An Upbeat End To a Downbeat Half

If Mike Leake had been more like the Mike Leake we’d seen much of this year against the Marlins or if Carlos Martinez had been more like himself on Friday, the Cardinals would have managed, with all the problems, angst, and miserable play so far, to reach the All-Star Break at .500.  Which isn’t exactly a huge achievement, mind you, but it would have been something given where they’ve been since those heady few days when they led the division in May.

That’s looking at the negative, though.  St. Louis wound up winning the last two games against the Mets, giving them a nice little boost as they head into the break.  They even tied the Cubs for second place and, given the fact the Cubs had games this week when Jon Jay pitched and when they gave up ten runs in the first inning–those were different games!–you could argue they’ve got more momentum heading into the second half and, if Milwaukee stumbles like most expect, they could be the ones to capitalize.  That’s the dream, at least.

There’s no Cardinal baseball until Friday, which is either a good or bad thing depending on your current mindset about the team.  Before we take the break, there are two games to look over.

Saturday (4-1 win)

Hero: Paul DeJong.  If there’s someone hotter than DeJong at the plate, I don’t know who it is.  4-4 in this game with a home run and three doubles, driving in two of the four runs.  He was 9-12 in this series against the Mets with four doubles, three homers, and four RBI.  Over his last 15 games he’s slashing .385/.411/.731 with four longballs.  As I mentioned last night on Gateway, the real test for DeJong could come next week when the Cardinals face the Mets.  That will be the first team to see him twice, especially in close succession.  Will they be able to make adjustments to him?  Will he be able to make adjustments back?  It’s great to see the young guys succeed but the key is seeing them adapt.

Goat: Randal Grichuk.  It was said earlier that at some point Grichuk has to sink or swim.  Right now, it feels like he’s taking on a lot of water.  He was 0-4 in this one with two strikeouts and five left on base.  Since his return from Memphis, he’s got a .196/.250/.500 line.  When he hits the ball, it’s hard–five homers and two doubles in his 11 hits–but he just doesn’t hit it all that often (20 strikeouts in 60 plate appearances).  That slash line gets worse if you take out the first two games when much of the damage was done (.152/.220/.391).  If this final chance is why he stayed up instead of Jose Martinez, he’s not exactly seizing it by the throat.  You do wonder how much rope he has.

Notes: Adam Wainwright was at home and so did those things we associate with Adam Wainwright at home.  One earned run in 6.2 innings with only five hits allowed and seven strikeouts.  He did allow more flyouts (6) than groundouts (5), so you still have those worries that balls will be carrying when he goes on the road, which he’ll do in his first two starts of the second half, facing the Mets again in New York followed by the Cubs in Wrigley.  If it wasn’t for those six runs against Miami (and that was at Busch!), you might start thinking (like we did earlier in the year) that Wainwright is back.  I’m still going to be holding my breath on these road starts especially, but really on any of them.

Perhaps Mike Matheny didn’t switch bullpen roles after all.  Even though he’d pitched three of the last four days, Seung-hwan Oh was the one coming in to get the save.  Trevor Rosenthal did finish up the game on Friday (which obviously wasn’t a save situation as the Cards lost) but in theory he could have come in on back-to-back days.  Looking at his game log, though, it seems like that is just a theory.  He did come into two consecutive games in Arizona, though he allowed runs in both of them.  (I’m wondering if those games changed his standing in the manager’s mind.)  You’d have to go back to the beginning of June to find a similar working situation.  Rosie did this a few times in May and had no problems, so I’m not sure what the deal is here, besides the fact that apparently Oh is back to being the closer.

And, honestly, Oh seems to have been more effective in July, allowing just one run in 4.2 innings since the calendar turned.  He’s struck out six and walked just one in that span as well, so maybe he’s made some adjustments.  His year seems to have gone in waves, where he’ll be good for a while, then struggle for a while, then be good for a while, so it could be that we are just at the crest of another wave.

