If the series against the Cubs could have just stopped after the top of the eighth Saturday, I think folks would feel a whole lot better about this team. It didn’t and they don’t. In so many years a squad just 4.5 out at this point in July would have some hope, some optimism around it. There are extenuating circumstances with this club, however, most notably the fact that they are four games under .500. It’s hard to get excited about this team at all. Would it be different if this organization had a different history, a different expectation level? Would a town like San Diego be fired up, even with the flaws of this squad, if they could have them? There’s no doubt that expectations play a huge role in what has become an ugly, disappointing summer. I want to talk more about that, but first let’s look at the last two games.
Saturday (3-2 loss)
Hero: Adam Wainwright. The linescore shows that he went 7.2 innings and allowed two runs, which is a great line in and of itself. What it doesn’t show is just how amazing it was to see him put up zero after zero in the first seven frames, matching Jon Lester who was working on a perfect game until the last batter of the sixth inning when Wainwright himself ended it with a solid single. Wainwright is never going to be a Cy Young candidate again and there’s no guarantee or even expectation that he won’t slip again this season, but right now he’s proving there still is something left in the tank and that running him out there still gives the Cardinals a solid chance to win.
Goat: I don’t know here, honestly. I know a lot of people would give it to Matthew Bowman or Brett Cecil for their role in letting the lead slip away. That said, they didn’t exactly get hit hard, even facing the meat of the order. Heck, a slightly better throw from Tommy Pham or Yadi actually corralling it and we could have gone to the ninth ahead. Broken bats and flares won that game (and helped the Cubs out Sunday night as well). So do you blame a guy that made the pitches he wanted to and just got beat?
Actually, I think I will give the tag to Yadier Molina. I don’t know that he could have done much on that throw, but it feels like in the past he’d have at least caught it and at least had a chance at a play. Couple that with his 0-3, passed ball, two strikeouts, two left on day and I think he had the worst day, but he had a lot of competition. He did reach base with a hit by pitch, though.
Notes: This game is probably lost because of all the bullpen issues from this season. You never know with Mike Matheny and his loyalty to his starters, but if you have a good Trevor Rosenthal and Seung-hwan Oh in the bullpen, I’d like to think Wainwright never starts the eighth or at least is replaced after Jon Jay singled with one out. With limited trust in his ‘pen, though, Matheny stuck with Wainwright, who almost got out of things but then allowed a double to Ben Zobrist, scoring Jay and putting the tying run on second for his reliever, Bowman.
Even with Rosenthal’s issues, there’s a strong argument he should have been out there sometime in the eighth. There are not a lot of strikeout guys out there in the Cardinal bullpen and, with the tying run on second, you don’t want to risk contact if you can help it. Bowman is a fine guy, but you don’t think of him as that strikeout artist. He wasn’t and it cost them.
It’s interesting that Rosenthal didn’t come in Friday, even after they got the big lead, nor did they go to him Saturday. He didn’t play last night either. Matheny in the past has been big on “get them back on the horse” after a bad outing. I guess the mental lapse of not covering first doesn’t count. Again, there are good reasons for not using him Friday. I could even understand somewhat not using him last night, given the game situations. Not using him here in the eighth is a little less defensible. Rosenthal’s been no lock–we could easily be having the same discussion if he had been used–but that’s probably still the best option.
The swings in this game were so dramatic that it made it so hard to swallow. Lester has that perfect game almost through six. He gets through seven with no runs. He hits Yadi to lead off the eighth but then Luke Voit hits into a double play. It feels like they are never going to break through. Then Paul DeJong, with two strikes, goes yard and Randal Grichuk follows with a home run. All of the sudden, with a display of power, the Cardinals are up 2-0. You can dream about them being just a half game behind the Cubs and, if the Brewers could lose that evening, 2.5 out of first. Maybe they really could make a run!
