A Glorious Ray of Joy in a Cloudy Cardinals Season

2017 has not been anybody’s idea of a great season.  While it’s not a wasteland, it probably should be worse than it is, given the team hasn’t been over .500 since early June.  When we look back on this one, nobody is going to list this as one of their favorite years to watch St. Louis Cardinals baseball.

No matter how bad it’s been, no matter how bad it gets–and I don’t really think I’m exaggerating–the eighth inning of Friday’s game in Wrigley will stand as a glorious, shining moment of happiness.  We can cling to that and bathe in its warmth for a long time to come.

Down 3-2, this is that eighth inning:

Matt Carpenter led off the frame with a double.  Which was big even by itself, because having the tying run on second with nobody out after challenging in the seventh to tie it up meant that the momentum hadn’t been completely spoiled.

Tommy Pham walked after being down 1-2 in the count.

Dexter Fowler walked to load the bases.  That was all for Carl Edwards Jr., who had a nice 0.0 mark in the innings pitched column but was about to have a few runs tacked on to his ERA anyway.

Jedd Gyorko had a great at-bat.  He got down 1-2 swinging at sliders and fastballs away, then laid off three such pitches to draw a walk and drive in the tying run.

Paul DeJong looked like he was going to end a good thing, getting down 0-2, but then he made contact for the first time since Carpenter, driving a ball just a foot or so away from being a grand slam.  Two runs score, runners are on second and third, and the Cardinals have a lead for the first time on the afternoon.

Kolten Wong walked on five pitches to reload the bases.

Randal Grichuk, who had homered earlier and seems to always have a good game when he returns from the minors, flared a single that drove in Gyorko and left the bases loaded.

–The Cubs had seen enough of Hector Rondon at this point, meaning they had back-to-back pitchers go multiple batters without getting an out.  That can’t happen very often at all.  Justin Grimm comes in (spurring a ton of Grimm jokes) and Carson Kelly takes his third pitch and somehow comes even closer to a slam than DeJong did without getting one.  Two more runs score, making the score 8-3.

Luke Voit pinch-hit for the pitcher and was the ninth man to bat in the inning.  He walked on five pitches, again loading the bases.

–Carpenter gets his second at-bat of the inning and singles, rotating the carousel.

–Pham comes up and singles over what looked like a middle infield that might have been in for the double play or something.  Two runs score there and Carpenter moves on to third.

All of that without anybody out.  Like a lot of things in baseball, when it ends it ends quickly.  Fowler sharply grounded to first where Anthony Rizzo made a good play, then saw Carpenter caught in no-man’s land and threw to third to get him there.  (While it seems it was another example of Carpenter’s baserunning, odds are he’d have been out at either base and given the way the inning was going, it’s not surprising he was stunned that Fowler actually got out.)  Gyorko walked again to put two on but DeJong struck out swinging to finally end the frame.

This also doesn’t talk about all the pitches that Willson Contreras had to snag that went high or balls that went to the bricks that he got to before someone could advance.  If it was all one pitcher doing this, perhaps it made sense, but nobody the Cubs brought in seemed to be comfortable or in control out there.  Which was so much fun to watch.

It would have been a fun inning no matter where it had happened, but to do it against the Cubs, who were coming off that 6-0 road trip feeling like world beaters, makes it even better.  When we nominated games for Game of the Year on the Cardinal Blogger Awards this season, my bet is this one will be on the list.

Before that big inning, it looked like this was going to be another one of those heartbreaking losses and, when combined with everything else, could have been a tell on which way the Cards were going to go here at the deadline.  Carlos Martinez started and allowed a two-run homer in the first, which against Jake Arrieta could have been a deal breaker.  Instead, Grichuk homered and Fowler doubled in a run and the Cardinals tied it back up.  Unfortunately, Rizzo broke that tie in the fifth and that’s where we were when the floodgates opened.

Martinez wound up with six innings and just two earned runs, though he allowed 10 base hits (and one unearned run) in his time out there.  Obviously you always want your ace to go seven scoreless or something like that, but once Martinez settled in he wound up being as effective as we are used to.  While there are a number of times this year that the Cardinals have blown a great outing from him and he’s not gotten a win, at least this time he didn’t wind up with a tough loss on his record.