Luke Voit continued his nice run as well, getting two hits and a walk, and Yadier Molina had two knocks as well.  Matt Carpenter continued to draw walks (two) but had a hit to add in there with them.  It was a double and it was his 500th career hit, so congratulations to him.  That was also his first extra-base hit of the month.  You have to go back to June 24 for a home run out of him.  Since that home run, for an arbitrary endpoint, he’s slashing .244/.410/.333.  It feels like getting on base is the biggest focus for Carpenter.  Which is a laudable goal–you’ve got to get runners on to score, basically–but if he’s going to be the key to this offense, he’s got to do more than walk, doesn’t he?  I’ve been down that road before, so there’s no need to rehash it, but it just feels like his skill set is valuable to a team, but it can’t be the centerpiece.

Sunday (6-0 win)

Hero: Lance Lynn.  I could easily have put Tommy Pham here, what with his three-for-three day with a home run and two RBI.  However, seeing Lynn go out and throw seven scoreless innings was such a nice change from the Lynn we’ve seen of late.  Three hits and just one walk, though he only struck out two.  He got a couple of double plays behind him, got some support, and could just cruise, basically.

If nothing else, that probably helped his trade value a little bit.  The Cardinals announced the rotation coming out of the All-Star Break and Lynn will go on Saturday against the Pirates.  His start after that will be Thursday in New York.  It’s possible that this was the last time Cardinal fans saw Lynn take the hill in Busch Stadium as a member of the Cardinals, as his next start in Busch would be against Colorado on July 25.  If the Cardinals are going to trade him–which is no guarantee, especially if the next couple of weeks bring them closer to Milwaukee–they could do it before that start.

Goat: Jedd Gyorko.  He did drive the first run of the game in with a groundout, but on the day was 0-4 with two strikeouts.  Gyorko’s hitting .273 with one homer in July with back-to-back hitless games finishing up the first half, so he might well be happy with the days off.  He’s on pace for a career high in plate appearances, and his current career high was back when he was a rookie.  He’s not been over 458 since then and he’s currently at 305.  How he handles the workload in the second half may be something to keep an eye on.

Notes: Pham had his big day, but then left the game late with hip soreness.  It doesn’t sound too severe–though with Pham’s injury history, anything will get you concerned–but it sounds like the break may have come at a real good time for him to heal up and be ready to go in the second half.

DeJong and Voit added into the power surge, both having home runs as well as Pham.  DeJong added a single as well.  There’s no doubt that the young guns have provided a spark to the club, even if the record overall doesn’t show it.  Whether they’ll be able to do this in the second half, like we talked about above with DeJong, is still debatable.

All in all, yesterday was just the kind of game we hoped to see out of St. Louis more often this season.  Solid pitching, some pop, and a nice easy win on a Sunday afternoon.  Yes, the Mets aren’t all that great, but the Cardinals went 8-5 playing Arizona, Washington, Miami, and New York.  It’s not a record that gets you all excited or makes you feel like this is a World Series contender by any means, but when their overall record has been under .500 since June 3, you take what you can get.

If you told us at the beginning of the season that this team at the break would be 1) tied for second place or 2) tied with the Cubs, I think most everyone would have taken that.  As Vanessa Williams once sang, “It’s not the way I hoped or how I planned, but somehow, it’s enough.”  I don’t know if it’s really enough, but there’s dreaming possibilities here.  If the Cardinals did make an impact trade, it might be enough to vault them past the Cubs and a Brewers team that you’d think would eventually come back to earth.  (There’s no guarantee on the latter–it could happen, but Milwaukee might be able to have enough to hold off folks.)

Of course, the All-Star Break of 2007 had a similar hope to it, even though the club was under .500.  That didn’t last long after play resumed again.  Hopefully this team is better than their counterparts from a decade ago, however.

Be sure to come back later this morning and then again this afternoon to vote in the opening matchups of the Greatest Cardinal Moment Tournament!

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