To go from that to a loss in basically ten minutes is a tough pill to swallow. It’s a loss that could stick with you, if it wasn’t for the fact that with all these bullpen losses (20 on the year, it seems) they kinda run together. As Tara pointed out on Gateway last night, if only five of those 20 losses were flipped, this is a first place team. There’s still no obvious solution to this problem, however.
Sunday (5-3 loss)
Hero: Randal Grichuk. As I said on Twitter last night, if the idea in bringing up Grichuk after such a short rehab assignment was to showcase him and raise his trade value, I think it worked. Grichuk homered for his third straight game since returning and had another hit as well.
Goat: Michael Wacha. It was a bad time to have the struggling Wacha return to the field. Wacha actually started off strong, but ran into trouble in the third, negating Grichuk’s two-run homer, then immediately allowed the Cubs to tie up the game in the fourth after Paul DeJong had put the Cards back on top with a blast. He was still out there in the sixth and gave up the two-run blast to Willson Contreras (who now has an OPS of 1.030 against St. Louis this season on the back of five homers, so yes, he IS always killing the Cards) that proved to be the deciding factor. It wasn’t the worst we’ve seen Wacha–I mean, he went six instead of giving all this up in just two or three innings–but it wasn’t great either.
Notes: People have done a lot of comparing of DeJong and Grichuk. Those comparisons are only going to get stronger if they keep hitting home runs in the same games. I’m fine with that if they want to keep it up, by the way.
It’s been a little while since Cardinal baserunning played a role in a loss, but you could make some arguments it was an issue last night. It started off in the very first inning, as Matt Carpenter reached on an error, then tried to score from first on a double by Jedd Gyorko. I actually didn’t watch any of the game last night, working up the Greatest Cardinal Moment Tournament posts that will be coming your way later today, but I saw the clip and heard the comments. We’ve not had any egregious outs at home since Mike Shildt took over from Chris Maloney, but this broke that streak. Carpenter was out at home by a mile and wound up tweaking something as he contorted himself trying to slide. Carpenter would actually come out of the game after playing the bottom of the first and we’ll see if it’s anything more than a day-to-day issue.
You also had, in the second, Wacha try to lay down a bunt with Kolten Wong at first base. It’s a little early to be playing for one run there, but I also know it’s pretty standard place for a sacrifice. I don’t think it’s like Matheny trying to bunt someone to second with nobody out or even moving the runner over with someone that’s not the pitcher. Unfortunately, Wacha botched the bunt and it turned into a double play. There’s no guarantee Luke Voit, who would have been coming up next with Carpenter out, would have been able to do anything but it’d have been nice to find out.
(By the way, someone on Twitter said the Cardinals improved because Voit replaced Carpenter. Voit is one for his last twelve with a walk and four strikeouts. This is just a representation of something I want to talk about at the end of this post, but it was patently untrue.)
In the fourth, Yadier Molina was caught stealing, right in front of what turned out to be DeJong’s solo homer. I did see someone ponder whether that was a missed sign, that Yadi thought it was a hit-and-run, but putting on a play like that with a guy like DeJong (a big strikeout candidate) and Molina (slower than Christmas molasses) would be a terrible idea and I hope that Matheny didn’t actually do that. I appreciate Yadi’s desire to try to “make something happen” but if that something requires speed, let’s leave it to someone else on the roster. (I don’t know necessarily who, but just not Molina.)
Seung-hwan Oh made his second appearance in this series, striking out two in his inning of work, and Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons handled the eighth with no excitement. Still, there’s no sense of certainty when many of these names are called into the game. If the Cards could make one move at the deadline–and I’m not sure they’ll be able to–a solid ninth inning option would possibly be the best thing they could do.
The Cardinals go back to St. Louis most likely a quiet bunch. A late night loss will do that, especially when this weekend started out so promisingly. They sit 4.5 back, since Milwaukee also lost yesterday, but the Cubs are now tied with the Brewers for first place and, as has been the case for about a week now, Pittsburgh sits in the way between St. Louis and the top teams. It’s not a good look, especially with Colorado and Arizona, who as of today would be the teams making up the wild card game, coming into Busch.