So many options for the Hero, what with that inning and all, but I’ll go with Dexter Fowler.  He produced even outside of the eighth and had three hits and a walk overall.  For the Goat, I guess Kolten Wong, even though he walked twice.  He didn’t get any hits and didn’t drive in any runs, but I still feel bad for giving him this award.

The bullpen was pretty good here.  Zach Duke made his return from Tommy John surgery in what must be close to record time and got the first two outs of the seventh without incident, which makes you hope that the Cardinals finally really have a lefty specialist, because even with three lefties on the roster before him, they didn’t really have that guy.  Matthew Bowman finished up the seventh and then vultured a win.  Kevin Siegrist pitched a dominant eighth with two strikeouts, continuing to subvert expectations from his rehab, and then Seung-hwan Oh pitched the ninth.  Oh didn’t look great–he wound up giving up a run on two hits–but an error by Carpenter played into that.  Without the error, I think he might have gotten through unscathed.  Still, it seems very dicey to throw him in games that are close.  Thankfully this one wasn’t.

Some of the pregame comments seem to have been overlooked by the glow of that game, but after all the roster moves and the trade yesterday (which we talked about at the end of our last post so I don’t want to rehash them here), John Mozeliak addressed the media and basically called everyone out.  He said everyone–and by everyone, he even invoked Bill DeWitt Jr.’s name–is frustrated by the losing but more so the culture and attitude.  Some of the more biting comments:

“When you look at this group right now and talk about attitude and culture, you pointed to a game like yesterday. Is everybody OK with that?” Mozeliak said. “Are those kinds of mistakes just going to be like, eh? Then, it’s like, ‘Get your paycheck and go home.’ And to me, that’s a very scary place to be if that’s where the mindset is. Because it’s certainly not mine.

“Some of this has to fall on the responsibility of the player, right? I’m the last person to sit in front of you guys today and say that we have this figured out, because clearly we don’t. But I have been doing it long enough to know that accountability has to be across the board. I feel like I’m not going to make excuses for people or players. Everybody points the finger upstairs to try and find the solution or the move. Well, maybe 25 [players] need to look in the mirror.”

While Mo is being tough on the players, he’s also talked a lot about the culture.  Well, when you talk about culture I think you are indirectly targeting one major figure there.  Allen and I talked about this on Meet Me at Musial last night, but I think Mike Matheny‘s job is in more jeopardy than it ever was before.  I do not think he’ll be fired in-season–honestly, would that make the difference this year or cause needless confusion and anxiety?–but this offseason is going to be very interesting if the Cardinals don’t make some late run.  I don’t know that he has the confidence as much of those in charge.  I know that Bill DeWitt III had good things to say about Matheny at the blogger event and I expect that they still like and respect Mike in general, but they may think that it’s time for a different voice in that clubhouse.

We’ll see, of course, but there’s no doubt that two years out of the playoffs and a team that’s basically .500 isn’t going to sit well with Cardinal fans when they go making their ticket plans for 2018.  There have to be some changes and it’s possible the manager will be one of them.

With Milwaukee going on a downward spiral after the All-Star Break, the standings are staying tight.  It’s been a while, so let’s take a pictorial look at them.

Even with all their issues, the Cards sit 3.5 back.  They have three teams to jump, of course, but that’s a tantalizingly close race.  3.5 is how far the second place teams (New York and Tampa Bay) are behind Boston in the AL East.  The AL Central is closer with Cleveland, Kansas City, and Minnesota all within 1.5 games, but when you look across baseball, you have to say St. Louis is right in this mix.  (Where they’d be if they’d won a couple of those late inning losses is kinda tough to think about.)  Here’s the games left against the division:

Team Games Left In Busch On Road
Chicago 9 4 5
Milwaukee 8 3 5
Pittsburgh 10 3 7

The Cardinals would have to play better on the road (they are four games under .500 right now) but they have plenty of chances to make up ground directly with the teams in that mix.  In some aspects, you wish the Cardinals would have make their trade before this series with the Cubs, but even after this weekend there are 25 games between the two teams, many in September.  A strong acquisition could make a big difference there.

Will the Cards make the moves?  I don’t know.  Mo said that he expected activity at the deadline, but it does take both sides to come to an agreement.  I don’t think St. Louis is quite desperate enough to just throw money and prospects until someone agrees.  They still want a good deal (though I don’t believe they have to “win the trade” by any means).  We’ll see how today and tomorrow go and hopefully next week will be filled with deals.

