They’ve weaved and bobbed, made runs and fallen back, but finally, last night, the Cardinals accomplished a goal that has eluded them for over two months. As Ray Kinsella would say, the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place.
The Cardinals, right now, can say they are actually a .500 team.
It feels wrong that this is a time of celebration, since most Cardinal teams of the recent past would have felt like .500 was a huge dropoff from where they should be, but when you’ve been as bad as this team has for so long, getting to the break-even mark feels like a big deal. Al Hrabosky last night kept saying they could get to even and then take off, but I think that’s probably asking much. Let’s just see if they can stay at or over .500 for a few days first.
So how did they get here? So glad you asked.
Friday (3-2 loss at Cincinnati)
Hero: Tommy Pham. Two hits, a run, and a stolen base. If he could just get that line drive rate up, he’d be elite. At least, according to him. Just what the internet needs, another argument about whether Player X is elite.
Goat: Stephen Piscotty. 0-4 with four men left on and a double play, which is really killer in a one run game. His demotion on Monday, while a bit surprising given external circumstances, made plenty of sense given the results on the field. Piscotty was hitting just .176 since his return from the disabled list and with his other struggles, a trip to Memphis to see if he couldn’t get a few things worked out is probably the best thing for him.
Notes: Mike Leake did what you’d expect Mike Leake to do. Three runs in six innings while striking out three and walking none. It was a very serviceable outing and if the offense had clicked even a little bit like it has the last couple of days, he’d have gotten a win. There was no reason while Asher Wojciechowski should have kept them in check as much as he did, but he and the Reds bullpen managed to do just enough for the win.
Good to see Carson Kelly get a start, though given the way Yadier Molina has been hitting of late, he may have to resign himself to just late inning appearances for a while. Molina had been clocked twice in the head on Thursday, so he needed the day off. Obviously he was hit hard enough to forget his Instagram password.
Saturday (4-1 win at Cincinnati)
Hero: Paul DeJong. The Cardinals only got four hits in this game, but DeJong made one of them count, smashing a two-run shot in the third to help overcome the early deficit. Kinda amazing, perhaps a bit sad that a guy that didn’t make his debut until May 28 leads the club in home runs. DeJong has cooled somewhat, but the power bat is still there.
Goat: Jedd Gyorko. 0-4, two strikeouts, three left on. Gyorko’s obviously scuffling and Mike Matheny is doing a smart thing by letting him rest more regularly. You also wonder if there’s some injury concern there. Gyorko’s been out the last two games and was only a mid-game substitute in the one before this one, so that’s three out of four games that he didn’t start. He’s already within 50 plate appearances of his total from last year, so maybe he is just worn down, but my feeling is there’s a little more to it.
Notes: Solid game by Lance Lynn. He gave up a run in the first, then shut down the Reds over the last five. Of course, knowing Lynn, I’m sure he’d say it was a good team win. It wouldn’t have happened if he’d struggled any more, though, given the lack of offense. Of course, I say lack of offense, but the Cardinals had plenty of baserunners. Sure, they only had four hits, but Cincinnati walked them seven times. They had opportunities but didn’t cash in as often as they could have. Lynn made sure that was OK.
The bullpen was outstanding in this one. Seung-hwan Oh went an inning, allowed a hit but that was all, and Trevor Rosenthal came in for a save that got a little dicey but it wasn’t entirely his fault. Rosie struck out the first batter, walked Scooter Gennett, then got a fly out for the second out. Devin Mesoraco then hit a smash to shortstop that Paul DeJong couldn’t come up with. With two on, though, Rosenthal just got Jose Peraza to ground out and picked up the save.
Between Oh and Rosenthal, though, might have been the pitching performance of the night by the Patron Pitcher. Tyler Lyons came in and was extremely nasty to three left-handed Reds, including Joey Votto. Lyons struck out all of them, freezing both Votto and Jesse Winkler and catching them looking. It really was some impressive pitching and I’m not just saying that because of his taste in numbers.
Sunday (13-4 win at Cincinnati)
Hero: So many offensive stars, but we’ll go with the one that had the biggest highlight, which was Jose Martinez. His grand slam erased any doubt, even with this Cardinal team, and he tossed in a double and a walk to boot.
Goat: With everyone clicking, it overshadowed the rough outing Adam Wainwright had. Which, in fairness, was less a rough outing than a rough first inning. Fresh off the DL, he could get anyone out, giving up a three-run home run to Joey Votto in the first and then loading up the bases with nobody out. He was the beneficiary of a slick double play from Matt Carpenter that kept a run from scoring, otherwise he might have been out of the game before the inning was over. Wainwright’s next two innings were fairly uneventful–just a walk in each one–but when you throw almost 50 pitches in the first inning, you aren’t going to be around long.