There’s no doubt that this season has taken its toll on the fanbase, which is why I want to write something that might not be all that popular with some people that I consider friends and good baseball people. The good thing is that, this far down, it’s pretty unlikely anyone will actually see it. When I wrote up the Frustration Level Index post, I actually addressed this in level Rasmus.
Warning signs: the level-headed or positive folks are the minority, social media is even more negative than normal, significant empty sections can be found at Busch Stadium.
And given how bad the Drew level is, I still think we are at Level Rasmus. If they got 10 or so games out, we might slip to Drew, but Drew is more about apathy, I think, and there’s too much angst and bitterness right now to talk about apathy.
Benjamin Franklin said if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. Which is probably the best description of dealing with social media, especially Twitter, that you can find. While there are rational, engaging, and thought-provoking discussions on the medium, there’s also a lot of shoot-from-the-hip, go extreme, general negativity. That’s what it’s known for, in certain circles, and it’s not surprising that you’ll deal with that in Cardinal fandom as well.
This Tweet from StlCardsCards–not one you usually look to for sanity, clarity, and guidance–is a good starting point for me to try to say a few things.
This last week rivals the 2015 NLDS for the least rational I’ve seen Cards Twitter. It’s a sad, horrible look from people I respect.
— CardsCards (@StlCardsCards) July 24, 2017
Let me be clear up front. I am not saying that everyone needs to put on their red-colored glasses, that they need to say everything is hunky-dory when it isn’t, that they need to be leading a parade for this sub-.500 squad. Critiques, laments, problem-solving, all of that is a perfectly legitimate approach to any season, whether it is successful or not. What I feel like I see on Twitter (and it may be on Facebook and other mediums as well, but Twitter is the one that I deal with the most) is a couple of things: a negativity feed-back loop and the borrowing of trouble or situations.
If you are looking from the outside in, you might wonder how Carpenter, much beloved even back in the spring, could now be considered Public Enemy Number 1 (or 2, depending on if the person puts more blame on the manager) among a significant segment of the fanbase. While Carpenter’s obviously played into it with baserunning errors and the like, it’s also because it feels like there’s a group (and the group continues to expand) that feed off of each other. One person says Carpenter’s a problem, another agrees, which emboldens a third to go even farther. Any good that Carpenter does is ignored or minimized, and everyone just plays off of each other until we get to the point where we think a rookie with 23 games under his belt is now a better option than a guy with an .827 OPS.
It’s not just Carpenter, of course. More and more players are coming into this negative zone. There’s a portion that have already turned on Dexter Fowler. Many don’t care for Randal Grichuk–heck, I saw a Tweet that seemed to downgrade him and DeJong last night after they didn’t come through in the ninth, even though the whole reason the Cardinals had runs at all in the game was because of their bats. What have you done for me lately, indeed. (I’ll admit I might have misinterpreted the Tweet, but that’s surely how it appeared to me.) And, of course, Mike Matheny has had this happening to him for years. It’s like a black hole with these guys–if they do good, it gets sucked into the void and never seen again.
Again, there are legitimate complaints with these guys at times. I don’t know why Fowler almost ran over Tommy Pham in Friday’s game, but he was fairly elasticized for that. Calling his contract a loss already, though, seems to be a bit extreme. There are some that have done that, though. Some have done that with Stephen Piscotty and his extension. Things are never going to get any better until the whole front office is cleared out. No half measures! Nobody can do anything right.
Well, unless you are Tommy Pham. And that’s pretty fair! Pham has worked hard, come through in big moments, and been a huge part of this team. Yet I feel like if Grichuk or Fowler had made the exact same throw Pham did on Saturday, there’d been a whole lot more criticism of “Well, that throw HAS to be made” than there was for Pham (at least that I saw–there may have been some saying that and I missed it). I get that Pham has built himself up a reservoir of good will, but that doesn’t mean his errors can’t be pointed out as well.