Adam Wainwright tries to keep his recent success alive.  Over his last five starts, he has a 3.52 ERA and batters are hitting .238 against him.  That includes that game against the Marlins when he allowed six (but had a big cushion to work with).  Other than that game, he’s not allowed more than two earned runs in any of those starts.  The last time he saw the Cubs, he threw seven scoreless at them and pitched well against them the first week of the season as well, but both of those were at Busch.  This will be his first time in Wrigley this year and given some of his flyball tendencies….let’s hope the wind is blowing in.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Anthony Rizzo 48 42 11 1 0 1 5 5 5 .262 .333 .357 .690 0 1 0 0 3
Jason Heyward 21 20 5 1 0 1 4 1 3 .250 .286 .450 .736 0 0 0 0 0
Javier Baez 14 13 2 0 0 0 1 0 3 .154 .154 .154 .308 1 0 0 0 0
Kris Bryant 13 12 2 2 0 0 2 1 1 .167 .231 .333 .564 0 0 0 0 0
Addison Russell 13 12 6 3 0 0 2 1 1 .500 .538 .750 1.288 0 0 0 0 0
Ben Zobrist 12 11 3 1 0 0 0 1 3 .273 .333 .364 .697 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Schwarber 9 7 0 0 0 0 0 2 3 .000 .222 .000 .222 0 0 0 0 0
Albert Almora 8 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 1
Jake Arrieta 7 7 2 0 0 0 0 0 4 .286 .286 .286 .571 0 0 0 0 0
Willson Contreras 7 5 2 0 0 1 3 2 2 .400 .571 1.000 1.571 0 0 0 0 1
Tommy La Stella 5 4 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 .500 .600 .500 1.100 0 0 0 0 0
Jon Lester 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Ian Happ 3 3 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 1.000 1.667 0 0 0 0 1
Jon Jay 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
John Lackey 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jose Quintana 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .000 .500 .000 .500 0 0 0 0 0
Total 172 155 38 9 0 3 17 15 31 .245 .310 .361 .671 1 1 0 0 6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/22/2017.

On the flip side we have Jon Lester.  Lester has a 4.07 ERA on the season, which isn’t exactly what you’d expect from the Cubs’ ace (though, given their starting rotation, maybe it’s not as surprising as we think).  His last time out was one run over seven against the Braves, but his two starts before the break were pretty rough, including that 10 run (four earned) explosion in less than an inning against the Pirates.  Lester has faced the Cardinals three times this year and has two no-decisions and a loss to show for it, as well as a combined line of 16.2 innings, 19 hits, eight runs (seven earned), 20 strikeouts, nine walks, 3.78 ERA.  He’s definitely hittable, but whether the Cards will do it or not remains to be seen.

vs. Batters Table
Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Yadier Molina 43 39 13 3 0 1 5 3 6 .333 .372 .487 .859 0 1 0 0 1
Matt Carpenter 42 38 6 1 1 0 2 3 11 .158 .214 .237 .451 0 1 0 0 1
Randal Grichuk 15 15 1 0 0 0 0 0 10 .067 .067 .067 .133 0 0 0 0 0
Jedd Gyorko 15 13 3 0 0 1 1 2 6 .231 .333 .462 .795 0 0 0 0 0
Kolten Wong 14 13 2 1 0 0 1 1 3 .154 .214 .231 .445 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy Pham 13 10 4 0 0 2 3 3 2 .400 .538 1.000 1.538 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Martinez 12 11 2 1 0 0 1 0 5 .182 .182 .273 .455 1 0 0 0 0
Dexter Fowler 9 6 1 0 0 0 0 3 2 .167 .444 .167 .611 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 7 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Greg Garcia 5 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .250 .000 .250 1 0 0 0 0
Jose Martinez 5 5 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 .400 .400 .400 .800 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Paul DeJong 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 188 167 35 6 1 4 15 16 55 .210 .276 .329 .605 3 2 0 0 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/22/2017.

This could be a pitching duel.  This could be a slugfest.  This could be any sort of game.  But if the Cardinals can win this one, maybe we dare to dream again.

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