Right now, it feels like .500 is the Death Star and the Cardinals are the X-wings trying to take it down. Maybe one time a talented, gifted ship will sneak in and blow it up, but right now the Empire of Even keeps swatting away challengers. Two games, one win, one loss, against a team that’s ahead of you in the standings (and while the leader of the division is losing) is not exactly what screams “we’re making a run”. More like “we’re mired in muck”.
Wednesday (5-4 win)
Hero: Yadier Molina. We can talk about him being tired, we can talk about him stunting Carson Kelly‘s development (as Kyle and I did last night on a special Meet Me at Musial), we can talk about the fact he shouldn’t be hitting fifth, but we can’t deny the fact that there obviously is something left in the tank. Maybe he’s just been inspired by all the talk and the promotion of Kelly, who knows. Or maybe he just looks good compared to the rest of the lineup. In this one, he had three hits, a double and two home runs, to really lead the charge.
Goat: A tough day for the birthday boy. Not me–my birthday was fine, hanging out at home, watching Star Wars, having a great dinner–but Paul DeJong. DeJong went 0-5 with four strikeouts and four left on base. It turned out not to matter, but given the spottiness of the offense of late, it’s a bit of a surprise one of those runs left on didn’t come back to bite the team. Since the All-Star Break, DeJong’s hitting .211. It’s true that half of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases (three doubles, five homers) but 29 strikeouts in 80 plate appearances doesn’t just scream third-place hitter. DeJong’s going to have to continue to adjust and he’s not the All-Star level guy we saw earlier, but he’s still a good part of this team.
Notes: Jedd Gyorko did get a hit in this one, but when you combine his struggles with DeJong’s, it’s not surprising there’s a gap in the middle of this order. With the personnel that are available and how they are going, I don’t really know how you rework the lineup. With Zach Gifford’s work on Matt Carpenter, it surely looks like he needs to hit first. I understand the idea of Tommy Pham second, but when Dexter Fowler comes back I’d slip Fowler there and Pham to third. Maybe DeJong fourth, Gyorko fifth (assuming you can dynamite Molina out of there), Molina six, Kolten Wong seventh? Even though he’s struggling, it feels like Stephen Piscotty should hit higher than eighth. That may just prove that it’s not going to matter much who hits where, that there really aren’t the ideal pieces for a strong lineup.
We saw a very solid start out of Luke Weaver in this one. Weaver pitched into the seventh, although many would have probably pulled him after six and 92 pitches. Instead, Mike Matheny ran him back out there for the seventh (perhaps not really wanting to turn it over to the bullpen, although it feels like the ‘pen has been more consistent of late) and he got burned for another couple hits and a walk. The Cards had a 5-1 lead at the time, which probably also played into it. Weaver’s been really good in his two starts, that one bit of loss of control against Arizona notwithstanding, and even though Adam Wainwright is returning to the rotation Sunday in Cincinnati, it feels a shame that Weaver has to leave. Unfortunately, it looks like the only way you could keep Weaver up is to send down John Brebbia (though didn’t we decide Kevin Siegrist had an option year left?) and as much as Brebbia has outpitched his peripherals, it doesn’t feel like that’s a move they’d do. We’ll see what happens on Sunday, though.
Of course, it was Brebbia that about gave the game away in this one, so perhaps that removal is more likely. Sandwiched around a Travis Shaw strikeout was a double by Ryan Braun and a home run by Jesus Aguilar, who is quickly making a name for himself as a Cardinal killer, taking that role on the Brewers from our old Sith Lord friend Aramis Ramirez. Brebbia got another out before they went to the bullpen and got Trevor Rosenthal, who got the last four outs, striking out three and allowing just one hit in the ninth.
Speaking of Rosie, he’s crackling once again. Since that mental lapse in New York, he’s thrown 6.1 innings over four outings and struck out 12 while allowing no runs and a batting average of .143. Take it back to the beginning of July and he’s got a 1.32 ERA in 13.2 innings with 23 strikeouts and just three walks. I’m not saying that bad Rosie might not show up again, but right now when Rosenthal comes in with a lead, he’s going to leave with that lead and the ninth inning feels solved yet again.