All of that is well and good, but I don’t think that’s what bothers me the most out of Cardinal fandom right now. It’s not too surprising to see people down on players and for those sorts of people to congregate together and multiply that feeling. What bothers me the most is that we are assuming facts not in evidence on these guys. We assign them characteristics that may or may not be true and accept them as gospel.
Tara and I talked about this last week and Allen and I did as well, but the idea that any of these players are lazy and selfish is ridiculous to me. Maybe they are, but you can’t prove that by what they are doing on the field. You can’t prove that by where they hit in the lineup. You can’t prove that by basically any other way than being in the clubhouse and nobody on Twitter has that access. People see what they want to see, what will help confirm their already notable bias. Matt Carpenter starts hitting better in the leadoff spot? Such a diva. Can’t do anything else. Don’t factor in that Carpenter himself said that his swing was coming around before the move and he knew folks would associate that improvement with leading off. (He said that the day the lineup changed, not after the fact.) Mike Matheny didn’t smile after a Tommy Pham home run? He hates Pham and really wishes he wouldn’t do as well. Never mind the fact that Tony La Russa hardly ever cracked a smile on a Albert Pujols longball and I’d say TLR loved Albert like a son. Or the fact that Pham’s homer changed the game calculus and Matheny would need to be thinking ahead.
We complain that Grichuk is going to come up and take Pham’s job. We complained that there was no way Jedd Gyorko would keep his spot in the lineup when Jhonny Peralta returned because Peralta was one of Mike’s guys and he’s going to play. We gripe that Magneuris Sierra keeps going back down to develop when he could be playing in the big leagues, ignoring that he has two errors and one other misplays in his limited time in the bigs. It’s like we think we know something the front office is blind to. Let me be blunt: we don’t. There’s a reason they are getting paid to be in baseball and we are sitting around on a free Internet site.
I don’t think I’ve necessarily expressed my frustrations well here and if I’ve done so clumsily and inartfully enough that it’s caused hurt feelings, I apologize. I’m just tired of seeing people that I like and I think know a lot about the game fall into this pit of misery and not do anything but continue to dig the hole. I don’t know, honestly, why they keep watching and talking about it when it doesn’t seem to be giving them any joy at all. Take some time off. Watch the old DVDs of when the game was apparently more of what you wanted. Pick it back up next season when the club is fresh and maybe some of the players causing you such grief are no longer here.
Otherwise, may I suggest looking for the positives in the situations and in the players you aren’t liking. I am not saying that you have to change your mind, that you have to get on the Grichuk bandwagon or nominate Matheny for the Cardinals Hall of Fame. Just be willing to cheer when they do something or at least not come down immediately (or even beforehand) when they do something wrong. Take a breath and let’s see if we can take some of the darkness out of whatever critiques we throw the Cardinals way. And, if you see me doing it, be sure to point it out to me so I can do the same!
It would be nice if we had a great game tonight to lift a lot of spirits, but for that to happen we have to hope that Mike Leake can handle the Rockies. Leake is apparently feeling tired from his shingles bout last year. I am not a medical person at all and I could maybe see how that would be an issue, but it’s strange that it’s come on now rather than at the beginning of the year, when he was so sharp and strong. Maybe it’s sapped his strength and endurance and the longer the season has gone on, the less he’s been able to recover. Whatever the case, the last few games have been pretty ugly. Actually, looking at the game log, he’s been alternating good starts and bad, so maybe this will be a good one!
Going against Leake is Antonio Senzatela. You know, the guy that shut down the Cardinals for eight innings in Coors Field, allowing just five hits? It’s still easily his longest outing of the season. Senzatela has actually been in the bullpen of late, but his last time out was a start against the Padres. He went five innings, allowed four runs (one was unearned), and gave up four hits and three walks. You’d like to think that maybe the club could get to him, maybe draw some walks. We’ll see if the fact that the Cardinals saw him earlier this year will help them out at all.
As mentioned, the Greatest Cardinal Moment Tournament kicks off its third week this morning and afternoon with some interesting postseason moments and one powerful regular season one. Be sure to check back and vote!