Notes: While it wasn’t a huge chore for them, especially when they had a 10 run lead most of the game, it was another solid outing from the bullpen, perhaps more so since they had to cover so many innings. Brett Cecil did most of it, going three frames and allowing no runs on three hits. John Brebbia was touched for a run in his two innings of work and Matthew Bowman, who many of us figured was going on the DL when Wainwright came off of it due to the fact that he’d not pitched since Tuesday, worked a perfect ninth. (We were close–Kevin Siegrist wound up being the DL move, bringing the bullpen back down to three lefties for a while.)
Huge offensive day. 16 hits and six walks. Paul DeJong had three hits and none of them were a home run. Kolten Wong had three hits, two runs scored, and an RBI. Yadier Molina had a couple of hits. Heck, even Stephen Piscotty pinch-hit and got a knock. You’d like to think that there was something that clicked on this team and they are going to start mashing, especially with Monday’s result, but Homer Bailey really has been bad this year. This was the fifth time he’s allowed six or more runs in a start and he’s only made nine starts on the season. His ERA after this one, where he was charged with 10 runs, is almost nine. He’ll show flashes of his old self, but something definitely is out of kilter with him.
Monday (11-3 win at Kansas City)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. It was a toss up between him and Kolten Wong, but I went with Carpenter because his three-run home run really sealed the deal. The Cards had scored three runs in the frame and had a 4-1 lead, but Carpenter’s blast made the game serious and, with Carlos Martinez going, you felt pretty solid that this was the night the wins equaled the losses. Carpenter also mixed in a double with his outing, giving him six total bases.
Goat: Given the offensive output, the Goat has to be Tommy Pham, the only starter without a hit. Pham did walk once, but he struck out twice and left two men on while not scoring or driving in anyone. Rough night for Tommy, who probably worked out extra long after the game to make up for it.
Notes: Another big offensive night. Mainly off of Ian Kennedy, who gave up seven of the runs in six innings. Kennedy was sharp early but started losing command and then the hits started to come. Of course, his season ERA now is climbing close to five and this is the second time in four starts he’s allowed five runs or more, with one other start being four runs in just four innings. Kennedy is better than Bailey, for sure, but it’s still not enough to make you think that this offensive surge is going to stick around. Of course, the Cardinals have been shut down by terrible pitchers often over the last couple of years, so maybe you can take some hope that they are at least getting to these guys.
Wong had four RBI–a two-run homer late to make it 11, a bases-loaded grounder that was kicked, and a sacrifice fly. Pretty productive for a 1-3 night!
Dexter Fowler came off the disabled list before this game as Stephen Piscotty was sent to Memphis as we mentioned before. Fowler wasted no time getting back to it, roping a triple that led to the team’s first run. That was his only hit, but he did walk once and score. At least with Piscotty getting shipped out that helps relieve some of the outfield crunch that would have been created with Fowler’s return. You’d think that after they get out of the AL park, the outfield will regularly be Pham, Fowler, and Randal Grichuk. Which isn’t the worst thing, really. (Grichuk was 1-4 in this one.)
Carlos Martinez was pretty, pretty, pretty good last night. He gave up a run in the second on a home run by Mike Moustakas, erasing the 1-0 lead he’d been handed, then got tagged later in the game after the Cards were up by six. Other than that, it was eight very effective innings with seven strikeouts and no walks. Thankfully he got the offensive support he deserved and those couple of mistakes didn’t come back to haunt him at all.
So now the Cardinals are at 56-56. That means 50 games remaining, so the Race for 82 math is pretty easy. They just have to go 26-24 the rest of the way, a .520 winning percentage. That’s an 84-win team rate, which is quite reasonable for these guys. The August schedule is kind of a mixed bag, with some teams like Atlanta and San Diego but also with teams like Boston, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh. September’s a little better and especially with call-ups and the like, winning 26 more games seems doable.
That doesn’t necessarily help with the division though. The Cubs won last night, the Brewers didn’t. St. Louis stays 3.5 back, which seems reasonable but Chicago has a pretty easy August ahead of it. Even a run by St. Louis might be matched or exceeded by the team they are chasing. It’s still a pretty good longshot to see the Cardinals in October, though Fangraphs gives them a 19% chance which…feels like right about where it was when I checked last.
The Cards send out Michael Wacha to try to keep the ship afloat and get over that .500 mark. Wacha just went four innings last time, in part because of command and in part because of Matheny trying to take advantage of a scoring opportunity, but he allowed just one run against the Brewers. He’s got a 2.16 ERA since the break and inspires much more confidence than he did in the early going.
He’ll be up against Jason Vargas. Last time out for Vargas, he gave up three runs in five innings at Baltimore. He had back-to-back starts at the beginning of July where he allowed six runs in each, but since then he has a 3.38 ERA, which is in line with his season mark. Vargas is also a left-hander, so the run of double-digit outings could be over.
Hopefully this good stretch of baseball continues and they can get over .500 tonight!