Thursday (2-1 loss)
Hero: Kolten Wong. With DeJong getting a much-needed day off, Carpenter slipped down to the third spot and Wong got a day to lead off. He grabbed it, getting two hits, the only player that was able to get more than one.
Goat: Matt Carpenter. It is one game, and if it wasn’t for Zach’s work above, I’d definitely write it off as such. When you factor that in, though, seeing another 0-4, especially leaving three men on base in a one-run game, isn’t great.
Notes: Not much to say about this one. Michael Wacha started and was OK, though his high pitch count (and, let’s give credit where it is due, a little aggressiveness from Matheny) led to him being pinch-hit for in the top of the fifth. So four innings, one run, five strikeouts but three walks. Again, you’d like to see him be a little more efficient, but he has been for the most part of late. If this is a step back, it really is an acceptable one.
Again, it was somewhat impressive that Matheny hit for Wacha in the fifth, with a run in and runners on the corners, to go ahead and go to the pinch-hitter with what could have been (and probably was) the game on the line. I’m not sure that I’d have gone with Luke Voit in that situation, but there’s not a solid option at all so it’s fine. Voit has been struggling in his limited playing time, but there’s no high contact hitter on the bench. I mean, maybe you’d have seen Greg Garcia there but he was in the starting lineup covering for DeJong. Voit did make contact, but unfortunately it turned into a double play, snuffing the rally.
Not only was Garcia in the starting lineup, he was on base there having just driven in the only run of the game. It didn’t last, though, as Brett Cecil stumbled again, allowing a run on three hits after retiring the first two in the inning. Cecil got the third out and pitched another scoreless frame, but the damage was done. For some reason, Matt Garza was able to keep the Cardinals in check. Matt Garza. Just ponder that for a bit.
So it’s time to do our calculations again in the Race for 82. We’ve basically just cut two games off the schedule, so now the Cardinals need to go 29-25 to make it over .500 for the season. That remains a .537 winning percentage, the equivalent of an 87-win team. Given that the Cardinals have been over .500 after only 22 of their 108 games (20.4%), it’s really asking a lot for them to start stepping it up. Then again, maybe a boost from Memphis after the season will help them win some meaningless games.
If you still hold out any hope about this team, good for you, but also this weekend is a big deal. The Cardinals go into Cincinnati, a team much worse than they are on the season. The Reds are nine games worse than the Cardinals. They are 3-7 in their last 10. They are under .500 at home (though better there by a good margin than they are on the road). You throw Mike Leake tonight, Carlos Martinez tomorrow, and Adam Wainwright (who may have PTSD after his last outing in Cincy) on Sunday. You have to win the series. You really should sweep the series. The Cubs will be playing the Nationals, the Brewers the Rays. (You probably can’t expect help in the wild card race, given Colorado is facing the Phillies and Arizona the Giants.) If the Cards lose two of three here, there’s really no logical way to say this is a team that’s going to find themselves and start running through the schedule. There’s only a third of the season left. This is probably what this team is.
Leake goes against Asher Wojciechowski in the first game of the three game set. The last time Leake pitched in his old ballpark, he gave up two runs (but 10 hits) in five innings in a 5-2 loss. Leake sometimes scuffles against his old crew and especially in his old park, so that was a pretty solid outing that the team couldn’t help him out in. Of course, given the run of the offense right now, he might want to do even better tonight.
Wojciechowski has had an up and down year, both in levels (he’s spent a lot of time at AAA) and in roles (four starts earlier in the year, but the rest of his outings out of the pen, including all since his return a month ago). Of course, one of those starts, easily the best outing he’s had all year, came against the Cardinals in GABP. He gave up just two runs in six innings and beat Martinez for the win. Which if that doesn’t scream 2017, I don’t know what does.
Asher here has gone more than two innings once since his recall at the beginning of July, when he went five innings against the Nationals allowing just one run (though the Reds were down 5-0 before he came in). You’d like to think that the Cardinals could get to him if not early, at least in the middle innings of the game. Let’s gamble: I say they win tonight, win behind Carlos tomorrow and get back to .500. Who’s with me?