frame. He then gave up a solo shot to Jose Reyes in the second. The Cards come back and tie, but he gives up two more runs. The Cardinals tie it up again, and he immediately allows a home run to Jay Bruce. If nothing else, come out with a shutdown inning before breaking the tie!
Martinez is in a bit of a slump and perhaps the All-Star Break, when he can go and hang out with other players, will be the break and the rejuvenation he needs. I don’t expect a second-half run at all, but if there’s going to be anything entertaining about July-September, Martinez is likely going to need to provide it.
Notes: Solid job by the bullpen last night. John Brebbia wound up giving up the deciding run, but it was unearned as the runner reached on a Carpenter error. All three baserunners Carp has allowed to reach via flub have come around to score, which is small sample luck to some degree but it surely doesn’t sit well when you read it.
If you hit four home runs off of deGrom, you’d think you’d have a good chance to win the game. The problem was that, until Paul DeJong (who had three hits, including that homer) singled to lead off the fifth, the only four hits they had were homers. The problem with the singles was they kept getting erased on double plays. The team actually wound up with 10 hits, but couldn’t get much going at all save for those solo shots.
Before the game, Dexter Fowler was activated and Jose Martinez was sent down to Memphis. Given that earlier in the week Fowler was having trouble putting on shoes because of the heel pain, it was surprising to see him ready to go this quickly. (He hit one of the homers last night, so I guess he’s doing fairly well.)
Fowler’s return meant someone had to go and most expected it to be Grichuk but, just a day after hitting third in the lineup, it was Martinez heading down the road. Which makes you wonder even more about lineups, but that’s a different topic. The fact that Grichuk not only stayed but played in the game while Tommy Pham, Human Sparkplug sat got a lot of folks worked up.
I will admit that Matheny probably should have been a little more political about this, playing Pham last night and sitting him today. There’s no doubt that Pham, who as we all know has an extensive injury history, has played hard for a long stretch. He could use a day off even before the All-Star Break comes and gives him four days as well. Given that Pham is back in today’s lineup at the expense of Fowler, it really seems like it was more rest than anything.
That said, Allen made a great point last night. He was hoping to see the best possible lineup out there, to show some urgency at trying to get to the break at .500. If you lose last night with Pham, it’s easier to sit him down today. We’ve talked and talked about the team needing an edge, needing a push, and getting back to break even on Sunday could have been a great chance to set that tone, even if it didn’t work out.
As for Grichuk, I do think he’s not going back to Memphis, that this is his time. If he doesn’t make it work, they’ll probably find him another organization. I could well be wrong about this, but I think Grichuk has done all he can in Memphis. He’s got to make those adjustments stick in the big leagues. It could also be that some other team is already looking at him and the Cards didn’t want to damage his trade value by sending him down yet again. All in all, especially since Grichuk has hit five homers since he returned (though the slash line is .216/.273/.549, which shows he still needs work), Martinez being the one sent out wasn’t a huge surprise.
The best the Cards can hope for is two games under .500 at the break. They are already six out, which is the furthest they’ve been behind all year long. It’d be nice to see Adam Wainwright give them one of those patented home starts today and bring a little hope back to the break. He’s up against Zack Wheeler, who has had his own problems this year, so maybe the offense will help old Uncle Charlie out. Wainwright versus the Mets:
The only Cardinal Wheeler has seen is Gyorko, who is 0-3 with three strikeouts against him. Matheny’s not going to let that small sample deter him, though, as Gyorko is hitting fourth in today’s lineup. Wheeler hasn’t gotten through the fourth in his last three starts, so hopefully that will continue today!